6 Ways to Build and Retain Culture

Culture has always been a competitive advantage for companies and organizations. This is because it is extremely difficult to replicate a great culture. Great culture attracts talent and converts customers into raving fans. I have personally been fascinated by culture for almost two decades and have been studying good and bad cultures in the workplace, how cultures are shaped in countries, cities, and cultures within a race or group of people. I have tried to emulate certain aspects of great cultural traits from other companies within my own teams with both positive and negative results and came up with my own ideas for establishing and re-enforcing culture. I would say that I am borderline obsessed with culture and the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a twist for how to create a culture or maintain an existing culture when many are working remotely. As I thought about it more I don’t believe the fundamentals change. The principles of a good culture are still the same but you will need new tools and methods to establish and re-enforce your culture.


The foundation

Whether you are trying to create a new culture or overhaul and install a new culture in your company or organization, you need the right foundation to build on and it all begins with trust. Not only leadership needs to be trusted but there needs to be trust amongst the community, no matter how small or large. This begins with the leader taking the time to genuinely learn about its core team members and then ensuring that the same is passed down so each core team members, leaders themselves, are doing the same. In addition, there need to be activities that promote cross-team engagement that allows people to get to know each other on a personal level. These can be virtual events like small Zoom happy hours as an example.


Cultural Traits

A culture only works if the leader at the top of that culture, company, or organization, embraces the culture. Fancy mission statements on paper will fade out quickly and even regular meetings will not be able to add fuel to the effort. The simplest way for a leader to embrace the culture is to embed his or her personality into the culture. Do you love music? Do you love sports? Are you a vegetarian? Do you love art? Are you an avid reader of self-help books? Are you a prankster? Whatever it is, use elements of your own personality to build and grow your culture. This makes it feel organic and effortless. For those that know me, I’m a big sports guy so I used sports as one way to build and grow my culture. After work, we would go to the driving range as a way to bond and have some fun, instead of happy hour. I would surprise people with tickets to sporting events. I’m also very big on growth and development. Because of this, every new hire in my team has to read three specific self-help books. We also discuss a book or online video on a regular basis. I once surprised my team and took them to a Ted Talk. These are all things I really enjoy so it was easy to do and over time, a lot of my team’s culture was my personality built on top of our core values. Other good cultural traits and values include accountability, transparency, having high standards, and healthy competition. You can’t just set them and forget them. You must reinforce them regularly so they become your cultural DNA. A virtual book club is as easy as an in-person book club.


Hire Right

Everyone wants to hire for best fit or culture fit but because of subconscious bias, we sometimes think the best fit is someone just like us. For me, fit means the person will believe in our mission and can uphold our core values, has no agenda, will be loyal in the same way athletes are loyal to their team, and bring a diversity of opinion, experience, and background. I also value attitude over skills and want individuals who can become our cultural ambassadors. Your cultural ambassadors will act as word of mouth marketing and both internally and externally attract talent that wants to join your organization or company.


Retain The Good

To uphold and grow your culture, you need to retain your good people. I’m a big believer of “people first”. This means making them feel valued and included. This needs to be part of your culture and how things are approached. This will result in them giving their best because they want to. As they give their best, potential leaders will emerge. A good culture fosters growth and develops leaders. Process improvement, adding product lines and cost savings will result in linear growth while developing leaders will result in an exponential growth as this is when innovation happens. Be unique and cater to what your team likes. Listen to what they say and what they don’t say. Small things, like a “thank you” do matter.


Vision and Purpose

Sure, culture can be fun but let’s not forget there is a business behind it. As you have built trust, embedded the culture with your personality, established core values you believe in, and are hiring and retaining good people, casting a vision for people to want to support becomes easier. What becomes more powerful is when you can tie your vision to a purpose. For example, the vision might be to become the best and safest fishing company in the US. The purpose would be to reduce workplace fatality to zero. If you don’t know, the fishing industry is one of the most dangerous.


Measure

A big part of the culture that many leaders forget about is measuring its success. Just as you have metrics to measure various parts of your business, you need metrics to measure your culture. On top of coming up with some creative metrics, if you are part of a large company, you can work with your HR partner to measure engagement, pride, and anything else you think you need to measure to understand if your culture is a positive culture or not.


These six items hold true before, during, and after COVID-19. Instead of meeting in-person to discuss a Ted Talk, you can do that using Zoom. Instead of going to a happy hour, you might get together at someone’s house, in smaller groups. You’ll need to put in more effort to keep communication flowing and keeping everyone engaged but you are saving time from not having a commute. You can either use the change the pandemic has caused in how we work to strengthen your culture and come out stronger or let it crack. Either way, you are 100% in control.


How have you be keeping your culture intact during the pandemic?


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