Culture is one of those terms that gets thrown around when we talk about the workplace, but odds are everyone is picturing something different when they do. On the surface, a great workplace culture might look like letting employees leave early on a Friday, foosball tables, nap pods, and a fully stocked fridge. Whilst these benefits can form part of a great workplace culture, there’s a lot more to it. Perks can be fun, but no amount of free food will convince an employee that they are a valued member of your company (as wonderful as free food is).
Establishing a high performance workplace culture is a journey, not a destination, and this is where company’s often go wrong. This journey can be broken down into three core stages:
- Set Standards for Behaviour
- Create a Functioning Operational Structure
- Translate Goals into Actions
Each stage is a critical component that needs to be addressed to avoid imbalances and/or gaps arising in workplace culture.
1. Set Standards for Behaviour
Setting standards for acceptable/desired behaviour in the workplace forms the foundation of workplace culture. Behaviours should align with and mirror company values so that the culture established is unique and relevant to your company. To assist with this process, values need to be clarified so that both managers and employees are on the same page. The challenge here is ensuring that workplace leaders are embodying these values. There’s no point making a set of values for the sake of it. These values need to inform every decision made, otherwise their meaning will be redundant. For example, if your company strives for efficiency, leaders should demonstrate that they can consistently meet deadlines. If your company is passionate about teamwork, leaders need to set expectations for what effective teamwork looks like and inform employees where there is potential to improve. If clear boundaries are set, your employees will see this and recognise which behaviours will lead to positive results. No-one likes to be left in the dark, so it is paramount that indicators are set along the way to light up the path you want your employees to take.
2. Create a Functioning Operational Structure
Once values and expectations for behaviours are set, a review of how systems operate is crucial to fostering high performance. This stage revolves around assessing company procedures, team structures, goals/objectives and hiring processes. If these components are messy and disorganised, your employees will face the consequences, and this is where workplace culture can fall apart. A common myth is that workplace culture needs to be managed from the top down. Whilst this is required to a certain extent, employees also need to have the opportunity to contribute and voice their opinion of whether certain technologies or systems are in fact effective. Communication channels between employees and management need to be encouraged and constructed in a way that makes this two-way communication easy. If systems are organised and assessed regularly, this will ensure that employees are well equipped with the right resources to do their job without having to feel frustrated or undervalued.
3. Transform Goals into Actions
Once company goals are set at an operational level, these goals need to be brought to life through actions. This means establishing real and achievable practices that can be undertaken to deliver the results your company requires. These practices include rewards and recognition programs, regular training and development programs for employees, work/life balance initiatives (paid time off, leave etc.), workplace traditions, compensation and other benefits. If you can’t practice what you preach, then there’s no point preaching it. For example, there’s no point claiming that your company promotes a work/life balance if your employees feel like they can’t ever ask for time off, or claiming that your company wants employees to feel comfortable in the workspace if you don’t intend on making any changes to office spaces or common areas. The practices put in place need to achieve the result intended rather than create an illusion or façade for your employees. Company values need to be reinforced regularly through every practice performed to assure employees that you are serious about creating the workplace environment you say you will provide.
A high performance workplace culture needs to be built, not bought, and this takes time. By focusing on each of these three cultural components, they can facilitate a culture that is defined by honesty and integrity, rather than foosball tables and fancy kitchens. Employees need to want to come to work, and whilst benefits can help to achieve a positive workplace culture, it won’t be enough to make them want to stay for the long run.