It has been over twenty years since we moved into our home. It was newly constructed and was an open canvas to make it our own. Everything was built with intention and was new. We did not feel we needed to do a thing to it. But even with that solid foundation we intentionally needed to keep the value of our home by investing in it over the years. If we did not, it might gradually begin falling apart around us, causing more issues than expected and losing its value.
Your company culture is much the same way. Even if you intentionally constructed it, without sustaining efforts, it may be crumbling around you. The foundation of a successful business is a strong culture but if the attention to the foundation is not kept a priority, the building begins to lose support and deteriorates.
So, why do company cultures fail? The short answer to that question is leadership.
The Difference Between a manager and leader
Strong company cultures only survive with intentional and continuous focus from leadership. When a leader is intentionally focused on a culture of engagement, not just talking about it, but jumping right in to lead with a people-first mindset, then strong cultures thrive.
If a leader does not consistently nurture their company culture and keep the engagement of their people a top priority, a breakdown in culture begins.
Often, there are those who lead a team who are more manager-minded than leadership-minded. We all know the difference between managers and leaders. Managers manage tasks while leaders lead people. A manager may pass the “culture buck” over to HR departments believing that they are prioritizing culture by doing this. A leader, on the other hand, believes the culture of their company and the well-being of their people falls on them.
A strong culture of engaged employees trickles down from the top of an organization. Leaders who have a vision that excites and motivates people start a wave others want to ride.
This has proven true recently with Starbucks. When issues began to arise within Starbucks, Howard Shultz came out of retirement once again to help turn things around. He didn’t sit in an office and delegate this to HR or other managers, he jumped in to understand the challenges the company was facing by gathering employees from all over the country and from every position to join small group sessions where he could hear their complaints, challenges, their personal stories on what had changed since he had stepped down as CEO. His first focus was the engagement of those that work there, helping to restore the culture he worked so hard to build.
It takes considerable effort to ensure your culture remains strong and doesn’t fail. Just like Howard Shultz, you must keep it a top priority for your success.
4 Vital Components to a Strong Company Culture
To help you remain focused on this, there are four ways we know are vital to strong company cultures that engage their employees: Shared Mission, People Development, Valued Voice, and Earned Trust.
1. Shared Mission
A shared mission is your company's "why." Your mission tells employees why the work they're doing is important, and it guides, inspires, and rallies your employees to join a cause bigger than themselves.
You may be thinking that you have a mission statement but ask yourself if that statement excited people or if they would want to rally around it. When company leaders have communicated their "why" well, and with enough frequency, then every employee begins to feel they're part of something bigger than themselves.
According to findings in the recent Up Your Culture: Engage 2022 report, respondents shared that 69% of employees know that they have a company purpose statement, while 54% were not confident they could state it, and 31% had no idea what their purpose in their company was. So, although you may have a purpose statement in place, as a leader, think about whether this is motivating to those that work there.
When you have a shared mission, you have a clear sense of where you are going as a company and why you are working so hard to get there. This is the best place to begin your culture journey and something you should revisit from time to time to make sure employees are motivated by it.
2. People Development
Are you living by the Golden Rule or the Platinum Rule?
The best people leaders live by the Platinum Rule, which is to treat others how THEY want to be treated. To know how they want to be treated and how they want to develop in your company, you need to ask.
Too often managers feel that employees are looking for a career pathway when discussing development, but leaders know that development is what people crave and they look for ways to help people grow. Development may not mean career trajectory at all. Most people want to flourish in both personal and professional ways. As a leader, think of ways you can actively do this.
Receiving ongoing feedback on performance is a great place to begin. Effective feedback leads to increased confidence, enhanced skills, and improved performance. When you develop your talents at work, you feel more engaged in your job and want to give more every day.
Making the growth and development of those in your company should be a priority; it demonstrates that you care about your people, and you are invested in their growth.
3. Valued Voice
Ask yourself if you are promoting a culture where employees feel free and comfortable sharing their thoughts and voicing their opinions. When you have this environment, it helps you better understand what is happening on the front lines and may bring a few light bulb moments your way.
Just like Howard Shultz in the example above, listening to your people is imperative in a successful culture and allows you to make changes you may not have thought about. If people feel comfortable sharing with you and know you are actively listening to make necessary changes, then they will continue to bring new thinking and innovative ideas to you. Once you stop hearing from people, you should worry.
General Colin Powell summed this up well by sharing, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
Having a valued voice encourages strong two-way communication where everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinions and people value the input of others.
4. Earned Trust
As a final thought, ask yourself if you have a culture that is authentic, genuine, and transparent. Trust is the foundation of everything you do in developing a strong culture. When you have earned trust in your culture, people have more confidence in company decisions and faith in the integrity of leadership.
Leaders with the strongest cultures demonstrate this in their daily actions. They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. They keep their word, following through on promises made. They always do the right and ethical thing. They also hold people accountable who don’t do these things.
A Gallup poll of more than 1 million employed workers in the US concluded that the number one reason people quit their jobs is that they don’t trust their boss. We often say, “you join a company, but you quit your boss.” 75% of people who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their manager and not the position itself!
Trust is key to engagement. When trust is solid, employees feel comfortable stretching themselves and they are willing to pour themselves into their work. Trust leads to engagement which means they are emotionally committed and willing to give their best at work.
When you earn trust, it gives your people confidence in company decisions and faith in the integrity of their leaders.
If YouR Culture Fails, Your Business Fails
You can think of culture as the mortar that holds an organization together. Company culture is essential because it encourages employees to work together and collaborate, leading to happier employees who feel more engaged in their work and perform better. It's not the only factor in your employees' happiness. Other essential elements include compensation, benefits, and growth opportunities.
Ask yourself if you're maintaining your culture with a mission that motivates. Are you developing your people? Valuing their voice? And are you earning their trust? Just like your house, without contact attention to each of these areas, your culture will begin to break down.