By Shahar Alster
Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder

So you’re a CEO, an entrepreneur, a boss. You have a brilliant idea for a business, one that could change the world. You’ve secured financing, hired department heads, and rented an office space with desks for everyone. You have an airtight plan—or so you think. You’re open for business and you’re falling short. Employee retention is low, as are sales and productivity.

How could this happen?

You planned everything except your workplace culture. Humans are not rigid; they’re not business plans or pegs to plug holes. Any successful business needs not only the aforementioned logistics, but also a vibrant workplace culture that makes people want to be there, to exceed expectations, and learn from one another.

But company culture is not a line item on a budget. It takes time and care to cultivate a meaningful environment that’s built to withstand whatever changes your company goes through over time. Developing a sustainable and vibrant corporate culture requires the following: a strong mission, trust, communication and transparency, physical space, time offline, hiring, and hierarchy. Done successfully, a healthy corporate culture is what will take a business to the top of every “Best of” list.

Who Are You?

Your company won’t ever attract the best talent or clients without a clear mission and vision. Before creating a business plan, filled with charts and cost analyses, you need to define exactly what you intend to do with your company. When Steve Jobs founded Apple, he said its mission was “[t]o make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

While the exact wording of the corporation’s mission has changed over time, the work Apple accomplishes today holds true to the original. A mission or vision statement doesn’t need to specifically state how a business will accomplish a goal or what it will produce. As entrepreneurs, we know it will continually evolve. The thread that follows a business through each iteration is a broad, yet inspiring, mission.

Who Wants To Be There?

With company mission in hand, you can begin hiring to fit your goals. Now, it’s common to hire a person based on their passion for a subject or idea, rather than number of years working in a particular field. Interview questions have morphed from “Why do you want to work here?” (impersonal) to “What makes you get up in the morning?” (personal). Your goal should be to hire people whose values align with the company’s—while still considering experience and skill level. A good hiring rule to follow is that job responsibilities can easily be taught to those who want to learn, but personality and passion must come naturally.

Who’s More Valuable?

Hierarchy is a tricky obstacle in the business world. While it’s necessary to know who reports to whom, creating an environment in which someone at the bottom can offer feedback to those at the top without fear of repercussion will cultivate a culture in which everyone feels like a valuable team member. If all decisions are made from the top down, your business might miss the challenges preventing employees from achieving goals. A feedback loop that defies corporate hierarchy will ensure employees feel comfortable sharing ideas and concerns.

Similarly, workers want to know they have management’s trust. Newer technology that tracks when someone enters and leaves the office or open office plans where no one can hide sometimes lead employees to feel as those they’re always being watched. Feeling as though doing one’s job is more of a performance than something you’ve been entrusted to complete in an agreed upon timespan can create tension and dissatisfaction. Giving employees the option to work in ways that make them the most productive—home office, coffee shop, or office lounge—instills trust that work will be completed without a ton of oversight.

Who’s Talking?

All too often, managers only share the bad news—or good news—but rarely both. When there are layoffs, employees are frequently left in the dark. Was it performance related or is the company falling short on its earnings? Clear and open communication that celebrates wins and shares fault in the losses is an important way to develop employee trust and help them understand where the company stands and where they stand within it. It’s especially important for managers to regularly check in with team members individually to gather feedback.

Who’s Offline?

Modern workers are connection addicts, even on personal time. With apps like Slack and company emails linked to personal phones, workers may believe they must always be “on.” When hiring and during routine feedback sessions, it’s crucial employees know their time out of office or off the clock is truly their own. Setting strict “Do not reply after XX” rules and expected office hours let your team know the time commitment is for their jobs. Consistency and leading by example is a great way to show employees it’s OK to disconnect.

Who Has A Seat?

A good way to impart trust and break down hierarchical barriers is to create a workplace that builds on those values. That can mean opening floor plans where the CEO sits next to a junior marketing associate. Similarly, designing the office to accommodate a variety of work habits shows employees you value their comfort and needs above uniform and convenient designs.

Who Benefits – and How?

In short, everyone will benefit from these methods of creating a dynamic company culture; the result of which will lead to knowledge sharing among employees, between departments, and, even, generations, higher retention rates, and an increase in productivity.

We’ve found that there is an 81% positive correlation between collaboration and innovation—and the way a business fosters this relationship is through their corporate culture. By dismantling hierarchal and physical structures in an office, team members are encouraged to use each other as a sounding board when stuck on a problem or gather in communal spaces to collaborate on projects. In offices with a multi-generational workforce, knowledge sharing is essential to diversifying the work your teams produce and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to progress. Not only with age groups, but with departments we are seeing cross-collaboration as the lines blur between responsibilities and goals.

The most apparent benefit of a strong company culture is that your employees are happy to be there. When people like the environment they’re in, they tend to stick around—and work harder to make sure that they can. Things like the physical workspace are said to increase productivity by using an activity-based design plan, giving team members the opportunity to use space in a way most suited to their current needs. From this, and other areas, comes trust. By making it clear to your team that you trust and respect them, they will give that to you in return by achieving goals set for them and asking for the opportunity to grow with the company, rather than moving elsewhere.

Who’s Dictating This Shift?

Millennials drive how we look at corporate culture. They make up the largest percentage of today’s workforce and came of age at a time when everyone received a trophy to feel included in each win. Some say we coddled this generation, but their need for trophies and a solid team is what pushes them to exceed professional expectations and demand to be part of the conversation at work.

If you consider the Millennial hierarchy of needs and what Millennials in the workplace want, culture is at the top. According to a Forbes study, 90% said culture was important at their firm and 92% believe it increases the value of a company. When Millennials say “culture” what they really mean is knowing where they stand and being given the opportunity to participate and grow. Whereas older generations were more keen to keep their heads down and work their day’s to-do list in the same order each day, younger generations want to move—mentally and physically—to engage with one another on a personal and professional level.

Failing to acknowledge the importance of company culture will lead to a failure in attracting top talent. The other thing about younger generations? They talk… publicly. They make it clear at which companies they had a positive experience and which sent them running for their recruiters. By not attracting the kind of talent that puts employee engagement at the top of their must-haves list, your business will stagnate or even fall behind competitors. All said, culture is worth the investment.

Who Is Doing It Wrong?

But how do you know if you’re doing it correctly? Performing a cultural audit will give you an indication of how your business is doing on mission, trust, communication and transparency, physical space, time offline, hiring, and hierarchy. Seating your CEO in the middle of an open office isn’t enough to clue them in to their colleagues’ happiness and needs. Using some of the components of a strong culture, such as the feedback loop, open communication, and knowledge sharing, you’ll see how your business is actually performing.

Weekly check-ins are one opportunity for candor, where employees can rank their experience on each culture component listed above. But real opportunity comes by collecting feedback online in a central database where it can be analyzed and put into action. We employ tech to improve communication in the office and with remote workers; the same technology can also be used to survey your workforce. Feedback can be given immediately and for specific reasons, such as a lightbulb not being replaced for multiple days. Or it can be formalized to track metrics. Employees can rank and give feedback on how they see the company’s vision being carried out, if they feel respected, and have opportunities to collaborate with other colleagues.

Even in the most open of workplace cultures, speaking candidly about a company’s or management’s performance is still a delicate subject. Using technology to ask these questions and strengthen the feedback loop breaks down barriers employees may feel when asked to speak candidly.

Work is no longer a job or a place you sit for eight hours a day. Now, it’s an experience. It’s still a paycheck, but one that comes with the opportunity to share ideas with the higher-ups and sit comfortably while working on a particularly challenging project. Investing in corporate culture is a modern workplace necessity.

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