First off, let’s define what company culture really is. You could ask ten people this question and potentially get ten different definitions. Our Co-CEO, David Owen Cord describes culture as “the living, work-in-progress, unspoken behaviours in an organization.”
Co-CEO, Amin Lalani adds that culture is “the outcome—the collective behaviours of all the people in the organization.”
Every organization has a culture. Some have been fine-tuned and some have just happened. Regardless of origin, a company’s culture is an ever-evolving entity. It requires leaders to be intentional in how they establish and facilitate the nuances of the culture.
Whether you like it or not, you have a culture. — David Owen Cord, Avanti Co-CEO
How Covid affected company culture
During the work-from-home mandates throughout the pandemic, many organizations attempted to replicate their in-office culture in a virtual format and realized that it doesn’t always work. Virtual happy hours, Zoom fatigue, and flexible work hours are all examples of how the pandemic has impacted and shifted cultural expectations at work, which can now be done from home.
As companies explore hybrid and return-to-office plans, employees are increasingly aware of what working conditions and remote activities best suit their needs and preferences. As a result, employers are navigating how to design a company culture that keeps their people happy, while also attracting new talent.
How to design a culture that works for your organization
At Avanti, we have a few thoughts on building a positive workplace culture. Recently, our Co-CEOs, Amin Lalani and David Owen Cord joined Sam Fiorella, a community manager at The 17th Floor to discuss practical tips on how to design a culture that best suits your company.
1. Don’t expect to have 100% control of your culture
In the discussion, Sam Fiorella asked whether a business can truly design a company culture or if culture is the byproduct of a company’s employee engagement.
It’s a blend of both, Dave responded. “To assume that you as an organization or a leader can truly create a culture that is 100% aligned to how you see and envision it is probably too idealistic to be reality. However, to suggest or assume that culture is so nebulous and so ever-evolving that you can play no part in its creation is too far on the other side of the spectrum.”
As leaders, it’s your role to facilitate culture by putting together proper structures, guard rails, and activities to enhance the culture.
2. Be a role model and steward of your culture
This is important for leaders. If there is no leadership buy-in and modelling, the impact and adoption of an organization’s culture will be severely limited. No matter how great your culture looks on paper, employees will observe and inevitably implement the behaviour they see.
A great example of how leaders can be role models for their culture is how they treat Paid Time Off (PTO). A business can claim that they want employees to take vacation time, but if a leader only takes one day of vacation a year and on that day of vacation sends out 45 different emails, it’s hard to compare the lived behaviour with the spoken words. Living the culture and being a role model are critical.
3. Ask for feedback regularly
As your business grows, your culture will inevitably grow and evolve with it. Defining and designing your culture is not a set-it-and-forget-it scenario, it needs to be revisited frequently. The best way to ensure your culture is moving in the right direction is to regularly ask for honest employee feedback. Present the results of the feedback, acknowledge when something isn’t working, and make changes in response.
“You're never going to get it perfect, so reconcile that. Learn to use your mistakes as a guide to how to optimize going forward. That's one thing we've done well with the litany of mistakes we've made along the way.”
— Amin Lalani, Avanti Co-CEO
4. Hire for cultural enhancement
One critical role of leaders in facilitating and managing your company culture is in the hiring process. The people you bring into your organization and their alignment with your core values can either enhance your culture or hurt it.
The recruiting and hiring process is the gatekeeping to your culture. — David Owen Cord, Avanti Co-CEO
Many leaders agree that although skills and subject matter can be taught and trained, it’s very difficult to teach culture. A candidate with a fantastic resume might not be a great addition to your culture, which can be damaging and costly.
5. Praise and promote people who exemplify your culture
Another impactful way leaders can build culture is through recognition. By recognizing and promoting role models of the culture, you set an example for the behaviours that are rewarded and elevated within the organization.
Who we spotlight, who we give praise to, who we promote, we are always evaluating that against not just the dimension of performance in your job and what your accountabilities are, but also how you exhibit, embody, and demonstrate our culture. — Amin Lalani, Avanti Co-CEO
6. Don't try to copy another company’s culture
Every organization and culture is unique. Programs or policies that work perfectly for one company can be a flop at another because workplace culture isn’t one size fits all.
Let’s say you hear about something Apple is doing that inspires you. Don’t be surprised when it doesn’t work at your organization. Culture is built on the overall ecosystem of a company — its brand, core values, and goals. You can’t build culture by cherry-picking ideas from another.
7. Design programs that fit your culture
A program or policy can be designed extremely well, but it may not meet your company’s current needs. If your culture isn’t where it should be, new programs and policies may not be effective.
“A few years ago, we created a comprehensive performance management program that was well thought out. However, we had not yet built a feedback culture or sufficiently coached and trained managers on how to measure performance. Although it was a wonderfully designed program, it wasn’t a fit for where we were at as an organization. Recognizing where your organization is at and what your primary needs are will help identify what programs are best to implement and when.”
— David Owen Cord, Avanti Co-CEO
8. Put your money where your mouth is
In order for company culture to make a real impact and not simply be lip service, Amin stresses that designing a great culture takes investment — time, money, and people.
“Organizations that really care about their people and culture will invest in their HR teams because they see these groups as strategic for creating value across the organization by enabling everyone to be the best version of themselves. As you look to design your company culture, it’s important to recognize and not underestimate that it takes investment. Get the right people for your HR team and provide them with the right resources. The ROI is immeasurably positive.”
— Amin Lalani, Avanti Co-CEO
9. Strive to get it right
As mentioned above, there’s no “one size fits all” solution for company culture. Rather, there’s the right culture for the right group of people at the right time.
As an organization grows, as new team members come in, a company’s culture will inevitably evolve. By establishing foundational core values, supporting people to exemplify and promote the culture, and having checkpoints in place to review and reinforce the culture, leaders will have guidelines to continue enhancing their company culture as it grows.
We often talk about cultures in the essence of “good culture” and “bad culture” and I actually think that's misguided. There is the right culture for the right set of people at the right time. — David Owen Cord, Avanti Co-CEO
We had a great time chatting with The 17th Floor community about designing company culture. You can watch the full recorded session here:
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