microphone on floor at feet of three women
PHOTO: Daiga Ellaby

Organizations with poor company culture face many challenges, not the least of which is when employees quit to work for companies whose culture better aligns with their values and aspirations. HR technology company Breath HR's The Culture Economy (registration required) report confirmed this growing trend, showing that 34 percent of respondents had quit their job due to poor company culture.

According to project management software provider Wrike, employee turnover is estimated to have cost US companies a whopping $160 billion in 2017. Typically, a company will invest in the hiring process, on-boarding and training, plus additional time needed for the employee to reach peak productivity. Josh Bersin, HR and business leadership consultant at Deloitte, estimates that losing an employee after going through this process of investment can amount to a net cost between 1.5 and 2 times that employee's annual salary.

Thus, it’s easy to see why investing in a positive company culture could provide significant ROI.

Is It Possible to Define Culture?

While the numbers seem relatively easy to quantify, the bigger question of what it is about a company’s culture that either adversely or positively affects an employee’s outlook is notoriously difficult to answer. Culture is not something you can touch or easily describe. Rather, it’s more akin to the collective “lived experience” of how an organization operates and of how every employee communicates, collaborates and achieves.

Mistakenly, culture can be too easily trivialized — summarized as the social life of employees, going for a drink with colleagues after work, or in perks like a bowl of free fruit in the break room. These things matter, but for a company trying to cultivate positive culture, surely it must add up to much more than that.

The challenge of defining organizational culture is further exacerbated by the fact that the "lived experience" can sometimes be very different from one organization to another. Expectations, goals and behaviors (including how employees interact with customers), will vary widely. 

But if there's a gap between employee expectations and the day-to-day reality of what work is actually like, it may be time to review your current culture and then establish an acceptable set of values that are both attainable and maintainable.

Related Article: Corporate Culture, Employee Engagement and That Whole Breakfast Thing

Corporate Culture Comes From the Top

Having such a review will likely raise as many questions as it does answers. So where should you start? 

Start by taking a deeper look at your espoused values. Changing the way you communicate to your employees — being sensitive to adapt your messaging in a way that more clearly connects with the values of your business’s strategy — is a vital starting point to getting things back on track.

This will have a trickle-down effect to many other areas of your communications. However, only with your company's management leading from the front, demonstrating and living out your company’s values in their own daily actions, can you hope other staff will take notice. Change has to start somewhere. Without a top-down sponsor, it will most likely falter, since staff may interpret what they understand it to mean for themselves.

Related Article: Quality Workplace Cultures Align Talent, Technology and Teamwork

Two Drivers of Cultural Change

But leadership must have support too, in order to make your intended change work. One of the most valuable tools in their arsenal to help foster cultural change is the digital workplace. After all, it’s a platform that touches all aspects of what a business does. Above all, the tools built available can really make a difference by aiding in two areas: giving employees a voice and recognizing their value. Let’s look at each in turn.

Giving Employees a Voice

Giving your people a voice within the business can have a profound impact on your understanding and your plans to change the culture. As discussed, there is often a gap between cultural expectations and the lived experience for your people. Hearing from them directly will help you identify this gap more clearly. It will also enable you to bring your people into the organizational change to be a part of the process rather than looking in from the outside. Your people will have the choice to become more involved with the change that you are attempting to instill, and this will encourage them to share success stories, further spreading cultural values.

Increasing Employee Recognition

Employees want to feel valued and know their contributions are directly responsible for helping the business achieve its vision and goals. Finding a better way to reward and recognize employees who help bring about the cultural change required to meet your vision is crucial. Recognition in a digital workplace can carry additional weight, as a digital badge or achievement does not have to fade, and can serve as a continuous reminder and incentive to other employees that want to be a part of something bigger than their own work, too. Allowing co-workers to recognize each other when they live up to new organizational ideals is another great way to encourage cultural change, as it helps every employee feel responsible for your culture over time. This makes maintaining your new culture a more organic process with shared ownership and responsibility.

Getting your organizational culture right is never easy and never ending. Change is constant, and you have to adapt to retain the best talent and build a culture that can help your business achieve its goals.