people climbing and descending the stairs at MoMA
PHOTO: Hugh Han

Corporate culture and its direct byproduct, employee engagement, play a critical role in organizational success. But just because a strong culture and engaged employees are important doesn’t mean they’re easy to attain. A 2017 Gallup report found only 33 percent of US employees said they were engaged at work. This surprisingly low rate has serious consequences: their actively disengaged colleagues are estimated to have cost the US between $483 and $605 billion annually in lost productivity.

Addressing the issue can feel daunting. Culture is intangible, it can seem impossible to define, let alone change. Of course, it can't just be prescribed or engineered from the top down: it has to be part of the fabric of everyday interactions amongst your employees, and between employees and management. Rewiring your company’s cultural DNA, however, isn’t just possible — it’s an effort that pays deep dividends.

Start driving cultural change at your business with the following five steps.

Step 1: Start With the CEO

To truly transform corporate culture, the initiative must come from the top. An HR-sponsored extra-curricular program simply won’t work. Your CEO should not only be informed and on board, but should actively sponsor the effort. 

To gain his or her support, collect facts on your current state. Use anonymous surveys or focus groups to gather employee feedback and identify key issues. Then fold that data, along with your CEO’s input, into a recommended framework for your cultural transition, complete with milestones, metrics and requirements.

Related Article: Translating Corporate Culture Across Distributed Teams

Step 2: Define Your Core Cultural Attributes

Now that you know where you stand today, decide where you want to go. What are the top handful of attributes that each and every employee should exemplify? Source your answers from the entire organization — from your C-suite to people in the field — via an online community, interactive intranet, online surveys or forums. Find inclusive qualities that resonate across your workforce, including employees of all demographics and abilities, and define them based on the feedback you receive. This ensures that everyone is using the same language and has the same vision of success.

Step 3: Integrate Your Attributes Into Company Goals

Culture can’t stand on its own. To truly rewire your company’s DNA, it must be integrated with your corporate goals and strategies. Achieve this alignment by examining each objective through the lens of your new cultural attributes. For example, if “transparency” is an attribute, add metrics to your different initiatives that support transparency, like frequency of leadership communication to the employee base or availability of executive staff.

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

Step 4: Actively Reinforce Your Cultural Attributes

This is where the rubber hits the road — and honestly, where most cultural initiatives fail. Culture change happens via constant and consistent active involvement: recognition systems, onboarding programs, training and development opportunities, streamlined communication and more.

These efforts can be difficult to sustain without the right resources and tools. In addition to commitment from both your executive sponsor(s) and the team running the programs (usually HR or corporate communications), you need a vehicle through which to run them. An enterprise community works wonders here, bringing together key functionality like employee ideation, online communities, blogs and more. It can also act as a centralized hub for communication that fosters constant, authentic, open dialogue and peer recognition. From company-wide all hands meetings to working spaces for individual teams, giving your employees a place to connect will accelerate adoption of your new culture.

Step 5: Measure Your Progress

Cultural change should be approached like any other business objective, which includes diligent measurement. Communication and engagement efforts can be analyzed with metrics such as sentiment, attentiveness, attendance, views, comments and likes on your content. Analytics often start with your intranet platform, which ideally will give you many metrics out-of-the-box, but should include all possible channels that support strategic alignment messaging and cultural attributes.

Driving cultural change isn’t fast or simple. It is, however, worth every minute and every penny. Engaged employees make it a point to show up to work and work harder: highly engaged business units see a 41 percent reduction in absenteeism and a 17 percent increase in productivity. Those results are worth it — and so is creating a culture that people are excited to be part of.