Most businesses have a stated mission and associated values. It's often written down on paper, posted on the wall or featured prominently on the corporate intranet. Culture is less easily identified. 

Business culture is a combination of things: ideals, goals, values, leadership style and, yes, mission. But it also includes things like employee experience, customer experience, community outreach, diversity and inclusion practices, philanthropic endeavors and ongoing learning initiatives.

Most want to feel a strong connection to the culture of their organization. If there's a disconnect — if the culture of a business is not aligned with the values of its employees — there's a problem. Collaboration, engagement, retention and productivity suffer as a result.

“When a team comes together as a community with a common cultural connection, companies achieve excellence beyond what process and talent alone could ever produce. Simply put, culture will eventually make or break your company,” said David Taffet, chief executive officer at Petal.

Is Your Business Operating in Alignment With Its CSR?

According to a report published in 2019 by United Minds, in which they surveyed 1,000 full time workers in the U.S., only 28% of employees strongly agree that the values and actions of their employers are aligned, and 30% expect to see a cultural crisis occur at their company within the next two years. It’s difficult to be aligned with the culture of your employer if you don’t believe the business is operating in alignment with its own stated values and goals. The survey further revealed that 32 percent of employees believe their own business leaders don’t behave in ways consistent with the stated values of the company.

Not only is it vital to have publicly stated missions and values, it’s important that every employee knows them, said Michael Alexis, CEO of Covington, Wash.-based TeamBuilding. “If you want your people to be aligned with the organizational goals and values, then you need to craft mission statements and value statements that actually matter,” he said.

But having values only counts if your business lives and breathes those values. “When you have values that resonate with people, and even more so, show that you follow the values and mission as well, then your people will naturally want to join you,” Alexis said.

Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, can be foundational to culture but only if it accurately portrays the actions of a business, said Todd Corley, podcaster, and diversity and inclusion strategist with the TAPO Institute. "To be specific, if a CSR strategy professes fair and equitable wages for low skilled employees, to build strong families, but rather it is viewed as an employer that doesn't offer a living wage to front-line or distribution center employees, then it’s all hypocrisy and a stain that is visible from the outside looking in...causing reputational damage,” he said. 

CSR is about the way a business interacts with its employees, customers and community, so the culture that develops around a business is indicative of whether or not the business is living up to its promises. “The corporate culture that attracts and retains the best talent will be focused on leading the discussion on societal concerns and aligning mission, vision, and values with the daily experiences of its employee population," Corley said. That means creating a space where people feel like they are home, able to be vulnerable, trust each other and benefit from intergenerational knowledge, he added.

Related Article: What Corporate Social Responsibility Looks Like in 2020

The Employee Journey Doesn’t Stop at the Remote Office

With the shift to the remote and distributed workplace, businesses have to change their approach to maintain company culture and cultivate a positive employee journey. Employee journey refers to the experience workers have over the course of their time with an employer. It starts with the pre-screening process, progresses through the hiring and onboarding process, and continues through ongoing training and learning, their daily experience at work performing tasks, on through promotion and eventually ends with their last days with a business.

Leadership learns the details of each employee’s journey through various mechanisms including surveys, feedback reports, one-on-one conversations, participation in open meetings, voice of employee programs, a feedback box, third-party anonymous surveys, exit interviews and employee engagement software.

Culture has become a more intentional project for HR managers and team leads, said Alexis, but it takes substantial effort and involves individualized attention and an open communication channel. If done right, remote culture can actually be better than in-office culture. "When you go to an office, culture is a by-product of being face-to-face with other people," he said. "However, online you need to actively create this culture via fun communication channels, praise and recognition, engaging in virtual team-building activities.” 

Leadership is in the best position to teach those in management roles to reach out to remote workers, said Alena Reva, vice president of human resources at Moscow-based cybersecurity provider Kaspersky. “It is important for leadership to provide guidance to middle management so that they can accurately create efficient remote teams," she said. "Also to maintain company culture and retain trust and engagement, regardless of a virtual workplace.”

Related Article: 5 Tips to Get More From Your Voice of Employee Program

Transparency Throughout a Business Builds a Positive Culture

A business culture of transparency produces trust in consumers as well as employees. Employees that work in a transparent culture are encouraged to be more open and transparent themselves, and that transparency brings teams closer together. It starts with leaders, who have to personally be transparent and open through their actions and attitudes.

As a leader, transparency means celebrating personal victories but also being upfront about failures. For example, leaders can talk about failures openly on social media, blogs and in meetings and allow themselves to be vulnerable. Leaders that are honest about their failures are respected and seen as being trustworthy. They are open about key decisions, business strategies and the financial health of the business. They create a culture of trust within the business. And they're accountable. If you say they are going to do something, they do it.

Expectations for transparency tend to shift between industries and levels of seniority, Alexis said. "However, I've found that in general, even if an employee wouldn't say high levels of transparency is important to them it may still be something they value and appreciate," he said. "For example, we are open with our team about strategic plans, finances and other important aspects of the business which helps them feel in the loop."

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: How to Maintain a Strong Corporate Culture During a Downturn

Signs of a Toxic Corporate Culture

As the saying does, people don't leave companies, they leave bosses, but there's a deeper element at work, too. "The idea is that the direct report relationship is so important that a bad one causes people to leave," Alexis said. "However, there is an opposite effect here too. You could say that people don't stay for the job, they stay for the company culture. Having friends at work and feeling like you are part of the culture is a powerful motivator to stick around.”

A business with a toxic culture has the opposite effect. “One of the most obvious signs of a toxic corporate culture is high turnover," Alexis said. "When people aren't happy with the work environment they tend to leave. However, there are some more subtle and difficult-to-detect signs too. For example, if folks stop putting in the hours and work because ‘they deserve it’, then this may be toxic.”

Often, leadership plays a role in creating a toxic culture through their actions towards employees. Taking all the credit when things go well and shift blame when they don't is one example. Lack of empathy for employees is another characteristic shared by most toxic company cultures. Without empathetic leadership that cares about employees, the experience of those employees will be lackluster and engagement, productivity and personal satisfaction will suffer.

A toxic workplace is easy enough to identify, at least in an office environment, by the overall satisfaction, enthusiasm and attitudes of the employees that work there. If they are rarely smiling, are not engaged, are disgruntled, fearful and are eager to leave as soon as the whistle blows, you are looking at a toxic corporate culture, or one rapidly approaching that level of dysfunction. Additionally, in a workplace where leaders and management are overly focused on job titles, hierarchy, and positions of power, they are not likely to be concerned with the employee journey, regardless of the stated mission and values of the business.

Related Article: Employee Experiences That Employees Actually Want

Become a Business Culture That Lives CSR

Involving employees in defining the vision and mission of the organization is one way to demonstrate transparency and boost engagement and cooperation. “Company-imposed mission and vision statements can sometimes artificially seek to shape a team's direction, but platitudes without action are empty and soulless," said Taffet. "It is important to let the members of the team naturally coalesce around their perception of the mission and vision. Once the team reaches agreement, they will own and live the mission. Their acceptance and endorsement of the direction will give the company actionable purpose — a soul.”

Shared values and mission are at the heart of Lyons, Colorado-based Green Goo, a women-owned and family-operated business that makes environmentally friendly and plant-based skincare products, said Jodi Scott, the company's CEO and co-founder.

CSR is important but only if a business actually lives the values behind its efforts. “As we have grown, we remain committed to our roots," Scott said. "Staying true to our mission helps us stay motivated and inspired. We now have around thirty employees, a group that includes family, friends from college, Lyons natives, and people we’ll be friends with for the rest of our lives.”

Everyone has a voice in the organization, a clear succession path and receives acknowledgement of how their work fits in to the mission, Scott said, adding that she'll occasionally surprise employees with an extended long weekend as a thank you.

Green Goo keeps employee experience in mind but it also contributes to the community. When the COVID-19 crisis began, Scott said Green Goo began donating a percentage of hand sanitizer sales each month to one local and one national organization engaged in the fight against COVID-19. "We had an obligation to find a way to make a difference, no matter how big or small,” she said.

When leaders actively live the mission and values they publicly espouse, are transparent and open with employees, and continually work to improve the employee journey, they are aligning the culture of their business with those of their employees. In such a positive business culture, as Taffet said, those employees will in turn own and live the mission of the business.