As millions of U.S. workers continue to flee their jobs in what is being dubbed the “Great Resignation,” burnout and lack of growth opportunities are often cited among the biggest reasons driving this alarming trend.
These changing work dynamics and employee perspectives, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, are highlighting the importance of having a strong, sustainable work culture, according to David Friedman, author of Culture by Design: How to Build a High-Performing Culture Even in the New Remote Work Environment.
Unfortunately, Friedman says, while HR and other business leaders often talk about culture, many aren’t as strategic about building and maintaining culture as they are when it comes to other important aspects of their business.
“Leaders should be as process-oriented about their culture as they are about their sales, finances and operations,” says Friedman, founder/CEO of CultureWise, a platform designed to help small to mid-size employers create and sustain high-performing cultures. “All leaders have a responsibility to be intentional and systematic about designing the culture they want, rather than settling for the culture that is created by chance.”
To that end, Friedman offers some suggestions for designing and driving company culture:
Define employee behaviors that drive company success: Driving a culture is mostly a teaching function, Friedman explains. It requires building a curriculum around the specific behaviors, or fundamentals, the leadership team wants to teach daily, including blameless problem-solving, honoring commitments and being a fanatic about response times. “Behaviors, because they’re action-oriented, are clearer than values, which tend to be abstract,” he says.
Ritualize the practice of your fundamentals: How many new initiatives have been started at work and in employees’ personal lives, only to fall by the wayside as people got busy? Those failures at work feed employee cynicism, Friedman says. “But by creating a structured, systematic way to teach winning behaviors repeatedly, they become ingrained in your people,” he says. “Without repetition, nothing lasts.”
Select people who are the right fit for your culture: A new hire’s value system isn’t likely to change, Friedman says, so it’s vital they have the right values to fulfill the behaviors that leadership wants.
Integrate new hires into your culture: A person’s first week on the job is critical in the context of culture, Friedman says. “It’s their first impression, and that tends to be lasting and difficult to change,” he says. “It’s remarkable how few companies spend appropriate time and resources orchestrating every aspect of a new hire’s early experience.”
Communicate your culture throughout the organization: Too often, Friedman says, company leadership displays inspirational messages and posters on the office walls that are inconsistent with the way people behave in the work culture. “We talk about teamwork, but then people work and think in silos,” he says. “Or, we talk about quality, but our people are forced to produce at warp speed and without the proper tools. If our culture is authentic, the more we see images and reminders of it all around us, the better.”
Coach to reinforce your culture: Coaching sessions by managers and supervisors are critical opportunities to teach and reinforce culture, Friedman says, adding that using the specific language of the culture in the coaching session shows staff that the words on the wall are meaningful.
Most leaders think of culture as something that happens on its own, Friedman says, but it’s up to those leaders to be as intentional and systematic about culture as they are about the rest of their business. And in these changing, challenging times, more are beginning to realize how important being proactive about culture is, he says.
“Many organizations have historically relied on people being around each other on a daily basis as the primary way in which culture was established and reinforced,” he says. “The new remote and hybrid work environments have not only made culture more important than ever, but they’ve forced leaders to rethink their strategy for building culture.”