Rethinking Culture: Aiming at Engagement and Business Impact

Company culture is at the forefront of many leaders’ minds with the rise of remote and hybrid work, the great recruitment, and a highly competitive labor market.

Historically, leaders have struggled to define culture—and to make it tangible and measurable. Scholars have described company culture as the norms, rituals, and practices that characterize an organization. But culture encompasses so much more than that.

Over the past two years, employees say their cultures have changed. Quantum Workplace research shows that 65% of employees say culture has changed—and 35% say it’s changed dramatically. The task for leaders is to make sure this change is for the better.

Whether you’re actively investing in your culture or not, it exists. It’s being shaped by someone, for better or for worse. So why not be intentional? If you aim your strategies in the right direction, culture can have a positive impact on employee, team, and business success.

Employee Perceptions of Culture

While our research shows employees are generally favorable toward their workplace cultures, there are notable differences among highly engaged and not highly engaged employees.

  • 87% of highly engaged employees say their organization has a very strong culture, while only 39 percent of not highly engaged employees agree.
  • 89% of highly engaged employees say their culture is positive, while only 29% of not highly engaged employees agree.
  • Employees who are not highly engaged are more than 2x as likely to leave their organization for a better culture when compared to highly engaged employees.

Where an employee works also impacts their perceptions of company culture. Many leaders feared that the rise of remote and hybrid work would be damaging to workplace culture. But our research shows the opposite.

Remote and hybrid workers are more engaged—and more likely than their in-office peers to see their company cultures as strong and positive. They’re also more likely to say their current culture will keep them there.

Rather than trying to wrangle your talent back in the office in the name of culture, leaders should focus on what matters: employee engagement. To shape a strong, positive, and motivating company culture, leaders need to rethink their approach to the employee experience.

Redefining Culture

To build a culture that has true business impact, it’s important to be clear about what exactly culture is—and to measure the right things.

Our research shows employees feel their organization’s culture most strongly through::

  • Company mission and values (54%)
  • Employee recognition and celebrations (53%)
  • Approach to employee performance (50%)

The three aspects where employees see company culture the least are:

  • Rituals and norms (37%)
  • Onboarding and training (33%)
  • Physical workspace (28%)

Our definition of culture needs to evolve. Culture is less about rituals and norms (though these still have impact) and more about how work gets done. It’s about how we make decisions, how we communicate, how we behave, and how we recognize employees. It’s about an employee’s day-to-day experience with their work, team, and organization.

Don’t think about culture as a separate initiative—it’s connected to your other people strategies like engagement, performance, and development.

4 Ways to be Intentional with Culture

1. Aim your culture strategies at engagement.

You can invest in your culture all you want, but you need to focus on the right things. The best cultures have leaders who are prioritizing employee engagement, driving both employee retention and business outcomes.

Our research shows engagement—not culture—is the sticky factor that keeps your employees motivated to do their best work. With daily intention and a big picture strategy centered around employee engagement, you’ll get a better return on investment with your culture initiatives.

2. Evolve your approach to employee performance.

Your approach to performance management is a key factor in the employee experience and shapes company culture. It’s important to build performance processes, systems, and practices that engage employees and help them maximize their potential.

Our research shows key drivers of an engaging performance culture include:

  • Aligned goals
  • Continuous, effective performance feedback
  • Employee recognition
  • Employee empowerment
  • Fairness and transparency

When it comes to reshaping your performance practices, it’s important to start with what you’re ready for. Don’t think that you need to change everything at once. It’s best to continuously improve over time. When you’re realistic and informed about performance best practices, you’ll create business impact while engaging employees.

3. Build trust in leaders.

Early in the pandemic, leaders were more intentional than ever about communication around change. They listened to employees, prioritized their well-being, and saw them as real people with real needs. But many leaders couldn’t sustain what they started and over time, these positive habits faded away. As a result, trust in leadership is dropping.

This isn’t good news for culture, as our research shows that employees feel leaders and managers are primarily responsible for shaping culture. If your employees are looking to leadership to shape culture, you need to create a foundation of trust.

Here are a few ways you can build trust in leaders that will impact your culture:

  • Ensure your vision, strategy, goals, and progress are crystal clear
  • Prioritize frequent, transparent, relevant, and sustainable communication
  • Build an employee listening strategy that helps you capture and act on feedback
  • Facilitate connection points that allow employees to see leaders as real people

4. Weave recognition into everything you do.

Employee recognition is a major way that employees experience company culture and a critical driver of engagement and retention. Unfortunately, our research shows employees have perceived a decline in recognition after the initial onset of the pandemic.

Leaders need to remember recognition isn’t just about rewards, but about all the ways employees feel valued and appreciated for their work. It encompasses:

  • How leaders communicate
  • How they promote people
  • How they assign work
  • How they set expectations
  • How they set and align goals
  • How they work with their teams

To build a culture of effective recognition, leaders should open up channels for leader-to-employee and employee-to-employee recognition. Tie recognition to your company’s mission, purpose, and values to strengthen culture further. And tailor recognition to individual preferences to help it resonate with and motivate employees.


Culture is changing and leaders need to evolve with it. Without engagement at the forefront of your strategy, your culture won’t empower employees to do their best work.

If you shape your culture with employee engagement in mind, you can motivate employees to reach their full potential and drive business success. Rethink your culture investments to engage, retain, and empower employees for the long-haul.

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