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It’s Time to Stop Confusing Perks for Culture


Dog-friendly workspaces. Flexible PTO. Shoe-optional dress code. Free beer on Fridays. The idea of company culture has become almost synonymous with this idea of a very modern workplace—think less law firm, more Google.But culture isn’t about standing desks and catered lunches (although, free food is never a bad idea). According to Melissa Daimler, “there are three elements to a culture: behaviors, systems, and practices, all guided by an overarching set of values.” In her HBR.com article, she explains that a great culture exists when all three elements are aligned with each other, as well as with the organization’s values. When “gaps start to appear,” problems soon follow. With enough problems and a little time, great employees start to leave.

What, then, makes a culture genuinely strong and supportive? What kind of culture is able to keep employees around? Daimler tackles this question in her discussion of a culture’s components.

  • Behaviors, she writes, must be demonstrated by leaders. To get employee buy-in, the organizational values your business holds dearest must be clearly defined for everybody…same goes for the behaviors and skills that express said values.
  • When it comes to systems, Daimler claims these five are vital to the overall culture system: hiring, strategy and goal setting, assessing, developing, and rewarding. “A good culture sets these processes up so they feed into and off of each other,” she writes.
  • And finally, practices. Daimler states that practices (from running meetings to making big decisions) must be adaptable, growing with the organization. Basically, “well, this is what we’ve always done” won’t cut it anymore. Practices that once were useful can become meaningless as the company evolves—it’s important to regularly assess and change them as needed.

You may have noticed that ping-pong tables and refrigerators stocked with sparkling water aren’t part of Daimler’s trinity. Her point (and we strongly agree) is that culture and employee retention can’t be bought; it must be developed and committed to over time. And a strong, stable workplace culture can ultimately induce people to stay in a position, or at least with an organization. If your culture isn’t there yet, don’t worry. This is something that takes dedication, time, and hard work! While it’s often tempting to try to stick a Band-Aid over workplace issues—to see problems and think, “I can solve that with a patch here or a plug there, with a new coffeemaker or a pizza party,” it’s important to remember that culture can’t be patched on—it has to be built from the ground up.

Organizational culture should begin with onboarding and end—well, nowhere. It has to be established and acknowledged by everyone, or else it might never get off the ground. Not sure where to get started? We put together a list of some actionable ways to shape and implement your company culture below.

  1. Map it out. Define what your organization’s values are, and what you want your culture to look like. Small businesses pretty much have free reign here, but larger organizations can look to their corporate standards to build off of. Make sure that these values are really true of your organization and the everyday employee experience.
  1. Ask your people. Culture should not be determined only by a leadership or governance team. While these groups should begin and end the process of defining and demonstrating cultural best practices, be sure to get input and feedback from employees across all departments, at all levels. It’s important to get the perspectives of those expected to live and support this culture day in and day out.
  1. Get help from a culture-building professional. Developing culture is no easy task, so it’s often beneficial to seek consult from a trained expert, like an Everything DiSC® Authorized Partner, to create a customized solution to spark the culture change needed for your organization. Participants who experience an Everything DiSC® assessment receive personalized insights that deepen their understanding of self and others, making workplace interactions more enjoyable and effective. The result is a more engaged and collaborative workforce that can spark meaningful culture improvement.
  1. Live your ethos. It’s great to have your culture defined, but it won’t mean anything if it isn’t practiced daily. Leadership support is key, as Daimler mentioned, and so are champions throughout the organization—people who truly believe in your culture and values. Identify and encourage these champions, and your culture suddenly has a more solid foundation.
  1. Create a reference guide. Creating culture guidelines such as a core values statement, manifesto video (check out ours here!), vision statement, or list of goals can be a positive and effective way to keep your culture on track. Employees can keep themselves and others accountable, and the document/visual can be easily incorporated into company events and trainings.

There’s a lot that goes into building culture—and, in turn, retaining your people—but these are some good ways to get started. And while it does take work, the payoff is invaluable. “Great organizations and leaders know that the culture stuff is the hard stuff. Culture takes time to define. It takes work to execute,” Daimler writes. However, she explains that culture gaps are closed if companies take the time to really understand behaviors, identify systems and processes, and shape practices to help employees (and the overall organization) become better. If you make it a goal to focus on these pillars, you can gain some footing and take the first step to stop your people from leaving, despite having a “fun culture.”

Everything DiSC®, with its award-winning Authorized Partner network, is a global leader in delivering personalized, soft skills learning experiences that have an immediate and lasting impact on the performance of people and cultures of organizations.

To discover how Everything DiSC can deepen understanding of self AND others, inspire collaboration and ignite cultural transformation in your workplace, connect with Laura A. Davis, an Everything DiSC Authorized Partner.

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