4 steps towards creating a healthy, motivating culture in your company
How can corporate culture be a foundation for sustainable growth? Marion Debruyne from Vlerick Business School, one of Europe’s foremost business schools for MBA programs and executive education, details the four key steps you need to take to create a strong, motivating corporate culture that drives your business forward.
A strong corporate culture can be a key driver to attracting and retaining new talent, which is important if you want to grow as a company. Conversely, the changes associated with rapid growth can lead to a counterproductive culture, one that is no longer aligned with your company’s mission and strategy.
My advice? If you want to grow sustainably as an entrepreneur, you should aim to steer your corporate culture both proactively and with purpose. Let’s take a look at the four key steps towards that.
1. Describe your desired culture
The initial core values behind your corporate culture are often coloured by your founding team and tend to be passed on informally to employees, for instance through direct conversations or leading by example. Yet while this process might work well with your first few employees, it quickly reaches its limits as the company becomes larger.
So, to start actively fostering your desired culture, you first need to make it explicit. Five key questions you can ask yourself are:
- What behaviours are sacred in our company?
- What is never done? What behaviours are taboo in our company?
- What are the behaviours that get people promoted in our company?
- What are the behaviours that get people fired in our company?
- As an organisation, what do we value the most?
Make sure you use easy and action-oriented language. Remember you want your values to tell employees how to behave, so use verbs! Translate each of these core values into two or three observable behaviours. This makes it easy to assess whether people display this value or not. You can then evaluate your list of values and concrete behaviour carefully, to make sure they can’t be misinterpreted or lead to potentially unwanted behaviour.
2. Spread the culture throughout your company
Once your corporate culture has been clearly defined, you need to ensure that its values and norms permeate throughout your organisation to infuse everyone in your company with that same shared mindset. This is achieved by communicating with your team, for instance via all-company meetings, office redesigns, or visuals in the (virtual) hallways.
Equally important is to model the desired behaviours or lead by example. We all look up to leadership to learn what is sacred and what is taboo in the organisation, what is rewarded and what is sanctioned. Further, repetition is key - you can never over-communicate when it comes to values and culture.
3. Embed the culture in your processes
To really bring your corporate culture to life, everyone in the organisation needs to feel a joint responsibility for embodying its core values and defending them internally. This might also mean helping or critiquing colleagues who fail to live the mindset.
Cultivating that sense of responsibility starts with you and your processes. For instance, you might want to translate your core values into recruitment questions or tests. All too often, entrepreneurs say they “hire for culture fit”, but aren’t able to explain exactly what this means. The risk you run here is that your gut feeling might be subject to all sorts of subjective biases. Our key advice is: if culture fit is truly important, then you should standardise the way you hire for it.
The culture journey doesn’t stop with recruiting though! Once people join your company, take them through a formal onboarding process and immerse them in your culture. You need to help your employees gain the knowledge and skills required to produce the kind of behaviours you want to see.
4. Evaluate and adjust where necessary
Next, you need to measure and evaluate: do people (including the leadership!) manifest the required behaviours? This means you will again need to translate your core values and decide how you plan to acknowledge those who fully embody them.
You may want to think of how you can recognise colleagues who do an exemplary job of embodying your core values, e.g., through formal employee recognition programmes, culture awards, but also simply informal and immediate recognition by supervisors. Also, think about what kinds of behaviour might lead to dismissal and act accordingly.
Last but not least, remember that culture and values are never set in stone. Allow your corporate culture to evolve as your business develops or as new social trends emerge, such as hybrid working. Taking the time regularly to reflect on your culture and values can help in this transition.
On an entrepreneurial journey? The Vlerick Entrepreneurship Academy’s Culture Playbook offers a practical, step-by-step plan for developing and maintaining your corporate culture. Vlerick Business School also offers a range of MBA programs for ambitious professionals and entrepreneurs to take their career to the next level.