Building Company Culture: The Best Top-Down Approach

Are your employees happy? Gallup research says the odds are against it. Only 15 percent of employees worldwide are “engaged” in their work. It’s a small group, but also a powerful one, as they feel intrinsically motivated to drive the organization forward. However, the other – and overwhelming – 85 percent suggests that companies are facing significant morale challenges. Deemed “unattached,” these employees put in the time but lack the energy or passion to advance the company. Even worse, 18 percent are so unhappy that they are hindering the work of the A-Team. It’s safe to say these employees aren’t meeting the needs of the company or its leaders. At the same time, it’s fair to say that leadership likely hasn’t met the needs of these employees either.

Gallup names three big needs of employees. These are positive relationships, developmental opportunities, and a sense of purpose. It’s when these needs are fulfilled that employees are engaged and driven to give your company their very best. It’s these things that must be considered when building company culture, which starts at the top.


The Role of Leadership in Building Company Culture

It is estimated that U.K. companies lose up to £340 billion each year on disengaged employees. Deloitte names “deep employee engagement” a key tenet of culture and necessary to outperform the competition. Knowing the impact engagement has on the bottom line, it says, “Culture and engagement are now business issues, not just topics for HR to debate.” However, faced with other critical matters, company leaders often aren’t quick to put culture at the top of their list of priorities. But, the truth is, making culture a main focus can alleviate problems in other areas and drive success. For example, Gallup also reports that businesses in the top quartile of engagement see 17% higher productivity and 21% higher profitability. It’s important to acknowledge the human element at the core of these results.

Employee engagement facilitate a happier workforce, united teams, and better employee retention. And together, these enable stronger client relationships, as we’ve seen here at Elevate Staffing. We know it all comes down to people, which means each leader’s approach to culture must be personal.

Determining the best way to get personal with employees to foster engagement can be challenging. After all, it’s often hard to put your finger on what exactly gives a business “great culture”. But, we do know it goes beyond throwing an amazing Christmas party or blowing off steam over happy hour. At Elevate, we consider company culture across everything we do – from our internal communications, at meetings, in how we mentor individuals, to how we build and retain relationships with clients. Each leader is committed to making it his or her personal priority to ensure our team culture is felt across everything we do.

Philanthropy in building company culture

How Leaders Make Building Company Culture a Personal Mission

At Netflix, the culture is defined as one of “freedom and responsibility.” And, it’s obvious the company has done something right based on its longevity and ability to respond to the evolving media needs of consumers. Yet, it is especially true when you consider only four percent of its employees leave voluntarily each year. This is compared to an average of 13 percent. The latter fact is because, as its former Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord reveals, Netflix leaders subscribe to two principles in their dealings with employees: “Be honest, and treat people like adults.”

Leaders have a responsibility to employees to help them feel valued. This is best accomplished through communication or engagement. Here are some ways all leaders can get personal with employees and affirm their worth.

5 Ways Leaders Can Demonstrate Positive Culture to Employees 

Practice what you preach.  

The founder of a company named “Best Place to Work” three years straight sums it up in a Forbes article. “World-class leaders exude a spirit of positivity and fairness and provide an example worth emulating.” When the example doesn’t match what leaders ask of employees, McCord says employees will notice. Worse, the “mismatch” will affect their performance. Yet, when the example matches the message, the Forbes article tells the leader’s values will become those of the company, shaping its goals and the brand personality.

When contemplating Elevate’s culture, we worked hard to establish a core set of values that everyone at every level could buy into. These, we live and breathe across everything we do. We know reinforcing them from a leadership level – and at every opportunity – is integral in ensuring adoption. Having a foundation that everyone agrees upon allows us to continue to grow our people and our company.

Help them understand your business.

There are two big reasons every employee should understand the business as a whole. McCord says it’s important to “clearly communicate how the company makes money and what behaviors will drive its success”. When your employees have this information, they are able to make more informed decisions. This is in relation to their department, as well as how it impacts another department and the company’s bottom line. An added benefit is they become more knowledgeable brand ambassadors when telling outsiders about your company.

An article for The Economist gets to the other reason, which meets employees’ needs for positive relationships. It says understanding other areas of the business instills “a spirit of camaraderie”. Employees may feel ‘we’re in this together’ and begin to understand each other’s challenges.

Understand your company’s sub-cultures.

Elevate operates four international offices across Europe and North America, which means in building company culture, we must consider the cultural differences of our various locations. Then, we must take it a step further to understand the sub-cultures that exist within each, whether by department or when considering remote versus on-site employees. In certain situations, as Gallup points out, strategies for engagement must be tailored to specific environments to be successful. This isn’t always easy, but without the right framework for company culture, it could be worse. Yet, we must also recognize that every individual is different.

That’s why we take the time to get to know each person to understand what drives them. It allows us to build company culture that delivers on what matters to both the collective and the individual. We know there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach to operating a team, and this couldn’t be truer for culture.

Empower your managers (and ensure they empower employees).

No one likes to be micromanaged. It kills morale quicker than anything. That’s why Netflix leaders give their employees room to use “logic and common sense” in lieu of formal policies when possible. And, they found this strategy to yield better results and at lower costs.

Gallup affirms the need to empower managers at all levels. It’s their involvement in engagement that provides for 70% of the variance among departments. It recommends ongoing education opportunities to “sharpen” their talents. In turn, they fulfill their desires for career development and gain greater purpose.

Don’t go to sleep at the wheel.

Just because something’s working doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye. Things could change at any moment without proper navigation. It’s why, at Elevate we keep our finger on the pulse of employee happiness by asking for anonymous and honest feedback each month. We want to know our employees’ well-being, if they’re achieving work/life balance, and if they wish to pursue any areas for personal growth. We also want to know about their relationships with managers and peers and if they feel recognized for their efforts. In asking these questions, we are able to know if we’re providing a great company culture. We are able to measure our successes and highlight areas for focus, ensuring their needs are fulfilled and we stay engaged.

At Elevate, one of our core values is “People People.” Our team members, in the office and the field, are the essence of what we do each day. How does your company build company culture? Drop us a line – we’d love to chat!

Author: Zara HickeyZara is the Managing Director and Head of EMEA at Elevate Staffing. Based out of Elevate's Shoreditch office since 2013, Zara is a true born and bred Londoner, who can usually be found cooling down from agency life in a yoga studio, or out in the countryside with her Labrador.


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