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January 22, 2020
Kate Marshall

2020 begins a decade of culture first companies, will yours be among them?

Glassdoor anticipates 2020 will begin a culture first decade for organizations everywhere, and we couldn’t help but celebrate.

Of course, we know how important culture is—and being a culture first company is truly a hot button topic in today’s organizations, but despite the growing amount of companies butting these initiatives first, there will always be room for improvement.

For even more insight, listen to our episodes on the Crafting Culture podcast.

What does it mean to have a “culture first” company?  

It’s not that surprising to say that a culture first company is, well... a company that puts culture first. Sounds like a limerick when we put it that way, but you’re probably asking why?  

Putting culture first means putting people in front of the end result—and your bottom line.

Employees drive the performance and overall success of your business, so the notion of putting culture first shifts the focus on the people that make it happen. 

Why should companies focus on putting culture first?

100% of senior leaders agree that workplace culture impacts financial performance, but less than half of them nurture their culture or fail to make their teams accountable for growing it. Everything comes back to employee happiness, employee engagement, and employee burnout—culture affects every aspect of your company. A culture first company recognizes that if you take care of the culture, then the customer experience and results will follow suit. 

Companies that will inspire you to make culture your goal in 2020

One of the best ways to learn how is to be inspired by others, so take it from some of these companies that are crushing it: 

  1. Airbnb

Airbnb has worked hard to build their culture through belonging. They align their values with their culture by creating an open dialogue at work, their Head of Experience Mark Levy says, “Our rule of thumb is that nobody should hear about anything externally until we’ve told them internally”. They also bring their culture to life by celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.

  1. Eave’s

Eave’s focuses on creating a diverse and unbiased team, and when considering candidates, their team uses gender-neutral pronouns. They make a point to provide anonymous interview feedback to keep opinions as fair as possible. They also implemented gender pay equity guardrails to ensure the utmost equality across the company.

  1. Hireology 

Empathy and communication are vital to building relationships between remote and local workers. Hireology also implemented empathy exercises where employees swap jobs for a few hours to help them understand the challenges of other roles.

But even with all great companies paving the way of a culture first structure, there can still a long way to go for culture to become a top business priority. Becoming a culture-first organization won’t happen overnight, but here’s how you can get started.

How to get your company ready for a culture first decade

Be strategic when designing your culture 

Only 31% of HR leaders believe their organization has the culture necessary to result in success. Culture is often something that just happens, and although that works for some organizations, it can be worth it to look at it with a more purposeful lense.

Because it’s harder to measure, many managers or leadership teams can still see culture as something extra, or a nice-to-have. It’s also common to see teams think they’re taking care of culture, under the veil of cool perks or a cool office vibe. But when it comes down to it, company culture is not about things, it's about what people do (and, more importantly, how they feel).

Your values mean nothing if they aren’t reinforced every day

Creating a lasting, meaningful company culture (and building a culture first workplace) requires leaders to focus on three things:

  1. Transparency: Leaders should be clear about what the culture is, and the ways they expect their teams to live out their values every day.
  2. Passion: A rich culture is one where employees feel proud; it creates an overall sense of belonging. When done correctly, belonging cues create psychological safety and community. People don’t just work at an organization, they want to belong.
  3. Behavior: Actions define company culture. Leaders look for and reward behaviors that bring their company values to life and change things when they see actions that go against the culture.

Leaders have to work strategically on how culture is designed, clarified, communicated, and lived every day.

Make culture a business priority 

If you keep culture at the forefront of business iniatives—especially in day-to-day or weekly tasks, like all-hands meetings—you’ll start to see it soar.

You can start by thinking about the values you want to encourage within the company. Take collaboration and creativity, for example. At Pixar, creativity is seen as a huge company value. Pixar encourages open collaboration, open creativity, and it's at the forefront of everything they do. 

Growing research has validated the impact of a culture first company. Organizations can deliver 20% better financial results if they possess a healthy culture. 

Attracting talent, retaining talent, behavior, and customer satisfaction are all directly linked to valuable company culture. Business owners should value company culture with the same integrity they use for other business activities.

Culture is created and reinforced by everyone

Creating a strong company culture requires everyone to hop on board. An appointed culture leader, a culture connoisseur, or even a designated culture committee cannot create or be responsible for culture all alone.

Including everyone in designing your culture first company will uncover the gap between how leaders see their company culture and what employees actually experience. Plus, involving employees in the results encourages diverse thinking and increased participation.

Create a safe culture for collaboration 

Silence is the enemy of innovation and collaboration. When people don’t feel safe to speak up, they won't feel open to collaboration. Managers should encourage collaboration and doing something as simple as asking employees for their opinions could be the invitation they need to offer up their own ideas.

If you want to create a safe culture for collaboration, lead by example. Strong teams and high-performing employees are often the results of employees feeling safe to voice their opinions and share their ideas. Implementing a “no idea is a bad idea” rule—and then following it up with actions that support it—is a great place to start when encouraging employees to contribute. 

Integrate values with behaviors  

Company values have to be in line with behaviors.

Only 56% of senior executives believe that their organization clearly exercises the key elements of their culture, and 40% say company rules and procedures are not aligned with how we expect people to act.

Eagle Hill Consulting, Corporate Culture and the C-Suite Agenda

Consistency is key—it reinforces, reminds, and retains the values of the company. Over time, with consistent reinforcement, your values will become second nature. On the other hand, inconsistency can be harmful to the credibility of your organization and create confusion within your teams.

A great way to shape company culture and align values with behaviors is to reward your employees. When values are positively reinforced and achievements are recognized and celebrated, it leads to employees feeling valued. Not sure where to start? Reach out.

Never stop evolving 

Establishing a company culture is not a one-time job, it’s a continually evolving one. The workforce trends are constantly changing, so just because everything feels good in your culture doesn’t mean that's an invitation to stop paying attention to it.

Becoming a culture first workplace means recognizing that company culture is dynamic; it requires ongoing attention—much like your company values. Designing company culture is not a one-off effort, but rather a continuous mission. Don’t be afraid to revisit your values each year, and maybe even implement a program that will involve each team in your company when you do.

Final thoughts on creating a culture first workplace

Company culture influences the way people work. It affects employee retention, employee happiness, and the bottom line of your business. For 2020, take a look at your company values, make culture a business priority, and align your business with the beginning of a culture first decade. 

Next: Browse our company culture archive to read up on other ways to turn your already-good culture into the culture first workplace you've always dreamed of.

Zestful: recognize and reward your employees—minus the admin work.

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