Five steps to build a strong corporate culture

By Susan Borrows, Chief People and Corporate Services Officer

After spending more than 24 years working in human resources, I have been lucky to work for many different companies. While not one of them was perfect in everything, I learned that organizations do not need to be exceptional at all things. But there is one element that has always stood out for me (and likely for you too) as a non-negotiable priority and that is corporate culture.

Those two words alone can leave people running for the hills or feeling pretty good every time they walk into their offices. Study after study indicates that corporate culture impacts bottom line, but the fact remains that developing a culture is no easy task. There are steps that a company can take, which I’ll share below, but before I get to them I’ll start by stating the most important thing upfront: to create a strong culture everyone needs to be involved. Corporate culture is not just one team’s responsibility alone.

So where to start? Here are five recommended steps.
 

1. Develop a strategy.
Without a map, you’re lost. Culture work has to be strategic just like any other part of the business. You just can’t and shouldn’t wing it or think it’ll just happen on its own. You have to understand the long-term goal, align behind shared values, and grasp why culture is important in the first place.

Employees from all levels have to participate for the plan to really work. Sit down and map out company values and work together to think of ways to socialize them with things like recognition programs or learning and development events. At Alberta Central, our evolution continues and has included the creation of a new mission, vision and values and the input and support of all employees on how to achieve our desired culture.
 

2. Listen and learn.

A strong culture isn’t about telling people what to do – you must listen to and learn from your employees. For a new culture to take hold, employees need to know that what they think actually matters. There needs to be a way for employees to voice ideas, ask questions or raise concerns, and leadership must be prepared to take action once feedback comes in (whether that means implementing something new, calling staff together to address uncertainties or sitting down with specific teams to tackle issues).

Some organizations accomplish this using open-door policies or online suggestion boxes and almost every organization I’ve been at uses annual employee surveys. But there needs to be more. Measure frequently with sporadic pulse checks and polls. And be sure to share responses to whatever input you get so people know how problems are being addressed.
 

3. Help employees take ownership of their careers

The working world is changing at a breakneck pace. What used to be done manually by three people is now done automatically by a computer and this is stressful for employees. But, if people feel empowered to take ownership of their career, they’re more likely to be positive in the face of change.

At Alberta Central we teach employees and managers about building resiliency. With so many changes happening across the financial services industry, it only makes sense to equip employees to manage change and develop their skills to ensure our workforce is ready for the future.
 

4. Have fun

A little fun now and again should be encouraged at work! Regular social events allow employees to get to know each and increases trust between colleagues. It doesn’t have to be intense all-day team building – something as simple as a company softball game or an occasional BBQ lunch during work hours does a lot to build morale.

5. Do some good

Helping people in need and giving back to the community is a great way to bring work colleagues together in a way that matters. There are many people whom I have gotten to know better while volunteering for a corporate cause. A mixture of formal corporate giving programs that enable large-scale sponsorships or donations is important, but so is enabling small groups to focus on causes that matter to them personally.
 
Corporate culture isn’t something that can be created overnight, and it certainly isn’t something that you talk about once and then never come back to again. To really work, it has to be everyone’ commitment. Everyone has to be dedicated to building a strong culture. At Alberta Central, we’ve made fostering our values and culture a priority and have seen great results since the program began: in 2017 we had an employee satisfaction rate of 83% in our annual pulse check and we were recognized as one of Alberta’s Top 70 Employers. And although keeping our culture strong requires continuous work, I believe it’s too important not to focus on.
 

 
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