How to Build a Company Culture that Everyone Feels Connected To

Part 2: Influencing Culture(s)

Being aware of culture and knowing how to influence it are two very different things. In Part 1 of our Expert Talk series recap blogs we discussed the dimensions that make up culture and how understanding these underlying factors can help us learn to influence culture. But how do we influence culture and where should we even start? This can be a complex topic but our expert, Ligia Koijen Ramos, has helped many companies and individuals figure out just that. So, let’s jump in!

Creating an Intentional Culture

The first step to creating an intentional culture is realizing that it is possible. That might sound obvious, but we humans are used to operating on autopilot and adjusting to the world around us. Many of our daily tasks and thought processes are not even conscious, and this goes for how we interact and collaborate at work as well. Some things we might take for granted, other things we might dislike but not even think to change because they are so engrained in how we do things. Understanding that it is possible to influence company culture and consciously mold it into something that supports our teams and lives up to company values opens up a whole world of possibilities.

Identifying culture

Before we can dive in and start changing everything it is important to first take a breath and figure out what is already happening within the organization. Ligia says, “In a very practical and simple way culture is: The way we do things around here.” This is where those unconscious habits and behaviors come in. These are often so engrained in the company culture that if you start adjusting things without checking in first it will most likely cause frustration and be more difficult to get people on board - not because the new culture is bad, but because people need clarity and time to adjust, which they might not even be aware of themselves. The old culture needs to be consciously acknowledged and rejected before you can start tweaking it. So before you start throwing away everything and coming up with brilliant and trendy new culture adjustments, rewind and do an analysis of what is already happening inside your company. You might discover some things that don’t quite match the company values anymore, or outdated procedures that need a total revamp, and you might even identify good things that you want to maintain in your new company culture. Whatever you find, it is important to first know “how we do things around here” before you can start working on “how we are going to do things around here.”

A good thing to keep in mind during this analysis, and while creating your updated company culture, is where different values and procedures currently fall within the types of cultures you have in your organization, and how you would like to change this going forward. The types of culture are:

Assumed culture – What we think is happening. This is also often what we think of as the values and procedures because it is what we are promoting, or have written down.

Current culture – What is really happening. This may or may not be in alignment with the assumed culture.

Paradise culture – The goal. The ideal company culture. What we envision and hope to achieve within a company culture.

Keep in mind that problems and misunderstandings most often occur when the current culture does not support the mission or vision of the company (a.k.a. the paradise culture). This happens quite frequently, for instance when procedures exist but no one follows them, or when initiatives are promoted that don’t actually support the mission or vision, or are not implemented well. Comparing the current culture with the ideal culture you would like to create will help you identify the difference between the two and strategize to close the gaps.

Determine values

In order to close the gaps between the current and paradise cultures we need to go back to basics and figure out what our ideal culture is built upon. This includes things like the mission, vision, and values that the company stands for. The best place to start is by asking “why do we exist as a company?”

Your company may have already undergone the rigorous process of determining company values and writing out a mission and vision that clearly support them. Great! If this is still up to date then you are a step ahead. Whether you have some values already in place, or are just figuring this out, it is good to be thorough and understand all the sides of the values you are implementing. Many values have both positive and negative sides and you need to be prepared for how this can influence your culture.

Take the value of “creativity” for instance. You may be hoping to create an innovative environment where everyone can express their ideas freely and you can come up with clever, new products and strategies. However, you might not have considered that an environment that encourages creativity might also make it difficult to make decisions without everyone sharing an opinion or alternate idea about every small detail.

Moral of the story: Just like with creativity you can run into pros and cons with any value that you want to implement, so you will want to make sure that the values you choose to stand for are the ones you are willing to work for. Make sure to put a lot of thought into the "why" of your company values and what you want to adjust/implement to integrate them into your company. And remember to be prepared for the flip side of a great value, so that you can figure out how to work with that in your company culture as well.

Get aligned

Once you have determined your values, the next step is to get aligned. Alignment means everything. If there is a process that does not support your values, get rid of it. If there is a great idea that is going to clash with another program, get them aligned before moving forward.

Unfortunately, it is quite common to find that things do not align within your current culture. Often something new will be created that sounds really nice, but in the excitement we forget to think about aligning it with the values and existing procedures. It may sound great but not actually be a good solution for all departments, or be incongruent with the rest of the organizational culture. A great way to make sure that everything is in alignment within your organization is to draw out the company culture and values that you have defined. Create a visual diagram to represent the company mission and vision and how all of the departments, programs, and procedures fit in to support the underlying values.

This is important because it impacts not only your internal culture, but also carries through to your products and client relationships. While it feels possible to consciously build a value into a product or service during the development process, in reality you will not be able to keep it going if the value is not in alignment with your company values and culture. You can’t give what you don’t have.

Alignment ensures that everyone is on the same page and can be all in. But keep in mind that alignment and uniformity might not always be the same thing. The implementation of a program or value may look slightly different across departments. This is totally fine, and often even desirable since it supports individuals and teams to work efficiently. Although it might look different across departments the important things is to make sure that the framework and underlying values always align. This keeps everyone on the same page and makes it possible to communicate clearly across differing departments and varying expressions of the same cultural values.

This will also make you more believable and trustworthy as an organization, both inside and out. As we have seen in recent trends, the trustworthiness and transparency of an organization matter to the consumer (and potential employee). Clarity and alignment create trust and clear expectations both within your teams and with your clients.

Create Safety and Trust

As previously noted, trust has a big impact on how willing potential clients and employees will be to work with your organization. But what does safety have to do with it? According to Ligia it has a lot to do with it, “What I see is that a lot of companies don’t really think about this. They don’t put this on the frame of culture. We need to create a culture that interacts with these three elements – physical, mental, and environmental [safety]. We cannot just go for one of them because then it will not be integrated and people will still feel that disalignment. It’s important that when we are creating culture we always go for the frame of safety because that will create trust. If people feel safe they will trust.”

As much as safety can create trust, a lack of safety can diminish is. A lack of engagement is caused by a lack of trust. Disengaged employees most likely do not feel safe in one way or another, so making sure that you create a safe environment will create trust and engagement, which will lead to people being more willing to get on board and commit as you make changes to the company culture. People need to know that they can count on the organization to support them while making changes. If they feel safe and can see the alignment happening in the company then they will be much more willing to participate.

Implementing Your Intentional Company Culture

So, by this point you have figured out what type of company culture you would like to create, and have determined the values, drawn out your alignment plan, and thought out how to promote safety and trust within the organization. Now it’s time to make the blueprint a reality. Here are three important things to keep in mind when implementing your intentional company culture:

1. “People engage with culture, not strategy.”

Even the best laid plans won’t be engaging if they just stay plans. Strategy often works the wrong way around and creates tasks and outlines rather than an interactive culture, but people interact with people and what is happening around them. So, make it come alive for your employees. Explain it well and model the new culture as soon as possible.

2. “Culture is learned.”

Even what seems to come naturally to you was learned at some point, and as we have determined it is also possible to consciously adjust culture. This is good news! It means that you can change things and that people can adjust and “learn a new culture.” Remember, learning is a process, so you will need to create learning moments. You can’t just snap your fingers, or write a new beautiful procedural handbook, and expect the culture to go into effect immediately. You have to create learning moments and opportunities, and allow for mistakes along the way.

3. “Culture is a group phenomenon.”

No one wants to be told what to do. Culture has everything to do with how we interact with others. Culture is non-existent without a group, so you need to get the group on board and engaged with the culture. All good intentions need to be translated to something that will work in a group setting. As Ligia says, “ Don’t do culture by yourself. People will automatically reject you, even if they agree, but because it’s not a group dynamic it’s someone coming and imposing something on them.”

A great way to deal with this is to purposefully create group and intergroup dynamics. Notice how each group/department applies the values or embodies the culture in their own way. Then create opportunities for them to compare individually and between groups. As Ligia says, “Culture only exists by comparison.” You only recognize your own culture when you compare it to something different. It is possible for different groups to interact with a value differently. For instance, some values may carry more weight in some departments than in others (I.e. creativity in marketing vs accounting). You can also reinforce the culture changes you are implementing by comparing the new culture to the old culture. Instead of simply rejecting and dismissing the old culture, use it to highlight the new culture. Show in clear and tangible ways what changes you are trying to make and why.

We often jump head long into ‘something new’ based on a well-thought out strategy, without taking the cultural adjustment into account. It is important to give people time to adjust and guidance in comparing the cultures. This way everyone involved will better understand the change and the reason for the new direction. This leads to team members being more engaged and willing to implement and embrace the new culture.

Staying on the Right Track

If all has gone well, at this point you will be enjoying the implementation of your new, aligned, well-thought out, value-supporting company culture, and seeing the good it is creating in your company. Great! This is not the time to sit back and relax though. Culture is an ever-evolving thing. New products get added, team members come and go, times change. All of these things can lead to changes in your company culture, and if you are not thinking about it they can sneak up on you. This is why company culture needs to remain a fixed agenda point in your organization’s strategy meetings.

One of the best ways to stay on track with your company culture is to keep measuring. In the webinar Ligia mentioned, “People tend not to measure culture, which is incredible because people tend to measure a lot of things in organizations, but not a lot of organizations do measurement on culture.” Just the small act of regularly reassessing the current culture versus the paradise culture, or doing an alignment check can make a big difference. Doing internal surveys to find out how the culture is experienced and keeping your ears open for employees who may feel like they don't quite fit with the culture, can help you take the pulse of your company culture and make timely adjustments as well.

Remember, Rome was not built in a day. “Cultures change slowly because it’s a group dynamic so you don’t have everyone going at the same time. Some things in culture will take more time than others. For instance, behaviors tend to change faster. Values tend to be slower. Behaviors are easier to change, but if they are not sustainable with the values, for instance, longer term they tend to go back to what they were. So that’s why in culture we need to change all the dimensions a little bit at the same time. We cannot expect that a person will change their beliefs from one day to another, but they can change their behavior. “ Behaviors turn into habits and habits can turn into a belief in and support of the values, as long as everything is still aligned. Getting everyone on board takes time, and some parts of the culture will take longer to correct than others. Creating and implementing a company culture that aligns with your organization’s values, engages your employees, and reflects your values to your clients requires patience, repetition and a lot of great modeling and encouragement from management and those who have caught the vision. Turning the ship around is a big task, but once you are on course the payout in trust, engagement, and an overall supportive and aligned company culture will be well worth the effort.

This is a recap of part 2 of our Expert Talk series, How to Build a Company Culture that Everyone Feels Connected To. You can review what we learned about the dimensions of culture in our part 1 recap blog, or about putting it all together to create an organisational culture that everyone loves in our part 3 recap blog. You can also rewatch the full sessions on our YouTube channel. Enjoy!

Work experience
Sign me up for the Undutchables newsletter and keep me up to date!

Always up to date to find your dream job!

We only need a few personal details, thanks!

Work experience