9 Tips on Improving Your Company's Culture

Before we dig in to the tips themselves, we should address a more basic question: What exactly is "company culture"?

Defining company culture is not as difficult as people make it out to be. Just bear in mind that culture and brand are two sides of a coin and share a definition between them. If a company's brand is the feeling created by the collective thoughts, words, and actions its employees put forth every day, so is its culture. This is why there are arguments within companies over who, exactly, owns and maintains the culture: Is it HR, senior management, line managers, or the working staff?

The truth is – just as with a brand – everyone in the company plays a part in establishing the culture, whether they are aware they are doing so or not. Improving any company culture starts with establishing what your ideal culture should be. Then, work to ensure that everyone conducts themselves in accordance with that ideal culture.

Just as one might ask, "Is this on brand?" you can also ask, "Is this on culture?"

For example, a community hospital and a high-pressure sales organization will not, one would hope, be striving for the same ideal culture, because each organization measures success differently. So if you want to improve your company's culture, you need to start with a realistic understanding of both what your company's culture already is and what it needs to be – in order for your organization to be successful. The behaviors you want to promote will proceed logically from your vision of what the culture should be.

With this in mind, let's have a look at a few basic tips to help you improve your culture:

1. Culture and Purpose Should Be Top Priorities

It's the responsibility of a company's top leaders to clearly articulate and continuously exemplify what the company's culture must be to make the company successful.

2. Communicate Clearly, Generously, and Engagingly at Every Level

People can only act according to and propagate the culture if they know what it is. Sending out an email won't do it. The communication must be regular, engaging, and two-way.

3. Management Must Articulate and Live the Culture.

"Lead by example" may sound cliché, but if management fails to live up to the culture it articulates, then everyone else will too – and eventually, that will become the culture.

4. Hire People Who Will Create Your Culture

If you're a sales organization looking for a competitive, aggressive culture, then hire competitive, aggressive people. If you're a hospital looking for a culture of caring and compassion, then look for people who are caring and compassionate.

5. Articulate the Culture in All Hiring Activities and Materials

People join cultures, not companies. By making clear what the culture is throughout every phase of the recruiting and hiring process, you'll attract the people who'll best fit your culture and repel the people who really won't. Don't be afraid to lose good people who aren't good fits. It's better to lose them before they've been hired than after.

6. Educate From Day One

Orientation and onboarding are about more than telling new hires what the rules are and where the break room is. Fun, engaging video presentations, leadership speeches, animations, etc., can make clear what the culture is and the value of embracing it.

7. Educate on Day Two, Three, Four, and Beyond

Don't overestimate what people retain from the onboarding process. There's often a great amount of information shared in a short amount of time. Consider ongoing programs that continuously communicate and that publicly reward people who exemplify what you want the culture to be.

8. Just How Many cultures Can a Company Have?

Even companies with good, strong, and well-defined cultures can have subcultures. Finance and sales might be different by necessity because of the nature of the work and the people who are drawn to it. The same could be said of RD vs. manufacturing vs. marketing. The challenge is to find the aspects of a culture everyone can share between departments while understanding that each department will have its own unique attributes as well.

9. Be Transparent; Be True

If employees feel that they know what's going on in the company and why, they will feel that they have a voice and the freedom to share their ideas and opinions. The result will be a stronger and more open company culture.

John Windolph is the president of J. Walter Thompson INSIDE.