The following post was written by Noya Lizor, who was Director of Content at Viola from 2014-2019.
When you consider that a typical full-time employee spends more time at work than at home, job satisfaction is understandably of vital importance to both employers and workers alike. And although there are obvious factors that employees expect to be ‘satisfied’ with at any company (like the salary and working conditions), there’s a certain ‘x-factor’ that influences job satisfaction (and subsequently productivity) which stems from an emotional attachment to the company. This unique x-factor is usually intertwined with the company’s “culture”, which is why savvy employers have made it a priority to define, build and nurture it, now more than ever before.
A company’s “culture” is the embodiment of its personality and values, much like organizational DNA. Just as children are taught a certain way of ‘being’ by their parents since birth, so do employees inherit their managers’ ‘way of being’ in the workplace the moment the very first employee is hired. If it’s a really great culture, it can inspire your staff to align their professional goals (and sometimes even their personal ones) with yours, or if it’s an uninspiring one, then you can count on them to either leave, or worse, stay and under perform because they lack the motivation to excel.
Unhappy employees don’t put as much effort into their work nor are they particularly loyal to the company they work for so they are generally less productive than happy employees. Without a clearly defined or visible culture, a ‘company’ amounts to little more than an office space where employees turn up each day to put in their required hours and disengage completely as soon as those hours are over.
Satisfied employees on the other hand are usually happy because they feel valued, they share a common sense of purpose, they see it as a part of their foreseeable future, they enjoy spending time with their colleagues, and coming in to work is fun and fulfilling.
Company culture has become such a drawcard for job hunters when searching for new opportunities, that forward-thinking employers invest heavily in building and cultivating enviable company cultures and then make a point of bragging about it in their websites either in the “About” or “Careers” sections.
Dana Primo Gershon, VP People at ironSource – whose team has helped the company grow from a startup of 30 people to a team of 500+ in just 2.5 years without using a single placement company – opines that the ultimate secret to attracting great people is to invest in the ones that you already have, because happy employees are the best possible PR ambassadors for your company. If they feel that they are appreciated by a company that’s also a great place to work at, they will attract their friends and other related candidates naturally.
Company Culture starts with its top executives
To illustrate pivotal role that managers play in the effectiveness of company culture, Cheryl Burgess, author of The Social Employee, explains that it’s important to first understand the difference between a ‘motivated’ and ‘engaged’ employee.
While motivated employees are usually only productive as long as there’s an incentive at hand (and unproductive when there isn’t one), the engaged social employees “believe in the brand’s mission, vision, and values,” and see themselves as “a vital piece in their company’s quest to make the world a better place.”
“IBM strives to build a Smarter Planet. Southwest Airlines is Doing the Right Thing. For these brands, these aren’t mere slogans. They’re guiding philosophies that inform everything they do.”
Managers should therefore strive to not just ‘motivate’ their employees with sporadic and fleeting incentives, but to engage them on a deeper level by forming real bonds, showing that they’re invested in their employees for the long haul by encouraging their growth and rewarding them when they (and the company) do well.
Burgess goes on to explain that “building employee buy-in around your philosophy requires two essential components: (1) strong, lead-by-example executive leadership, (2) making your employees co-creators, and therefore stakeholders, of that philosophy.”
By showing that they are ready to participate in the very daily processes that they demand of their employees, executives demonstrate accountability and transparency. They set the cultural tone through leading by example, and this is what engages their staff and causes them to rally around ”the foundation of the brand’s mission, vision, and values”
A new era of social recruiting and a new generation of employees (a.k.a. Millennials)
Millennials are set to dominate the work force by 2025 and companies need to adapt quickly if they want to attract to this new generation of employees, who in many ways are rewriting the rules of what’s expected of an employee in the modern workplace.
In a Collegefeed survey which polled 15,000 Millennials in the U.S. – 60 percent still in college and 40 percent recent graduates – one of the questions they were asked was “What are the top three things you look for when considering an employer?” The top response (nearly 80%) was “people and culture fit”, followed by “career potential” and “Work/Life Balance”.
Source: Collegefeed via HBR.org
As Sanjeev Agrawal (CEO of Collegefeed) points out, this data highlights the key takeaway that “it’s imperative to focus on communicating your culture and career growth to potential employees. The two fundamental questions that young job seekers ask (and that companies need to answer) are: ‘What is it like to work there?’ and ‘What kind of growth can I expect?”
6 Employee traits that fuel a positive company culture
When hiring for your company, it’s important to choose people who will fit in with the company culture. Beyond the obvious requirements like qualifications and the right skills, employers would also do well to consider:
1. Curiosity: Is the candidate someone who questions “truths”? Is he inquisitive by nature? Only through curiosity can a worker truly grow and realize his potential, which is important not only to his personal development but also to the company’s growth and development as well.
2. Modesty and humility: Is the candidate aware of the limits of his own knowledge and abilities or does he claim to be a know-it-all? Confidence is great and even ego is tolerable, as long as the candidate also knows when to check himself and question whether he really knows what he thinks he knows. Ideal candidates should be able to acknowledge their own limitations and be open to testing their opinions, skills and processes.
3. A ‘can do’ attitude: Is the candidate focused on what is possible to achieve rather than what isn’t possible? This is especially important for startups where in most cases the premise of the whole startup is something that hasn’t been attempted before, so it’s a given that obstacles will arise. People who look at the glass as half full, and approach obstacles with positivity and a desire to move forward will always be preferred over people who tend to see doom and gloom in the face of challenges.
Dana Primo also suggests that candidates should be:
4. Friendly and positive. People with a positive frame of mind are more agile and more adaptable to change if necessary. Also, if they’re friendly, they’re likely to be group-oriented which can add to the team’s ability to bond and build friendships.
5. Self-starters with the ability to learn new things. They need not necessarily have extensive experience in a particular area, but if they demonstrate an infectious eagerness to learn and to broaden their skill-set, then that’s a great influence on company culture.
6. Ambitious, ‘hungry’ and achievement-oriented. People who take enormous pride in their work and genuinely strive to conquer a task – even if they don’t have the prerequisite experience – are both admirable and endearing, and this hunger to excel can be a very positive influence on company culture.
5 Traits of an enviable company culture
Company culture can manifest itself in many ways, but it almost always emanates from the highest levels of management and filters through to the entire staff. It’s evident in the look and feel of the offices to the way that workers interact with each other both professionally and socially.
Even an outsider can get a sense of the company culture usually just by observing the way people interact with each other in their work environment, either expressionless and nonchalant (if the company culture is lacking) or smiling, walking around with a sense of purpose and just generally looking like they’re enjoying their day (if the company culture is good).
Here are some signs that indicate you’re working within a great company culture:
1. People see ‘change’ not as a symptom of something being ‘wrong’, but rather as an opportunity to improve and grow. While the notion that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is true in some sense, it’s also important to remember that things change, and a company that shuts itself off to an ongoing process of self-examination to ensure maximum productivity runs the risk of stagnation and even failure.
A company culture where workers (including management) embrace ‘change’ as an opportunity to scale and to do things better in order to achieve better results rather than seeing it as correcting a mistake or fixing something that’s ‘broken’ (even if it really is broken), is more conducive to a productive atmosphere and to workers that are more driven to excel.
“A crisis is actually the best opportunity for a company to grow because it forces it to re-examine inefficiencies, correct them, and use the whole experience as a stepping stone forward rather than backward. This can only be achieved if the team culture is predisposed to positivity in the face of challenges.”
2. People see the good in others rather than focusing on their faults.
3. People check their ego at the door. Working in startups demands team cohesiveness, which is doomed to failure when individuals fail to recognize that they are not lone superstars but rather each contributing their bit towards a common goal.
4. People respect one another. Realistically, it’s unlikely for anyone to like absolutely everyone they meet, let alone ALL of their colleagues. But if they can learn to be generally respectful of their colleagues even if they don’t like them on a personal level, then they too will attract respect in return, and a workplace where people respect one another is one where people can focus on getting things done and thinking of the ‘big picture’ rather than being dragged down by pettiness and negative energy.
5. People challenge themselves. A company that rewards innovation, creativity and excellence inspires people to want to better themselves and to increase their contribution to the company. A company that’s full of people who are not satisfied merely with the status quo but who strive for greatness both individually and collectively is a company that’s guaranteed to always move forward.
9 Factors that can shape and influence company culture from Day #1
Many first-time entrepreneurs have never run a company before nor have they hired teams (let alone managed them) so the prospect of creating a company culture from scratch that will blossom as the company grows is a daunting one. How do you even start?
The first thing to remember is that if it’s your company, the culture is going to be a direct reflection of your (or your founding team’s) personality, values and work processes. That’s not to say that it won’t evolve over time as new people join and bring with them new ideas and a fresh outlook.
Maybe in a few years, your company culture will be based on an extensive manifesto of everything you’ll learn and perfect along the way, but if your first employee is starting tomorrow, there are already certain things you can implement right away to convey your vision for how the company should be run. For example:
1. Management style (either very corporate and “proper” or casual and highly approachable)
2. Office attire (the mood is very different depending on whether you’re wearing a suit or a pair of jeans)
3. Office décor (dull and utterly lacking in any sort of design versus colorful, warm and inviting)
4. Amenities (you don’t have to offer Google-style workplace perks but even small touches that show that you want to ‘treat’ your employees to the best of your ability are usually noticed and appreciated)
5. Enrichment and training activities (offering your staff opportunities to learn new skills or attend industry events)
6. Social activities (fun activities designed purely for staff bonding)
7. Supporting causes (demonstrates that the company cares about initiatives that are not necessarily related to their work but rather a reflection of their values)
8. Processes and workplace customs (everything from how meetings are run to how employees are expected to behave and treat one another)
9. Recognition (nothing is more motivating to an employee than recognition for a job well done or as inspiring to other employees to want to up their own game)
That’s just a high-level list to get you started, but you could actually get creative with all of these ideas and add your own twist to any of them. You can also get some inspiration from other companies that have already made a name for themselves thanks to their standout company culture. There are some nice examples in this post, like Lookout’s weekly poker games and movie nights, monthly happy hours, waffles on Wednesdays, and “Ask the Executives Anything” sessions to encourage open communication across all departments. Or there’s ModCloth’s potluck team meals and clothing exchange racks, or Zaposs’s weekly “mandatory fun breaks”.