Building a Great Company Culture Without Forcing It

by Rochelle Bailis

3 min read

Work that doesn’t feel like work is what most people crave. The companies that create the best office cultures provide more than just perks like dry cleaning services, gym memberships, catered lunches and team outings. They facilitate an environment where employees are empowered to make decisions and given enough autonomy to grow in their careers while inspiring and driving one another.

Here are several steps that any business can take to build a great company culture—without forcing it.

Interview Smarter and Continuously

Encourage referrals from existing employees even when you don’t have specific openings. The employee making the recommendation is putting their reputation on the line for both the company and for their friend. It demonstrates the employee’s faith in the company as a desirable employer and in the person being recommended as a productive team member who will benefit the company.

If your company is always willing to interview a candidate recommended by a current employee, it will have significantly more opportunities to snag talented people who are more likely to mesh with their current culture. If the candidate is hired, you may consider offering a small referral bonus to the employee who made the recommendation. This approach to hiring gives existing employees an opportunity to shape who they work with and motivates them to recommend strong candidates.

It’s also a good idea to keep your eye out for great candidates even when you’re not looking to fill a specific position. If you come across candidates or referrals who blow you away, consider hiring them even if they don’t fit the exact job description. In the same token, if you have a bad feeling about a potential employee (no matter how impressive his or her resume), trust your gut. Recognizing those red flags can save you thousands of dollars and a lot of time in the long run. Before hiring an employee at Zappos, CEO Tony Hsieh says he considers“Is this someone I would choose to hang out with or grab a drink with….if we weren’t in business together? If the answer is no, then we wouldn’t hire them.”

Flexibility Feels Better

Let employees have as much control as the work allows. Adults want some level of autonomy when it comes to when, how and where they work. At the very least, let managers adjust projects, schedules and deliverables based on the human resources available. An employee should never feel guilty for taking his or her dad to weekly doctor’s appointments. Let them call into meetings or work from home. If his or her head isn’t in the game when they’re at work, their heart isn’t in it either.

Two University of Minnesota professors studied flexibility afforded in a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) implemented at Best Buy headquarters, Richfield, Minn., in 2005. Under a ROWE, employees “could change where and when they worked based on their needs and job responsibilities without seeking permission from a manager or even notifying one.”

The pair collected longitudinal data from 608 employees before and after ROWE’s implementation and found that the flexible workplace initiative resulted in improved employee health. Employees not only reported getting 52 more minutes of sleep per night, but also “an increased sense of schedule control and a reduction in work-family conflict, which, in turn, improved their sleep quality, energy levels, self-reported health and sense of personal mastery while decreasing their emotional exhaustion and psychological distress,” according to EHSToday.

Empower People

“The main thing for employees is to be able to inspire themselves,” says Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. “They should be a little strange. They should be allowed to laugh when they want and dress how they want, to decorate their desktops as they want. Employees should feel free. Then they are more creative. Then they are ready to go an extra mile to achieve something for the company.” The right to make decisions—even small ones—is very important to employees.

Allowing employees to make decisions and then own them is a great way to build a culture of responsibility and mutual respect. It tells your employees that you trust them to make smart choices and to seek help when necessary, that you see them as competent adults who don’t need micromanagementEmployees are happier when they have more autonomy and are allowed to focus on making progress in their work.

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