How to Identify and Improve Your Corporate Culture

By Megan Sullivan

5 min read

Step into any office, and within moments, you’ll probably have a feel for the type of work environment it is: friendly, inviting, cold, off-putting, etc. As an employee, these feelings—which they are immersed in everyday—have a profound effect on how they not only feel about their job, but how well they perform it.

Baby Boomers didn’t much concern themselves with corporate culture. Boomers entered the workplaces of their fathers, and it was considered enough that you weren’t fighting on a battlefield or dodging bullets. Boomers were much more accustomed to working a strict nine-to-five schedule, taking a full hour for lunch at 12 p.m. and reporting to a boss at least ten years their elder.

In general, Boomers didn’t expect to feel great about going to the office. The overall mood of the office was pretty formal (depending on industry, of course), and suits and ties were the order of the day.

Over the past 25 years, however, as Generation X and Millennial workers have entered the workplace, there has been a significant shift in not only the way work gets done, but also to the environment in which it gets done. As Boomers started to retire, it became easier for Gen-Xers to exert their will on corporate culture and do away with some of the old strictures, such as inflexible dress codes.

In the past 10 to 15 years, as technology has advanced and Millennial workers have become the new entry-level employee, these old mandates have become even more relaxed.

Today, everything—from paint colors, to dress codes, to working hours—is subject to change. And while this may cause Baby Boomers to grit their teeth, it has become a necessary shift that companies have had to make in order to attract and retain top talent.

But how do you know what type of company culture you work in or if anything about it needs to change? Let’s examine some of the key characteristics of corporate culture and ways to adjust it in order to become a workplace of choice among today’s top candidates.

What Defines Corporate Culture?

In short, communication. More specifically, communication from key decision-makers in your organization and their willingness to listen and act on employee concerns.

Just like your customers, your employees want to communicate. They need to feel that their concerns are being heard, that their work is being recognized and that they’re respected by their colleagues.

How to Identify Your Culture

Ask yourself this question: When was the last time a c-level executive communicated to the employees? Not through an assistant or blanket communication, but really spoke to the employees. The answer to this question should provide you with an idea of what your corporate culture looks like.

  • If you find yourself saying yesterday, then chances are your culture is pretty open and appealing.
  • If you find yourself saying within the last month, you’re doing okay.

Think about whether other managers in the organization have communicated with employees throughout that month as well. Depending on your organization’s size, expecting daily emails from the boss might be impractical.

You can also consider these questions:

  1. Do your employees know about the current state of your organization?
  2. Do they know what your revenue was last quarter?
  3. Are they aware of your company’s goals for the year?
  4. Have you lost or gained any major clients? Have you lost or gained any vital employees?

If the answer to the first three questions is yes, then ask: How was this information disseminated?

  1. Was it delivered in a meeting by a key decision-maker?
  2. Did employees hear it around the water cooler?
  3. Did they find it online, possibly reported by the media?

If your answer to the first question of the second set is yes—the information was disseminated in a meeting—your culture is open. If the answer is yes to the last two questions, you might be in trouble.

Other items to take into consideration:

  1. Do other managers or the CEO prefer not to relay this information?
  2. Are employee questions ignored?

If your answer to the last two questions is yes, your corporate culture is lacking.

You should also consider how you and your company address questions about serious company changes. Few things are as demoralizing as an employee that hears about layoffs from outside the company before hearing it from management.

Communication Equals Trust, and Trust Equals Longevity

While a recent study by IBM recently revealed that all three generations currently working (i.e. Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials) want relatively the same perks and culture at work, the future of the workforce is Millennials. They are just starting their careers and will most likely have to work longer than their predecessors, working well into their mid- to late-60s. Therefore, what they want is what will drive most companies.

And what they want is communication and collaboration.

The idea that answers are known to an elite few is no longer acceptable. Millennials believe that collaboration is key, and indeed, there is a growing belief that the problems faced by today’s businesses can be more effectively solved if they are addressed together.

How to Adjust Your Culture

Changing your corporate culture is not an overnight or even a month-long task. It’s not a passive enterprise. Depending on who is spearheading the change, it could take months, maybe even a year or year and a half, to make a real, marked change.

The first thing you can do as a leader is to open up the lines of communication. Transparency is key. Good or bad, today’s employees want to know what’s happening. Knowledge is power, but employing that knowledge as part of a collaborative effort is far more important. Presenting your business’ challenges to a larger group of employees lends itself to collaboration, which Millennials highly value. Similarly, sharing successes gives everyone a chance to celebrate.

Secondly, you want to be sure that all of your managers are on board. You will need their participation and input in order for any change to be a success.

Lastly, you want your employees’ buy-in too. Once you’ve started to make some changes, call a company-wide meeting and give an overview of what you’re hoping to accomplish and why. Encourage employees to share their ideas and recommendations, and actually listen to them. Depending on the size of your organization, it might be a good idea to form a culture committee that can more readily address and monitor the progress of changes you’re making.

A welcoming and accepting corporate culture leads to better employee engagement, higher employee retention, increased employee satisfaction and, ideally, improved productivity. Don’t overlook the importance of your culture; it’s too important to ignore.

For tips on how to set up an office that fosters a great culture, see our checklist for setting up an office space.

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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