Business Leadership Today

What Defines a Good Company Culture? – Why a Winning Culture is a Game Changer for Your Organization


Brad Federman, Contributor

Did you know that employees who rate their organization’s culture as good or excellent are a staggering 790% more likely to feel satisfied at work? On the flip side, those who perceive the culture as poor or terrible are 83% more likely to have one foot out the door, actively seeking greener pastures.

Imagine the possibilities if you could transform your workplace culture into one that fosters positivity, collaboration, and employee well-being! 

Creating a thriving culture isn’t just a feel-good initiative; it’s a strategic move that pays dividends in profitability, revenue generation, productivity, job satisfaction, and employee retention.

Happy employees aren’t just productive employees—they’re your company’s biggest advocates, your PR department, and brand ambassadors!

So, ask yourself: What could a 790% boost in employee satisfaction and an 83% reduction in turnover mean for your organization?

Culture is the game-changer! It’s the secret sauce that transforms a job into a fulfilling career. So, what defines a good culture?

There are three core elements that define a good culture: shared norms, values, and behaviors, valuing differences, and a customer-focused approach. These elements help us become self-aware, develop empathy, and become more vulnerable with others so that we can heal and thrive. 

The world is incredibly diverse. We’ve got nearly eight billion people and over 3,800 different cultures. Now, as the world hurdles toward interconnectedness, we’re seeing that incredibly vast diversity creep into our cubicles and conference rooms.

There is power in diversity because it leads to diversity of thought. With that, though, there is more room for disagreement. We now live in a world without shared norms or generally agreed-upon values.

What does this mean for company communication and culture? How can we create a strong company through a shared way of doing things and connectedness while encouraging diversity?

I hope to answer these questions in this article by exploring the elements that define a good company culture and the eight levers leaders need to pull to create and sustain a winning culture. 

We Have To Learn To Play Again

It is a monumental task, one that few companies have even attempted to tackle. The ones that have attempted it have done so meagerly. 

I hate to break it to you, but the motivational poster you hung in the break room just isn’t going to do it. If we want to form a cohesive company culture, we must move on from plaques and memos. We have to learn to play again.

There are two areas in which the poster doctrine fails. The first is that it is not a two-way conversation. Posters, memos, and mission statements project a message without hearing anything in return. True change and understanding evolve from shared dialogue and feedback. 

Second, posters aren’t interactive. Humans are hands-on beings. As children, we learn via play, and the same is true of adults. We, as adults, need to play with our culture to make it ours.

So let’s play.

Building an Interactive Culture

Culture-building must be interactive. One approach to consider for fostering conversation and collaboration is group activities, such as “Culture Workouts” or “Huddles.” 

They’re not time-consuming, nor are they fatiguing. They’re quick, gamified ways to start conversations and build culture. You can try this in your own office.

Here is an example:

One activity, called “A Side/B Side,” helps give a team the ability to talk about where they are succeeding and where they are lacking. The idea comes from the old 45 records, which were small records that only had two songs on them. 

Back in the day, they used to put the “hit song” on the A side of the record. Oftentimes, a less popular song would hitchhike along via the B side. In this activity, employees get to “make their own records.” 

Ask employees to pick out a song that reflects what is going well in the office. That will be their A side. The B side can be a song that reflects how the company needs to improve.

When this is complete, employees can then discuss their songs and why they chose them. In our experience, this leads to a vibrant discussion and a few laughs. Everyone leaves with a stronger sense of the team or company’s aim, as well as a deeper sense of community and comradery.

In a time of such cultural, intellectual, and social diversity, we must pay extra attention to what binds us together. No number of posters or mission statements can overcome our most basic human learning tools: play and interaction.

We Must Design From the Inside Out

In life, we design from the outside in. Take skyscrapers, for example. The placement of interior support beams is determined by external factors like wind and gravity. 

How about the movie industry? Films are written as a reflection of external society, its values, and its plights. Products are designed to solve problems, books are designed for their readers, and buildings are designed for their environment. 

Building from the outside in seems like a fundamental rule of human creation and construction. So why do we throw it out when designing our company cultures?

As weird as it sounds, many companies approach building their company culture from the inside out. Company missions and values, when built inside out, stem from company leadership. Here’s the issue: Company leadership is inconstant. 

Leadership changes, and executives cycle out. Every time they do, company culture shifts, and employees experience whiplash. Feel like your company culture doesn’t amount to anything more than a few words on your company’s website? That’s probably because that’s all it is.

Instead, company culture should be an outside-in effort, and customers must be the driving force behind culture. After all, your business would not exist without first meeting their needs. 

On the other hand, culture must be nurtured each and every day. Culture execution is, therefore, an inside-out game. If our customers are to feel our brand promise, we must live our culture internally.

Here are some questions to help kick-start a customer-oriented company culture.

“Why do we exist?” Customers and their needs are central to a company’s purpose. Pinpoint that, and you have a solid foundation for your mission.

“What is our brand identity/promise? What resonates with our customers?” This is how you accomplish your “why.” 

For years, the post office delivered service with these words in mind: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” BMW’s brand centers on being “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” What is your “why?”

“What are your values?” Chick-fil-A is all about customer service. It demonstrates these values with its famous “My Pleasure.”

“What behaviors demonstrate our purpose, promise, and values?” Really think about what actions demonstrate your values, and live them each day. This is how people experience your culture. 

It is the connectivity in the answers to the above questions that formulates or creates culture. But one thing is certain: its construction must be motivated by the external, the customer. Without that, your mission is nothing more than ever-shifting, empty words. 

That leads us to three core elements that define a good culture:

1.  Shared Norms, Values, and Behaviors

They serve as the cultural bedrock that shapes the environment, interactions, and overall dynamics within an organization. 

Shared norms establish a common code of conduct, promoting a sense of professionalism, reliability, and consistency among employees. Values provide a shared vision, guiding decision-making and reinforcing the organization’s mission and goals. 

Consistent behaviors aligned with these shared norms and values create a cohesive work culture, fostering teamwork, trust, and mutual respect. 

When everyone in the workplace is on the same page regarding expectations and principles, it not only enhances collaboration but also contributes to a positive and inclusive atmosphere.

 A shared foundation is instrumental in building a strong organizational culture and driving collective success. While having shared norms is important, organizations still need to value differences.

2.  Valuing Differences

Valuing differences in the workplace is crucial for fostering a diverse and inclusive environment. Embracing and appreciating the unique perspectives, skills, and backgrounds that each individual brings to the table not only enriches the overall work culture but also enhances creativity and innovation. 

A diverse workforce brings together a variety of talents and experiences, enabling a more comprehensive problem-solving approach. Moreover, it promotes a sense of belonging among employees, leading to increased morale and productivity. 

By actively promoting an inclusive atmosphere, companies can attract and retain top talent, improve decision-making processes, and better reflect the diverse world in which they operate. The combination of having shared work norms and still accounting for each person’s uniqueness is a powerful combination.

3. Customer-Driven Approach

Culture is ultimately customer-facing. Being customer-driven is paramount for the success and sustainability of any organization. 

A customer-driven approach means consistently prioritizing and understanding the needs, preferences, and expectations of customers. By actively seeking and incorporating customer feedback, organizations can tailor their products, services, and strategies to align with customer desires. 

This not only enhances customer satisfaction but also builds trust and loyalty. A customer-driven organization is more agile and adaptable, able to respond quickly to evolving market trends and changing customer demands. 

Ultimately, by placing the customer at the center of decision-making processes, an organization can cultivate long-term relationships, achieve sustainable growth, and establish a positive reputation in the marketplace.

What Culture Should Accomplish

We know that culture is about shared norms and behaviors. It is a vehicle to guide our decisions and make them more efficient. However, healthy cultures accomplish much more. They make us better and better together through the following three constructs.

1. Help People To Become Self-Aware

In exceptional cultures, the journey toward self-awareness is not merely encouraged; it is actively nurtured. Great cultures understand that the foundation of personal and collective success lies in individuals truly knowing themselves. 

Through thoughtful introspection and continuous reflection, members of these cultures are empowered to grasp their unique strengths, weaknesses, and values. This self-awareness serves as a compass, guiding their actions and decisions. 

Leaders within these cultures recognize that fostering self-awareness is not a luxury but a necessity for personal and professional growth. By cultivating an environment that values and supports this ongoing process of self-discovery, great cultures lay the groundwork for individuals to contribute authentically, building a cohesive and purpose-driven community.

2. Encourage Learning Other People’s Stories To Develop Empathy

Embracing the narratives of others is a profound avenue for fostering empathy, as it opens a window into diverse experiences, perspectives, and emotions. By actively engaging in the stories of different individuals, we not only gain a broader understanding of the world but also cultivate a heightened sense of empathy

Learning about the triumphs, struggles, and unique journeys of others allows us to step into their shoes, promoting a deeper connection to the human experience. Whether through literature, film, or personal conversations, each story becomes a tapestry of shared humanity, weaving threads of compassion and understanding. 

Encouraging the exploration of other people’s stories becomes a powerful catalyst for personal growth, breaking down barriers, and fostering a more compassionate and interconnected society.

3. Allow for Vulnerability and Healing in Front of One Another

Creating a space where vulnerability is not only accepted but also embraced fosters a profound sense of connection and healing among individuals. When we allow ourselves to be open and authentic in front of others, it becomes a powerful catalyst for understanding, empathy, and support. 

In the vulnerability of sharing our struggles, fears, and wounds, we not only offer others a glimpse into our true selves but also create an environment where healing can take place. 

By acknowledging and accepting each other’s vulnerabilities, we break down the walls that often separate us, paving the way for genuine human connection and a collective sense of compassion. In this shared space of openness, individuals can find solace, encouragement, and a path toward healing, strengthening the bonds that tie us together as a community.

The 8 Levers Leaders Need To Pull for a Winning Culture

We have discussed what makes a great culture and how it impacts us positively. It is important to note what we need to do to support and sustain a strong culture. To create and sustain a culture, we must utilize the levers at our disposal.

 1. Fulfillment – Meaning, Purpose, Growth

Work fulfillment transcends the confines of a paycheck, extending into the realms of meaning, purpose, and personal growth. When individuals find meaning in their work, aligning with their values and contributing to a larger purpose, a profound sense of fulfillment ensues. 

Purpose-driven work becomes a catalyst for continuous growth, both professionally and personally. The synergy of meaningful tasks and a sense of contribution not only enhances job satisfaction but also propels individuals toward their full potential. 

In the context of work, fulfillment becomes a holistic journey that integrates one’s values, purposeful contributions, and a commitment to ongoing development, creating a fulfilling and satisfying career path.

2. Communication

Communication serves as the lifeblood of workplace culture, shaping the dynamics of collaboration, understanding, and efficiency. 

In a thriving work environment, effective communication isn’t merely an exchange of information but a key element in fostering trust, transparency, and a sense of unity among team members. 

Open and clear communication channels create a culture where ideas flow freely, conflicts are resolved constructively, and collective goals are understood and pursued. A workplace culture that prioritizes communication cultivates an atmosphere of inclusivity and shared purpose, laying the foundation for a cohesive and high-performing team.

3. Leadership

Leadership is the compass that guides and shapes the fabric of workplace culture. A strong leadership presence establishes the tone for values, ethics, and the overall atmosphere within an organization. 

Effective leaders inspire teams through a combination of vision, empathy, and a commitment to fostering growth. They set the example for collaboration, communication, and adaptability, creating a culture where individuals feel empowered and encouraged to contribute their best. 

In essence, leadership is not just a role but a vital component that influences the collective mindset and behaviors, shaping the character of a workplace and propelling it toward success.

4. Work-Life Integration

Work-life integration is an essential facet of a progressive workplace culture, recognizing the interconnectedness of professional and personal lives. In a culture that values work-life integration, employees are encouraged to balance their responsibilities at work with their personal commitments, nurturing a sense of well-being and flexibility. 

This approach acknowledges that individuals are not compartmentalized beings and that achieving a harmonious blend between work and personal life contributes to overall job satisfaction and productivity. 

By supporting work-life integration, organizations create an environment where employees can thrive both professionally and personally, resulting in a more fulfilled and engaged workforce.

 5. Talent Management Systems

Talent management systems play a pivotal role in shaping and sustaining a positive workplace culture. 

These systems encompass the processes of recruiting, developing, and retaining employees, aligning their skills and aspirations with organizational goals. In a culture that prioritizes talent management, employees feel valued, recognized, and provided with opportunities for growth. 

By investing in the professional development of individuals and nurturing their talents, organizations not only enhance productivity but also develop a sense of loyalty and commitment. 

Talent management systems, as an integral part of workplace culture, contribute to creating an environment where individuals are motivated to contribute their best, thereby driving the success of the organization as a whole.

6. Customer Journey

Customer Experience (CX) systems are a crucial element embedded within workplace culture, reflecting an organization’s commitment to delivering exceptional service. These systems are designed to prioritize customer satisfaction by ensuring positive interactions and streamlined processes. 

In a culture that values customer experience, employees understand the significance of their roles in providing outstanding service. This customer-centric approach not only strengthens relationships with clients but also shapes the internal dynamics of the workplace. 

Teams become attuned to the importance of empathy, responsiveness, and continuous improvement, creating a culture where exceeding customer expectations is a shared goal. Integrating Customer Experience systems into the workplace culture promotes a holistic commitment to delivering value and building lasting connections with customers.

7. Appreciation

Appreciation is the heartbeat of a healthy workplace culture, creating an environment where recognition and acknowledgment thrive. 

In a culture that values appreciation, individuals feel seen and valued for their contributions. This recognition extends beyond formal accolades to daily expressions of gratitude and acknowledgment for the efforts of colleagues. 

When appreciation becomes ingrained in the workplace culture, it acts as a powerful motivator, boosting morale and promoting a positive atmosphere. This culture of appreciation not only enhances job satisfaction but also promotes teamwork, loyalty, and a shared commitment to the success of the organization.

8. Business Operations Integration

The integration of culture into business operations is paramount, as it shapes the ethos and values that drive an organization. When culture is seamlessly woven into day-to-day operations, it becomes a guiding force influencing decision-making, employee behavior, and overall organizational identity. 

A well-integrated culture fosters a sense of purpose, aligning the workforce with the company’s mission and vision. It enhances communication, collaboration, and adaptability, creating a cohesive and resilient work environment. 

Incorporating the company’s culture into its operations aids in keeping employees engaged and satisfied. This, in turn, helps attract and retain talent that aligns with the company’s values. 

Ultimately, aligning the company’s culture with its business operations is not just a strategic move, but a fundamental aspect that defines the organization’s character and success.

Culture is a positive force but only when it is designed well and taken care of over time. It must be looked after and supported like any living, breathing thing. Culture feeds and nourishes your people and business if you feed and nourish your culture!

Brad Federman helps leaders and companies, “Discover and live their possible.”  Amazing results occur when organizations engage employees and customers, build resilient and bulwark relationships, as well as create collaborative and agile cultures.  He is the President of PerformancePoint LLC., an international consulting and training firm focused on driving results through strong leadership and healthy cultures. 

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