Over the last few years, much has changed in the workplace. From the pandemic-fueled transition to remote and hybrid work models, to a return to onsite work again, to increasing economic volatility, many organizations have undergone massive transitions as of late.
For some, these circumstances have yielded incredible growth, while others have been forced to rethink how they operate entirely. No matter which end of the spectrum your organization falls on, the ability to preserve company culture during times of transition is paramount to long-term business success.
Company culture, or the core values, attitudes, expectations and behaviors shared by the people in a common work environment, is the epicenter of any organization. A strong and positive company culture fosters an environment of trust, open communication and mutual respect among team members. When employees feel valued, empowered and motivated, they are more likely to be engaged, committed and productive.
Moreover, a healthy company culture attracts top talent and encourages them to stay for the long haul, thus reducing turnover and ensuring continuity. Company culture also plays a pivotal role in management efforts; it fuels and sustains the workforce through periods of rapid growth, immense challenges and even economic uncertainty.
Building a company culture that supports work/life balance
The foundational elements of maintaining company culture
A company that builds a unique culture can generate competitive advantages because of it, and a strong workplace culture pays dividends across the board. In fact, research shows that organizations with good company cultures boast 72% higher employee engagement ratings. They are also more productive, generate more company-wide progress and have elevated levels of employee morale and retention.
To enjoy these benefits, the following three foundational elements are vital to successfully building and fostering a strong company culture and contributing to long-term success:
1. A clear, effective mission statement
To maintain culture in a growing company, or one experiencing significant change, starts with the mission statement. A good mission statement spells out a company’s core values and shared goals, which directly influence culture. It’s the framework around which the entire team can adjust their professional expectations and day-to-day activities. Meanwhile, the company’s leaders can refer to the mission statement to gauge whether a member is a good cultural fit or not.
As a company grows, it can reinforce its mission in creative ways. More than just incorporating it into the basics like brand identity, a fully integrated mission statement is one that is embodied throughout an organization – from top to bottom. The values articulated should be apparent to employees, clients and customers through an organization’s structure, policies, behavior and leadership.
The people you hire are the ones who will bring a mission statement to life, so it’s important to hire people whose goals and capabilities align with the company’s needs and strategy. This applies to employees across the board, from junior-level employees to managers and leaders.
It’s never too late to build a workforce that fits your company’s ideal culture. As you seek new hires, prioritizing the importance of your company culture will help you find and integrate the people the organization needs to reach its potential. Integrate core values throughout the hiring process. And, with every new employee, emphasize those core values – in the onboarding process, in weekly one-on-ones and in annual performance reviews.
Proactive alignment helps both employer and employee to understand what to expect from each other, and it ensures that company values are embodied by everyone.
3. An intentional workplace
How a company lays out its physical environment can either facilitate or hinder the process of maintaining organizational culture. Usually, this comes down to a matter of showing instead of telling. Imagine, for example, a company saying it promotes a culture of collaboration while relegating every employee to their own closed-off cubicle where silence is, perhaps unintentionally, encouraged. Compare that to a workspace that’s open, airy and conducive to interaction. The second environment actually looks – and will probably function – like a collaborative culture should.
Obviously, remote and hybrid work options can change how your physical environment impacts company culture. Pay attention to what your employees would like from their workplace. From there, strive to find balance between what your team wants and what leadership thinks is best.
While some might be tempted to go all-in on returning to the office in the name of protecting company culture, a hard-line stance can actually have the opposite effect. In fact, a Gallup survey found that requiring employees to work on-site when they’d prefer hybrid or remote work reduced engagement and increased burnout and intent to leave.
How to protect your company culture during times of transition
A strong company culture makes employees feel safe, supported and seen. Instead of viewing this as a “nice to have,” it’s essential for leaders to recognize this as a necessity. Not only will a healthy company culture produce happier, healthier and more productive employees, it will also ensure the company can survive during times of adversity.
Whether your organization is experiencing rapid growth, layoffs or a recent merger or acquisition, here are four factors that leaders should keep in mind when it comes to maintaining a healthy company culture during times of transition:
Accountability is a critical factor in maintaining company culture because it sets the right example for the entire organization. This requires participation from both employees and leadership, as employees notice when leaders hold fast to the company’s mission and values – and when they don’t.
Leaders and managers should work to set clear expectations for their team members. From there, define any relevant areas of responsibility, highlight priorities and be willing to have hard conversations early. Set the standard and hold people to it, but don’t forget to make sure your employees feel seen and valued along the way. Bring them on the journey with you.
This is even more important during times of transition, whether you’re merging with another organization or experiencing layoffs. It’s easy for team members to feel lost in the shuffle. Take steps to clarify roles and responsibilities, while ensuring no one feels like they are just a cog in the wheel.
2. A team mentality
Why is team culture important? Because people are the essence of company culture. That means that people of an organization willingly work together to establish a unified presence and singular direction – or they don’t. In a collaborative, team-minded environment, the sense of “we succeed together” supersedes unhealthy competition and an “us versus them” mentality.
This can be especially important when you bring on new team members through hiring or merging, as current employees are more likely to embrace new members of the team rather than create undue divisions. To foster a good team culture, leaders should demonstrate the value of collaboration and teamwork through both formal and informal team-building activities. Not only does this help improve communication, but research demonstrates that employees who feel like they “belong” at their organization are less likely to quit and experience 56% higher job performance.
3. Open communication and transparency
When it comes to maintaining organizational culture during times of uncertainty or difficult transitions, it’s important for leadership to be as transparent as possible. Reiterate the common goals, activities and trajectory of the company frequently. From there, open channels of communication should be established to make it easier to report and solve potential issues and frustrations.
Leaders and managers should also focus on providing clear, actionable feedback. Whether that’s delivering constructive feedback on a project or recognizing employee performance, proper methods of feedback and recognition can help employees feel secure in their positions, thereby reducing workplace stress and improving job satisfaction.
Plus, research demonstrates that employee recognition pays off twofold. One survey of over 1,000 organizations concluded that 63% of employees reported feeling like they don’t get enough praise and 32% wait more than three months to get feedback from managers. Fortunately, out of the organizations surveyed, those that reported giving regular recognition experienced 31% less turnover.
4. Employee engagement
According to Gallup’s 2022 Employee Engagement survey, only 32% of U.S. employees report feeling engaged at work. Not only does a lack of engagement impact organizational culture, but it can also impact business outcomes like productivity and profitability.
Engaged employees are often happy employees, and this level of engagement relies on feeling as though their work means something. Some of the best corporate cultures keep their employees engaged by learning who they are personally and playing to their strengths and interests. Other drivers of employee engagement include a sense of purpose, supportive management and opportunities for development and advancement.
The bottom line
It can be hard to maintain a healthy organizational culture during difficult times. From shifting priorities, staffing changes and increased pressure to perform, company culture can often fall to the wayside during transitional periods. Instead of letting things slip, however, it’s important to keep your company culture front and center.
While some organizations might be tempted to think the culture they’ve built is “enough” to weather any storm, even the best company cultures require strong, clear leadership to continually foster a sense of positivity, clarity and security.
Remember, a winning company culture is about more than just the values you articulate. It’s about the actions that are embodied – at an organizational level, as leaders and by your workforce. Not only can this help generate trust and reduce turnover in a highly competitive labor market, but it’s also a fantastic way to ensure your organization thrives during times of turbulence, uncertainty and change.