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Great Company Culture Isn't Pricey

Even the tightest budget allows for an investment in culture. Here's what I mean.

I'll admit it. I'm cuckoo for the fun stuff we do around here, at the Beryl Companies. Mainly because I know that when combined with training, education, and our core values, it gives our people the best chance to do a fantastic job for our clients. Plus, I see a lot of smiles whenever I'm in the office. Smiles are a currency that never devalues.  

Now, I didn't always have the checkbook to make big expenditures on culture. And many of the things that I commit to spending on now started as bootstrapped and pocket change endeavors. But what we did have to spend on culture was creativity and hustle. To help you improve your culture without having to dig too far into corporate coffers, I asked Lara Morrow, our queen of fun and laughter (yes, that's her real title, and it's a name our employees gave her) and resident Bon Jovi addict, to share her favorite tricks for low-to-no cost culture.

Here's what Lara says:

1. Create a culture of the people, for the people, by the people

It's very important that company leadership doesn’t just decide strategic plans and let them rain down from on high. It costs $0 to ask your employees what kind of programs and work environment are best for them. Survey, analyze, enact, repeat. Let your employees build your culture and your employees will respond.     

2. Give employees space to care

A family atmosphere is a big part of our culture at Beryl. Employees wanted to raise funds to help a coworker who was going through a difficult time. So they took up a collection and then used those funds to buy supplies to host a cookout to sell burgers and hot dogs to the whole company. This kind of initiative tripled the amount raised and went toward something that was important to our employees. Cost to the company? The space and support for employees to act.

3. Bridge the moat around the corner office with sandwiches

Our senior leadership team has a regular lunch called Chat n' Chews. We sit down informally with a small group of employees from across the company and talk about what's going on in the business. The casual setup makes employees feel comfortable to bring up concerns or new ideas. We make sure to take notes and follow-up. Follow-up is key for employees to know they are being listened to. Price to the company? Lunch.

4. Buy really cheap stuff

We've sourced culture items like balloons, gold and silver cardboard stars, Hawaiian grass skirts, and life size Angry Birds and Kung Fu pandas from various vendors and contacts. We talked with employees and worked their contacts to get the best deal on things we wanted to bring into the office. I think I keep Oriental Trading Company in business. Cost to the company for thousands of beads for Mardi Gras? Much less than you'd expect. 

5. Free to be me

We threw out our corporate guidelines for office and cubicle displays and let our people create spaces they enjoyed. I (Lara) have at least 20 posters of Jon Bon Jovi in my office. Cost to let your people build the atmosphere they work best in? Nothing.

6. Pour energy into the office

We take care to make sure that our whole building is upbeat. From the music in the bathrooms to our redesigned break room, it's not hard or expensive to be surrounded by a good, positive environment. And our happy employees return that energy to us by treating people who call in with care and compassion. Sit down and critically evaluate what your space looks and feels like. The best decorations we have are pictures of our own employees simply having a good time being with each other. Price tag? Some frames and nails.

7. Take silliness seriously

Theme days, dress-up days, contests, and even coordinated teasing of executives keeps our culture loose, fast, and fun. Pay attention to popular shows and pop culture and coordinate an event that capitalizes on what's hot out in the world. We got media coverage from the employee-driven "pirates" vs. "ninjas" competition day in our offices. It wasn't a PR stunt. It was just something that made our employees happy. Cost to the company?  Some boxes and poster paper. 

Thanks, Lara. None of this is overly complicated. Choose any of the above, put it into action, and measure the results. You'll soon realize that while creating the foundation of a great culture can be inexpensive, the smiles and effort you'll get from your employees in return will most definitely be priceless.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Feb 23, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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