With labor shortages impacting businesses across all industries, employers are grappling with how to retain and recruit people. Although benefits such as unlimited PTO and flex time are appealing, culture continues to be the differentiator for companies as they fight for top-tier talent.

A strong company culture is like gravity: You can't see it, but you feel it every day in the workplace, and it keeps your good employees connected to the business. When you put any group of people together, culture emerges whether you intentionally create it or not. CEOs are responsible for developing a conscious culture by putting in place values, recognition and communication systems, fused by trust and powered by purpose.  

How to create a strong company culture

To create and maintain an authentic culture that appeals to employees there are three key strategies to consider.

1. Define your culture

Just as you would build out your company mission, vision, and goals, clearly define what you want your company culture to be. Culture is made up of how you engage and treat your employees and, more important, how your employees perceive the company's values. Ensuring that employees connect to the purpose and buy into the mission and vision is critical.

2. Hire consciously

One bad hire can destroy a company culture. During times like these, when it's such a challenge to find talent, managers can get desperate and lower hiring standards. Stay disciplined in your approach to finding the talent that is a match both for skills and for culture. Hiring high-integrity, hard-working employees fosters an environment of trust. And creating an environment where employees can trust one another removes a lot of barriers to productivity. 

3. Lead by example

Culture trickles down from the top. If you want a culture that promotes a work-life balance, then take PTO, showing employees that you log off and make time for yourself. And ensure the rest of the leadership team follows suit. Similarly, employees will notice if the actions of the executive team don't align with the values written on the wall. It's important that the decisions and behaviors of the executive and management team consistently match the company's values and purpose. 

How do you know company culture is working?

The easiest way to test if your company culture is working is to look at your workforce. Your employees are a direct correlation of your culture.

1. What is your retention?

Since the job market is currently so appealing to job seekers, retention is a key indicator for culture. Millennial and Gen Z employees in particular want to feel like they're contributing to a higher purpose than shareholder value. Recognition is also critical. When employees feel valued, loyalty will follow. 

2. How long are positions open?

Another way to see if your culture is working is to look at the length your job positions stay open. Your culture has a reputation, and a great culture will attract top talent. If you're struggling to hire, then it might be a sign that your culture is speaking for the company.

3. What do referrals look like?

While many companies offer employees a referral bonus to bring in new talent, how many people are taking advantage of it? Do the peers they refer have the potential to complement and enhance the culture? A strong culture will flow from employees and make them want to bring high performing candidates into the fold.

As companies continue to fight to retain and hire top talent for their businesses, culture will be the differentiating factor that will set companies apart. With a strategic definition of culture that starts at the top and carries through to each and every individual within an organization, companies will be positioned to win in today's talent wars. CEOs will need to take a hard look at the culture they are cultivating and how it is impacting their workforce.