Leadership is hard, even in the best of times. But when the economy is slowing and the labor market is tight, CEOs find decision making exponentially more difficult -- especially when those decisions have to do with finding talent to fuel growth.

That's the challenge that many leaders are facing right now, as unemployment hovers at a decade low while job creation continues to increase. Growth is fueled by the ability to hire and retain the best, and culture is a key driver of achieving this goal. An annual survey from Vistage, which polled 1,257 CEOs from small and midsize businesses on their top decisions, found that most leaders are making culture a top priority.

This shouldn't come as a surprise, as culture is linked to hard metrics. Data from Gallup and the Society for Human Resource Management indicate that a strong culture correlates with higher productivity, better employee retention, and improved hiring in a company. In other words, companies with a strong culture will find the talent they need to keep growing when the economy is down, and power forward when it rebounds.

Culture is the force that drives your business forward, whether you work on it consciously or allow it to evolve naturally. It keeps your employees grounded and connected to the business. It serves as your company's magnetic core -- repelling employees who don't align with its tenets and attracting like-minded people who want to be part of it.

Here's how you can build a strong culture at your organization.

1. Define your purpose.

Create a well-defined purpose that your employees can connect to, both emotionally and intellectually. To reinforce that purpose, celebrate or recognize employees who embrace and exemplify it.

2. Apply learnings from the past.

Think back to what you learned about the importance of your culture during the Great Recession 10 years ago. What did you do right? What could you have done differently? Use that experience to inform how you shape your culture now.

3. Communicate effectively.

When the economy slows, employees worry about losing their jobs -- a sentiment that is toxic to culture. Provide clear, consistent communication to ease worries and dampen gossip. This will build trust with your employees and have a positive impact on both your culture and retention rates.

4. Create a culture of transparency.

Throughout the downturn, be honest and forthcoming with employees about where your company stands. Share financial information. Explain your strategy. Invite feedback. Encourage conversation. These are some of the best ways to build a robust culture for the long term.