There's a common misconception among employees that company culture is a trickle-down effect, with the c-suite alone setting the tone for the entire company. It's true that those at the top do play the most significant role in company culture through important decisions like establishing core values, choosing office spaces, setting hiring practices and, of course, setting the budget.
However, for operations-minded CEOs or leaders with a lot on their plate, finding new ways to keep employees engaged and connected to the company may fall to the side at times. When this happens, employees tend to grumble among themselves quietly, until the culture problem is eventually brought up in an exit interview.
The benefits of a strong company culture have been well documented and center primarily around avoiding exactly that: the exit interview. When you have top talent, you want to keep them, which is why giving your employees a say in the culture that they take part in every day can be a saving grace.
Here are four ways to get your employees involved in setting the culture at your company:
1. Praise good ideas.
We talk a lot about giving praise at Greenleaf Book Group, and that's because there are so many benefits to doing it. Praise gives employees a chance to be recognized, when they may not bring up accomplishments themselves. It also helps employees realize their contributions to the company in a way that doesn't feel self-congratulatory, a skill that has helped several of our employees improve their negotiating skills down the road.
In terms of company culture, praise allows employees to see what is possible for them. If someone else suggested an idea for quarterly service outings that was picked up, why shouldn't they suggest their own ideas? Without recognizing where ideas come from, employees will keep their ideas for improving culture to themselves.
2. Evaluate their ideas compared to your core values.
I am of the belief that everything should tie back to your company's core values, and company culture is no different. Do you value collaboration? How can your culture help facilitate it?
If an employee brings an idea to you, use the core values as a means of evaluating that idea. If collaboration is one of your core values and an employee suggests more latitude on working remotely, that may not be the best fit. If they suggest a tool like Slack to help your team communicate more effectively across departments, that could be worthwhile.
Whether you adopt the idea or not, using your core values to evaluate new ideas gives everyone on your team a common metric to use. And when you decide against a certain idea, your employee is more likely to understand. It's also worth a conversation with them to explain the rationale and to encourage more ideas in the future.
3. Let them take the lead on implementing it.
For ideas that do get off the ground, you have the option of implementing them yourself or delegating. For most leaders, delegating is going to be necessary, so consider delegating it right back to the person who came up with the idea.
If someone suggested a monthly book club, give them some parameters up-front about things that you want to see. Should they be reading business books? Does it need to be during lunch or after hours? Do you need to approve the book selection? Whatever the rules that you want to set, establish them up-front and let the employee take on everything else.
They are already the most emotionally-invested in the idea and will feel a sense of ownership over the process that can bolster their engagement with the company as a whole. And again, when other employees see someone implementing their idea, it's a reminder that they can contribute ideas of their own.
4. Consider creative incentives if budget isn't there.
When people come to me with ideas, one of my first thoughts is usually something along the lines of, "Well, that's expensive." It's easy to shut down an idea right away if the budget isn't there. But are there other ways to provide a perk, or budget-friendly company wide rewards?
If your sales team is asking for a cappuccino maker in the kitchen to help them get through afternoon sales calls, could you create a sales contest that would help pay for it?
Not only does this idea engage employees in the drive to achieve the incentive, it also shows employees that you're on their side and want to find ways to build the culture they want.
Together these tips will help you create a company culture that is self-regulated and agile. Rather than discovering employee discontentment in the exit interview, they will feel empowered enough to ask for the changes they'd like to see on a regular basis.