When was the last time you heard an employee say something along the lines of, "I just wish our company culture was more/less...?" No matter the desired change, people will generally look to the CEO or executive team to make it happen. While company leaders do set examples for their teams, they can't mandate everyone be excited about the same things or behave in the exact same way. Company culture is rooted in the way employees see themselves, each other, and the work they produce. If your team isn't invested in building great culture, you won't be able to do it alone.
When so much depends on the people you have on the front lines, their empowerment is critical. Hiring top-notch people is a necessary first step, but even your strongest team members can become negative and critical if they don't feel culture is within their authority, or even their ability. Here are a few simple ways to encourage team members to be culture leaders, no matter their title.
Make culture conversations a priority.
Sometimes an employee complaint is just that, a complaint (ex: Why can't we have vending machines in our break room?). Other times, a member of your team may point out disconnects between two departments or may be unhappy with the way a conflict was handled. Even if the problem seems isolated or low-impact, consider it through the lens of your company's core values. If one person isn't seeing those values carried out, it's possible others feel the same way but won't say so. For example, when employees at my company felt our departments were a bit isolated from one another, a few people from different areas decided to spend Fridays working together in a conference room. The trend caught on, and now we have a lounge area dedicated for that purpose.
The next time someone approaches you with a culture concern, make sure you set aside the time and attention to help him or her think through it. If they don't offer a solution on their own, ask constructive questions about what they would do to fix it. If you place responsibility in the hands of the employee while offering your support as needed, you'll help them develop confidence to influence culture on a large scale.
Encourage everyone to lead.
It can be instinctive for you and your C-suite team to spearhead every company endeavor (exploring new service offerings, in-house initiatives, company events), but it's beneficial, even crucial, to let the rest of the team take the lead as often as possible. My team members routinely spearhead new services that boost our business, and many of our best company events (chili cook-offs, potlucks, movie screenings) are entirely employee led. Dividing big-picture responsibilities among management and non-management alike affirms each person's value to the company and allows everyone to build their resumes with new accomplishments.
The next time you need to strategize a project or organize an event, consider designating someone who isn't already in a leadership role to take it on. Give that person the resources they need to organize others, set a budget, and dedicate time away from their regular responsibilities. If you have some of the same events or projects each year, rotate which team members lead them. This will spread out the workload and give each of your employees a chance to step out of their day-to-day operations.
This one is simple, but easy to forget when you're wrapped up in the day-to-day hustle: create time for your team to talk about something other than work. People are happier in their jobs when they know and trust their co-workers, and those relationships are built on personal conversations. Help your employees plan happy hours, team lunches, and company outings throughout the year, and ask for activity suggestions from the team.
While it may seem like company culture is completely the responsibility of the CEO, the people at the top can only do so much. In order for real, positive change to permeate your organization, employees at every level have to be involved. Make sure you're empowering your team to make the changes they want to see at your company.