How to Better Your Workplace Culture (without spending a dime)

by Kaitlan Whitteberry on November 11, 2016
Checklist: Your Guide To Success With Activity-Based Working

The coworking space I visit in Orange County, Wayfare, has started hosting Monday Forums, hour-long sessions delivered by gifted people, all striving to inspire the workplace leaders of the future. Recently Emily McLaughlin, head of human resources at Nuru, spoke on how to better your company culture, and in the true nature of a non-profit, without spending any money. Here are some takeaways from her session, and how they can apply to even for-profit companies. 

McLaughlin started off by hitting on a major point many organizations face, especially with today’s mobile workforce. How does a company engage their team when half of the employees aren’t even in the same office? By creating a strong company culture. Which is always easier said than done. Regardless if your company has remote workers or not, keeping a team engaged and your company culture fluid can be a challenge. However, despite the challenge, it is absolutely worth the investment. 

            “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker, Management Guru

Define: Company Culture

First, let’s define exactly what a company culture is. Basically it’s your “vibe”. It’s how the mission, vision and values of your company are highlighted through your day-to-day beliefs and behaviors. How your employees are treated, how they interact with each other, and your overall office community all fall under this category. So, why should you care? Studies show, employees who are actively engaged and feel as though they’re part of a community stay at their jobs longer, are more productive and do better work while there.  

Here are three ways to better your company culture: 

Practice What You Preach

What are your established missions, values or beliefs? If you can’t answer this, that is your first task. Once that’s done, think about why someone would want to work for your company. Do you offer flexible hours? Is your office eco-friendly? Do you provide healthy snacks to keep employees fueled? Do you have bike racks outside to encourage alternative transportation? Think about what sets your office apart, and be sure it’s apparent in the daily routine of your workforce, and supports your overall mission. 

Below are a few examples of how Nuru does this:

  • Servant Leadership: Team members are all given the opportunity to share their thoughts in meetings, no one’s opinion is held above anyone else’s. 
  • Transparency: Many of the company’s decisions are explained to everyone working there, to provide a clearer vision for their future, and how these decisions impact the team. 
  • Fail fast, learn fast: Nuru believes that this is one of the best ways to grow, and encourages their workforce to constantly be thinking of new ideas, and learning from the one’s that didn’t work. 

Hire for Culture

Do you currently have a system for vetting candidates? Well, you better get one. You can’t expect to have a sustainable culture without hiring the types of people willing to adopt it. Nuru introduced something to their interview process that powerhouses Amazon and Airbnb routinely conduct, a “culture interview”. They found that asking technical questions about a job candidates’ experience and previous work just wasn’t enough, it didn’t guarantee a good fit. Find people who believe in what your company does, why you do what you do, and are excited about the possibility of working there. 

The Culture Interview

Nuru’s culture interview is carried out by team members unrelated to the one the candidate is applying for – and they don’t ask one question about the candidate’s resume or even relevant experience. Instead they ask questions like:

“What is the best mistake you have made?”

“How do you rely on others to make you better?”

“What would mean the most to you about working here?

The interviewers have a pretty strong pull in the process. Nuru gives them complete veto power if they feel a candidate won’t match their company. They also conduct “the airport test” which basically asks the question, would you want to spend six hours with this person during a layover? If the answer is no? They’re out of the running, simple as that.  

Keep Cultivating

It’s never really over. Companies should be actively adopting this system to fit their team’s needs at that moment. As your organization grows, you’ll notice what works, what fails, and what to do next. Here’s how Nuru constantly monitors their progress, and keeps the entire organization involved. 

Get Feedback

This step is simple, ask your employees what they like about working there, and what they don’t like. Nuru found success by sending everyone a recent article featuring ‘Top 10 Company Cultures’ from big brands, and then had a follow up call about what people thought would work from the list and what wouldn’t. Remember, you’re doing this for them, so the only way to ensure they are on board with what you’re doing, is to keep them involved.  

Get Buy-In

Consider creating culture pillar teams, and have an individual or a group of people constantly working on updating your culture (after all, they are the people actually living it). One of Nuru’s pillar teams pitched a plan for new employee visit one of the countries they support within their first year. They believe that type of interaction is why they are so successful at what they do. Now your ideas don’t have to be this grand, but periodically thinking of new ways to engage your team will ensure you’re always putting their needs first. 

Get Creative

Never use that term “that’s just what we do”. Your culture should be in a constant state of change, mainly because your workforce isn’t going to look the same as it did a year ago, especially if you’re growing. If you do repeat items there should be a valid reason, for instance, everyone in the office really enjoyed it or found value in a particular idea. 

Get Onesies

Okay, so maybe footed pajamas aren’t your thing. The point McLaughlin is making is to incorporate perks your workforce is excited about! Whether it’s offering half-day Fridays in December, ordering laptop stickers featuring your logo, or allowing dogs in the office once a month – you want your staff to be excited about who you are, and what you do. They’re your best advertisers. You want them to represent you when they’re outside of the office – by providing them things or topics that may spark conversation outside the workplace. 

Structuring a company culture isn’t easy, which is why some workplaces skip it altogether. But there’s a reason the largest, and best places to work like Google and Facebook have such a strong definition of their culture, because it matters. It not only attracts top talent, but keeps it, and is a reflection of your organization. Remember, who your company is and what you do are just as important as why. 


Kaitlan Whitteberry

Kaitlan Whitteberry is a Magna Cum Laude graduate from the University of Missouri's journalism program, and currently focuses on iOFFICE press releases, software updates and related news.

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