In the past year, as companies around the globe rapidly transitioned to remote-only or hybrid work situations, many entrepreneurs have faced the challenge of defining or maintaining their corporate culture — the unique way that each organization goes about doing things. Without the usual touchstone of facetime at the office, building your company’s culture may require a fresh approach. Nonetheless, it should be a priority on any entrepreneur’s agenda. Consider Netflix: case in point that a great company culture not only attracts talented employees — it makes investors happy, too.
It’s worth investing the time to ensure that this crucial concept doesn’t fall by the wayside, especially as work conditions continue to evolve. Here, a few tips for honing your company’s culture in the next normal.
1. Capitalize on virtual events
While many companies have struggled to keep uphold their corporate culture, some have managed to make theirs even stronger. Take the fast-casual restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW). By capitalizing on the wide-ranging capabilities of virtual events, they managed to turn lemons into lemonade and connect employees more than ever before.
As Damian Hanft, vice president of training and team member activation, told FSR Magazine, “One silver lining is that it’s easier from a virtual perspective to bring folks together that are across the country versus the old mentality of showing up in person, with the idea being that we’ll hopefully be able to do that sometime soon.”
For example, the company introduced new initiatives, like “What’s Hot at B-Dubs,” an ongoing virtual speaker series that features a different leader each month. Rather than treating the virtual event as an afterthought, the BWW team ensures a high-quality experience with music intros, on-screen graphics, and more.
Whether you’re working online, offline, or a mix of both, by establishing virtual ways of connecting, you can prevent a disruption of the kind of behavior- and attitude-forming events that help cultivate your company’s culture.
2. Continue to celebrate your team
Since my company JotForm went almost completely remote last year, we’ve continued our weekly demo days via Zoom. Usually, I kick off these company-wide chats by highlighting a few company updates. Last week, I shared about a sale that some of our employees closed in Arkansas. It was a relatively minor transaction involving employees in three different time zones and was the result of pro-actively reaching out to new potential users.
So, why did I choose to highlight it? Well sure, a pat on the back for a job well done never hurts. But more importantly, I wanted to celebrate the collaborative nature of this small but important win and the proactive approach of my team. These are the kind of values I want to promote within the company, and while I know I’m not the dictator of culture, I also recognize that employees look to me for signals.
So don’t forget to continue celebrating the kind of behaviors and initiatives you want to encourage in your team.
3. Distribute the responsibility
Today’s most successful companies realize that culture is more sustainable when the entire organization takes part in upholding it. According to Harvard Business Review, the new approach that’s already in place at some organizations “weaves in perspectives from employees to customers, from middle managers to the CEO.”
For example, while founders and CEOs play a big role in defining culture, your company’s HR department can help flesh out what that means on a day-to-day basis and how to reinforce it, using things like culture guidebooks. Managers can regularly offer feedback to promote the kind of work and behavior that fits with the company’s culture. And perhaps even more crucially, employees can provide feedback, too.
As Erin Meyer, Insead professor and co-author of “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention” recently said, “Don’t start by focusing on getting your managers to give feedback to their employees. Focus on getting people to get feedback to you and to your managers. Because once the feedback goes up, then the rest is easy.” When feedback flows both ways, a culture of candor is much more attainable.
For entrepreneurs, the key is defining the distribution of these responsibilities ahead of time, rather than hoping they fall into place along the way.
4. Find engaging ways to have tough conversations
In the past year, companies have had to do some deep soul searching regarding how their cultures measure up in terms of socially-pressing issues. A keystone of any culture, it’s essential to have conversations on these matters in a way that is engaging, not just dialing it in. A more innovative way of thinking about and handling these matters is a smart way to begin.
For example, Storybolt is a company that connects companies with documentary films and their filmmakers, in order to educate employees around topics like implicit bias; racial injustice; mental health; diversity, equity and inclusion; and more. Said Storybolt founder Nassim Abdi. “It creates an ecosystem for understanding each other. Because of that story, because of watching that story, it becomes a prompt to talk about things people are usually not comfortable talking about.”
Skip the humdrum PowerPoint presentation and find ways to really get your employees actively thinking about and discussing the important issues that will define your culture.
5. And remember: culture is fluid
Culture may seem like an issue for startups and scrappy organizations that are still defining themselves, but the truth is, all companies have to continuously grapple with corporate culture. Google, which employs 135,301 full-time workers and counting, recently said that they’re bracing for changes to their corporate culture as they shift to in-office work. According to Erin Meyer, Netflix prides itself on having a dynamic culture, too.
Said Meyer: “It would be incorrect to think that the culture at Netflix is somehow stagnant — that the company has grown, but the culture has stayed the same. They debate the corporate culture frequently, and some things that were going on when I was interviewing Netflix employees for the book have since totally changed.”
If your company grows, you need to consider how that will impact your culture. Same if you’re entering a new market or suddenly shifting from in-office to remote, or vice versa. That’s why the most successful entrepreneurs get in the habit of regularly discussing culture. Think of it as a fluid concept and make it a priority to have ongoing discussions about what is and isn’t working.