June 14 2022

How can HR teams help build an intentional culture?

Building an intentional culture enables a business to attract and retain the best talent and the clients it needs to grow and thrive. But how can HR teams help build the culture that delivers results? Dive in for tips on building an intentional culture.

What is workplace culture?

Workplace culture is the personality of a business. It’s the attitudes, values and practices shared by employees across an organisation. These attitudes, values and practices are reflected in their interactions with each other and with the company’s clients.   

A healthy culture increases employee engagement and morale which drives business success. In fact, businesses that prioritise culture continually outperform competitors.

How can HR teams build an intentional culture?

When a business starts up, culture develops organically through the personalities of the leaders. But then the company grows and more people join the organisation. 

This results in different attitudes, values and perspectives entering the mix. This means that the original culture can become watered-down or confused. This is when it’s important to create a positive workplace culture intentionally.

If you’re building culture when scaling up, Forbes suggests:

  1. Identifying the true culture of the business.
  2. Ensuring leaders buy into the culture.
  3. Making sure beliefs and behaviour align.

But what does this mean for organisations and HR teams in practice? Let’s take a look at each of them. 

Identifying the true culture

To understand how to improve workplace culture it’s important to get as near to the truth as possible. This may not be as simple as you think. That’s because how business leaders view company culture can be very different to how employees see it.

It’s best to start by listening to employees through informal conversations. These can take the form of:

  • Organic feedback (for instance, when someone raises an issue or asks a question).
  • Annual reviews.
  • Interviews employee engagement surveys to gather employee feedback. 

Ask your employees, can they identify the company values? Can they see evidence of these values on a day-to-day basis?

Don’t forget to consider how you recruit new employees. Are they recruited based on skills alone or because their personalities and values are a good fit for the business? When a new person joins, what does the onboarding process look like? Do they understand workplace culture from the outset? 

You might also want to think about how business values are promoted day-to-day. For example through general interactions, annual reviews, and training programmes. Is that business value encouraged, recognised and rewarded? 

Ensuring business leaders buy into building an intentional culture

The key to creating a positive culture is through business leaders. That’s because business leaders can contribute to a healthy culture at work or they can hinder it. 

However, business leaders may not always understand the importance of living the values that make up the company’s culture.

A study by HBS Professor James Heskett shows a link between healthy workplace culture and strong financial returns. This evidence is an ideal business case for investing in a great company culture.

Leaders need to understand the company values and demonstrate them in their behaviour to reinforce them to others. For instance, they way that leaders manage challenges and communicate with others heavily contributes to the company culture.  

Making sure beliefs and behaviour align

It’s vital that leaders treat employees in a way that’s align to the company’s core values. According to this Forbes article,

When employees ‘feel engaged in a dynamic and caring work culture, their performance, pride and loyalty skyrocket the company and its clients to success.’

A healthy culture at work actively promotes employee wellbeing in many different ways:

A respectful environment

A healthy culture generally places greater importance on tracking performance than time spent at a desk. This approach means that employees’ efforts are recognised. Similarly, a healthy culture also encourages collaboration rather than internal competitiveness.

When employees feel micromanaged or criticised, this can lead to a toxic workplace culture. This typically increases the number of sick days taken, raises employee turnover rates, and reduces productivity.

Open communication

Being transparent and having open discussions with employees empowers them to share their experiences. The upside of doing this is that it can help business leaders to understand whether employees feel connected to the company’s values.

A lack of openness can lead employees to feel vulnerable and insecure. By actively involving employees in decision-making, they feel trusted and valued. 

Wellbeing initiatives

Wellbeing initiatives are a key way to build your company culture intentionally because the initiatives you choose demonstrate what’s important to the organisation. For instance, employers can offer enhanced pension contributions, private health care, dental care, free eye tests, clothing allowances and so much more. 

Typically, financial wellbeing is an area of employee wellbeing that’s most often neglected. But at a time when most people are feeling the financial pinch, it’s never been more important. Earned wage access is a great way to boost employee financial wellbeing.

Using the Openwage app, employees can access their earnings at any time. This means they don’t need to take out expensive payday loans or dip into an overdraft if they have an unexpected bill to pay. For instance, employees can use Openwage to pay for a parking fine, car repair, or household emergency. 

Work/life balance

Everybody’s life is different. People may live on their own, with others in a shared house, or with their family. 

Each person’s lifestyle and individual circumstances places different demands on them. So it makes sense for businesses to offer a degree of flexibility so employees can achieve a healthy work/life balance. There’s a benefit to the organisation too, as it can help their employees be more productive. This is because employees are less likely to experience burnout.

That’s not all. That’s because a healthy work/life balance for employees can also help boost retention.

Building an intentional culture in remote organisations 

With people gradually returning to offices, many companies have a hybrid mix. Some employees are working from home and others from the office. The danger is that two separate cultures can emerge. 

Those working remotely may feel isolated and left out of discussions as those in the office begin to collaborate in person. To counter this, it’s important that leaders value in-person and remote workers equally.

To prevent a potential two-tier system, business leaders could ask remote workers what would help them to stay in touch with co-workers. Mechanisms could include instant messaging apps, more regular recognition of their contributions by managers, or a peer monitoring system. 

Positive workplace culture examples

SC Johnson and Lindt are ranked as number four and number five respectively in the Best Workplaces 2021 list of large companies. This is in recognition of their positive workplace cultures.

How had Lindt built an intentional culture?

Lindt has embedded a ‘people first’ philosophy into their company culture. 

Their core principle is its foundation of ‘people at their best’. For instance, Lindt run a ‘Being at our best’ induction programme for new employees to promote this value. In the programme, they ask employees what they need and aim to be as flexible as possible to meet those needs. 

During the pandemic, Lindt discovered that greater use of video calls and technology made their business more inclusive and flexible. Consequently, the positive feedback they received from employees has resulted in permanent changes that have benefited the business.

How has SC Johnson built an intentional culture?

Leadership teams at SC Johnson listened to what their employees needed during the pandemic and took a flexible approach. They recognised that everyone had their individual challenges during this time. Because of this, they didn’t impose rigid rules.

SC Johnson embraced technology and used it to foster a culture of trust, allowing employees to manage their own time. As a direct result of this approach, levels of collaboration improved and they received positive feedback from employees.

Final thoughts on building an intentional culture

For a growing business, building an intentional culture is essential to ensure a business’s core values are clear to everyone. Research has proved that businesses that invest time into creating a positive culture out-perform other businesses. 

A healthy culture engages employees and gives them a clear purpose. In turn, this drives productivity and leads to enhanced customer service. This benefits a business’s bottom line. With this in mind, what are you waiting for?