All companies possess their own unique workplace culture that shapes how things get done, how employees interact with one another, and how people behave. It’s a combination of the values, beliefs, vision, systems, and habits that an organization and its members share. But how do you ensure that culture is positive and authentic?
While culture develops naturally over time regardless, there’s no guarantee that the end product will resemble your ideal state without deliberate, thoughtful effort.
Instead of allowing your organization’s culture to develop without any guiding principles, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to take a proactive approach toward creating the type of positive atmosphere where employees can thrive.
Some organizations promote an informal team-based environment, while others are masters of a traditional and formal approach. Either of these styles can succeed; however, building an exceptional culture requires commitment, high levels of trust, transparency, and a lot of listening.
As Robert E. QuinnAnjan V. Thakor explain in their recent Harvard Business Review article:
“...you do not invent a higher purpose; it already exists. You can discover it through empathy—by feeling and understanding the deepest common needs of your workforce. That involves asking provocative questions, listening, and reflecting.”
By leveraging modern tools, you can begin to collect the information that reinforces desired behaviors and beliefs, ultimately shaping a positive culture that is an authentic reflection of your collective values.
Let’s take a look at how implementing effective employee feedback loops and feedback follow-ups can help define and sustain a positive company culture where employees have the environment they need to do the best work of their career.
1. Establish a Positive Work Environment
Employee experience can significantly impact performance and productivity.
While many different factors can impact employee experience, creating a work environment that reflects your organization’s personality will help define and reinforce the culture that drives that experience.
Your office space (or lack of a physical office space) should reflect the values and personality of your organization. For example, Apple values innovation, creativity, and collaboration. Its $5 billion office space, Apple Park, was designed with culture in mind--to encourage collaboration between different departments, share ideas with coworkers and build an open working environment.
Many of the best, most influential ideas don’t come straight from the top -- they’re often a combination of institutional and individual contributions. Involving your team in these decisions and encouraging feedback conversations will help create a workspace employees enjoy coming to.
To do this, consider your core values and ask your employees what would assist them in living out these values in the workplace. If you’re redesigning the office, survey your team to gather feedback on the new designs.
If you value creativity, what elements of the office will help each team member thrive in that regard? Relaxation pods or mindfulness booths might be used to foster calm and creativity, whereas standing desks or exercise balls can be used to promote health and employee wellbeing.
If you don’t have a centralized physical location, it’s still imperative to understand which elements of your teams’ experience you’re empowered to improve, from simple ergonomic improvements to better communication tools and protocols in your shared digital spaces.
Your employee’s ideas are priceless assets in these endeavors, and as an added benefit, they’ll nearly always appreciate the sense of ownership that comes with being involved in the decision-making process.
2. Develop Authentic Policies and Procedures
Company policies and procedures establish expectations of both an employee and employer. They are there to provide guidance and direction on different workplace situations. Ideally these policies and procedures are an authentic reflection of organizational values.
While some policies and procedures are non-negotiable, there is always room for improvement and addition of new policies to further define your culture. And who could be better positioned to provide feedback and input on those policies than your employees?
Regularly asking your team how a policy or procedure could be improved to enhance their collective experience is a great practice to establish. You might be surprised by the fresh and nuanced perspective your employees have when it comes to the policies and procedures that impact their day-to-day experience.
Pet-friendly offices are a terrific example, with more businesses now recognizing the potential animals have in boosting morale and productivity. Pets are proven to promote a positive mood, relieve stress, and can even improve physical health. Some of the world’s most well-known companies have implemented policies that allow employees to bring their dog to work.
When implementing an innovative policy like a pet-friendly workspace, it's imperative to gather feedback from each employee to ascertain whether the policy is compelling, whether it has been a success, and whether any small changes need to be made.
For example: is anyone allergic to dogs? That’s crucial information you’d need to implement a policy like that without impacting the comfort of some valued teammates.
Feedback loops are one of the best ways to evaluate the potential or ongoing success of any policy. If Microsoft Teams or Slack are the primary means of communication within your organization, you can easily use a tool like Polly to bring those feedback loops directly to your colleagues in the context of their work.
3. Inspire Candid Dialogues
Open, candid conversations are one of the best ways to get to the root of culture-damaging issues and work to resolve them quickly. Unfortunately, this isn’t common in many organizations. A study of over 1,400 corporate executives, employees, and educators found that:
“90 percent of respondents believed that decision makers should seek out other opinions before making a final decision; approximately 40 percent felt that leaders and decision makers consistently failed to do so.”
Opening those lines of communication might seem intimidating at first, but the benefits outweigh any challenges they might present. The better you get at building open, constructive employee feedback loops that focus on improving processes, products, and policies, the easier it will be to iterate and improve in all of these areas.
4. Strengthen Trust and Communication through Transparency
Trust and transparency are vital elements of any lasting relationship, work or otherwise. Within an organization, transparency helps to build the level of trust necessary to provide the foundation for an exceptional employee experience. It can enhance productivity, boost morale and show employees that you value them enough to keep them in the loop.
In a transparent company, employees know what’s happening around them, and they feel more involved. Transparency is most effective when it’s not exclusively top-down, bottom-up, or lateral. It needs to be pervasive, with employees able to voice their opinion to management, knowing it will be shared and valued.
Despite all these benefits, many organizations fail to build a culture employees believe is transparent. A study by the American Psychological Association found that "nearly 1 in 4 workers say they don’t trust their employer and only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them."
So, how do you bake trust and transparency into your culture?
Defaulting to transparency is the simplest place to start. It’s the difference between asking yourself, “Is it absolutely necessary for me to keep this information from the team?” rather than “Is it absolutely necessary for me to share this information with the team?"
Another way to embrace transparency is through open feedback and suggestion channels, providing an opportunity for employees to speak up and share feedback on current projects, corporate decisions, or anything else they wish to bring up.
5. Foster an Environment of Continual Development
Ongoing learning helps employees continuously improve, and it's a significant factor in employee retention, according to the Society for Human Resources Management. This type of effort not only benefits workers as they develop new skills, but it creates opportunities for you to improve your bottom line.
As employees find better ways to work, the company as a whole can develop systems/processes that refine the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations. It also increases employee satisfaction and lets them know you don’t think of them as just another cog in the machine.
Workplace learning culture begins with leadership. Training initiatives should be reinforced and formalized with development plans and regular feedback conversations. If employees aren’t benefiting from the training, there is no point in doing it.
Solicit feedback on the effectiveness of the training. You may find that your employees know a particular topic very well, but struggle with another. Shift and adapt according to the feedback you receive and ensure everyone in your organization is continuously learning and getting the greatest possible benefit from the program.
6. Promote a Sense of Ownership
When you own something--even a small part of something--you have a stake in it. That ownership stake helps employees to graduate from process 'doers' to process owners.
The resulting shift in perspective can provide the intrinsic motivation necessary to graduate from a position of being 'held accountable' to embracing accountability for key outcomes.
Structuring your organizational culture in a way that fosters a sense of ownership is one of the simplest and most effective ways to establish a strong and lasting connection between an employee and their organization’s goals and culture.
Simply giving employees a say in how, when, why, where, and what gets done is an easy, yet powerful way to give employees a sense of ownership and a greater stake in their daily work.
That doesn’t mean you need to throw away your organizational hierarchy, but it’s important to establish a sense of both individual and shared ownership. Achieving progress toward that goal can be as simple as building feedback loops around processes -- gathering information and insights from the people closest to the work, and most importantly, taking action and making improvements based on their input.
7. Recognize and Celebrate Contributions
Recognition for great work is an influential factor in building a positive company culture.
Employees make myriad contributions to your organization all day, every day. The problem is, they’re not always visible to the people who are in a position to recognize them. Oftentimes, the people most qualified to recognize meaningful contributions in any specific area of an organization are those who work most closely to it; however, they’re seldom empowered, encouraged, or reminded to do so.
This is a classic use case for open, transparent employee feedback processes. For example, kicking off a survey at a regular cadence asking employees which of their close colleagues deserves recognition, and why. You might be surprised to learn which of those contributions make a significant impact on multiple others, but aren’t recognized or rewarded.
Take time to recognize, reward, and celebrate those contributions that keep your organization afloat. It’s not just a nice thing to do; it can have outsized impact on your bottom line.
8. Support Proactive Improvements
It’s nearly always preferable to better a situation proactively than reactively. Gathering and analyzing employee feedback can help to surface and resolve issues before they become bigger problems.
With multiple feedback loops in place, it’s much easier to make early course corrections that have a significant impact.
Modern feedback tools that can help to highlight issues that might need your attention, escalate them to the appropriate stakeholders, or even take natural next steps toward resolving them automatically.
Developing a Positive Company Culture
A company’s culture can’t be formed overnight, but by harnessing employee feedback, you’ll begin to define and shape your company’s culture over the following weeks, months and years.
Even the notion of encouraging employee feedback supports a positive culture, as it can show that your company values and respects the input and opinions of its employees.