Who Really Owns Your Company Culture?

There are certain lists you never want to find yourself on, such as the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives,” the TSA’s “No-Fly List,” and the list of America’s worst companies to work for.

Every year, 24/7 Wall St. releases a list of the 11 worst companies in the U.S. based on independently examined employee reviews on Glassdoor. While there are many factors that contribute to these companies’ low ratings, the overarching theme, year after year, is their lack of attention to company culture.

To avoid finding your company’s name on this unsavory list in 2015, you need to take the time to evaluate who owns your company’s culture and how that affects the dynamic and productivity of your team.

Why ownership matters

Company CultureYou may be thinking that asking who “owns” your company’s culture is a strange question. After all, culture is intangible, so no one can really own it, right?

But if no one in your organization has claimed ownership of the company’s culture, who’s minding the store? It probably isn’t a top priority.

On the other hand, culture efforts can backfire if they’re not inclusive. For example, you can’t force people to have fun or participate in events they’re not interested in. You also run the risk of people getting a little “too” spoiled, taking advantage of an otherwise casual or loose environment and feeling entitled to even more.

Ideally, you should strive to create and promote an environment in which every employee owns the culture and plays a clear role in the organization’s success. All employees and leaders should understand the part they play in maintaining the company’s core values and achieving its goals.

  • The CEO should be an evangelist for the culture and the company’s core values. He or she must be genuine, consistent, and positive. Without a strong leader at the helm, companies risk developing a culture of fear, blame, and manipulation. A conscious leader, on the other hand, can promote teamwork and cohesion.
  • Senior leaders should exemplify the company culture by actively sponsoring, organizing, and participating in activities designed to promote the desired culture. Senior leaders must also be willing to make tough decisions (such as getting rid of employees who aren’t a good fit) to preserve the culture and avoid losing the trust of high-performing team members.
  • Front-line managers are the linchpins of a company’s culture because the employee-supervisor relationship is one key factor that influences employee engagement. Managers must listen to and accept employee opinions and ideas and be champions for company development, values, and goals. 
  • Front-line workers must take ownership of the culture as much as anyone else in the company. Rather than assuming senior leaders will shape company culture, workers should participate in the process by voicing concerns and offering ideas for how to make things better. When employees have a say in how the company is run, they’re more motivated to succeed — with or without direct supervision.
  • Your customers might not understand the full extent of your company’s goals, but a customer-first culture gives you a fighting chance at mastering the interactions they have with your company.

If you find that one group owns your company’s culture more than others, it’s your responsibility to shift the balance back to those who’ve been denied a voice. Emphasize shared cultural ownership by supporting activities that bring different parts of the organization together.

Budget for departmental bonding experiences, and give groups room to build upon your cultural foundation. At my company, we have “culture ambassadors”: non-managerial, front-line team members whose job is to bridge the gap between corporate and local initiatives.

By creating alignment across the organization, your company will benefit from increased loyalty, engagement, and cohesion. These positive changes can also impact other business metrics, leading to lower attrition, improved customer loyalty, and increased revenue.

Rather than risking appearing on the list of the worst places to work in 2015, look at the dynamic of cultural ownership in your company. When you take steps to promote shared ownership across all divisions, your employees will make the company their own and become more motivated to help it succeed.

About the Author

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth; he also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham.