3 ways to be intentional with workplace culture

Culture is woven into the fabric of how work gets done. Here are three ways to create an intentional culture that drives business success.

Google Trends shows workplace culture searches peaked at the end of 2021, and after dropping off at the beginning of 2022, increased to previous levels. Culture might be one of the most trending HR terms for the year, but it’s been difficult to pinpoint what exactly culture is.

Culture is simply how work gets done. It’s not just a company picnic or casual Fridays. It’s how the organization makes decisions, behaves, communicates, celebrates and recognizes employees.

Culture exists whether leadership is working to shape it or not. If you haven’t been protecting your culture in the past two years, it’s possible it may have gotten away from you. Even if you think you have a handle on your organization’s culture, it doesn’t mean employees agree. To be more intentional about organizational culture, you need to understand how employees experience it.

Quantum Workplace research shows employees feel culture the strongest in three aspects:

  • Mission and values statement
  • Recognition and celebrations
  • Approach to employee performance

The key to a strong workplace culture is making sure it is strengthening employee engagement. Engagement is the strength of connection between an employee and their workplace; it’s the outcome of a great workplace culture. If your employees aren’t engaged, it’s possible your organization’s culture isn’t maximized to engage employees or could even be weakening engagement. Here are three things you can do to aim your culture at boosting engagement.

Evaluate your approach to performance management

Think about how performance intersects with engagement. Employees thrive when expectations are clear and their work aligns with business goals. 

Research shows frequent conversations have a positive impact on employee performance. Employees need feedback from their manager so they can improve. They want their goals aligned with the organization’s goals to see how they contribute to the company’s success. And they want to feel empowered to make decisions on how the work gets done.

How do you create a culture of performance?

  • Employee listening. You need to know what problems exist before you can fix them. Listening to employees gives you information to work with. Analyzing the feedback in relation to other metrics you’re already tracking such as turnover helps you uncover trends and better understand what is going on within the organization. 
  • Goal alignment. Employees’ goals should connect back to team and organizational goals. Connecting the dots aligns employees across the organization and helps employees see their contributions matter. Have managers discuss organizational and team goals, and work with employees to come up with their own goals.
  • Continuous conversations. The once-a-year performance review isn’t enough. Employees crave more consistent feedback. Conversations that happen more frequently lead to employee success. Encourage managers to incorporate weekly touchpoints with their employees. Combined with monthly one-on-ones, more frequent conversations enhance transparency and trust and create a culture of feedback.

Increase trust in leadership

Trust may seem scarce nowadays, but the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer indicates employees trust their CEO and coworkers more than other leaders outside of the workplace. That doesn’t mean there’s no work to do. It opens the door for great workplace cultures built on trust.

Strong relationships are built on trust. Workplace relationships are no different. In fact, employees want to have confidence that executives are leading the organization to success and have their best interests at heart. By using trust as a building block of organizational culture, you are creating a solid network of strong relationships throughout the organization.

How do you create a culture of trust?

  • Listening. Like your approach to performance management, listening to employees is the start of building trust. By being open-minded and listening to employee perspectives, it shows employees their opinion matters, their work is instrumental to the success of the organization, and the organization cares about their work experience. Encourage managers to ask employees what is going well and their ideas to improve processes.
  • Transparency. Clearly communicating the organization’s vision, progress, changes and explaining the why behind all of it helps employees understand the reasons behind decisions. Having a conversation, even if it’s not pleasant, helps people understand the environment and build strong relationships. By taking a few minutes to explain a decision to employees, managers can see how their leadership thinks and trust them to make good decisions.
  • Action. Make sure you walk the talk. Trust comes with not hearing leaders say words employees want to hear. It’s seeing leadership’s actions match what they say. If you ask for employee feedback, make sure to follow up. Connect decisions and changes back to their feedback.

Recognize employees

A Gartner report found that only 24 percent of employees felt recognized for their work. Employees feel valued, engaged and motivated when they’re recognized for their work. Engagement and performance are linked with recognition. Recognition has been proven to increase productivity, retention and engagement, not to mention creating a work culture employees want to be a part of.

Recognition should look different depending on the person or circumstances. It doesn’t always have to be public. It doesn’t always have to come from a supervisor. Establishing a culture of recognition from the top down can also help increase peer-to-peer recognition.

How do you create a culture of recognition?

  • Tie to values and behaviors. It’s not just about recognizing employees. It’s about what the organization recognizes. Recognizing specific actions sets a positive example for behaviors to continue. Try recognizing an employee for exhibiting one of your core values or encourage managers to recognize a good behavior they displayed that they want other employees to model.
  • Highlight goals and efforts. This type of recognition connects back to performance. Employees like to get a rush from an accomplishment emphasized when their boss calls it out. You should also recognize when employees go above and beyond or put a lot of effort into a task or project. When an employee or team achieves their goal, celebrate it. If a big project is completed, acknowledge the hard work that went into it.
  • Be authentic. Give recognition that matters. Don’t think of recognition as a requirement on your to-do list. Recognition can be as simple as an in-the-moment acknowledgment of a great idea or an email saying thank you. Remind managers recognition doesn’t have to be an extravagant celebration. It can be small and still meaningful.

Creating a culture employees want to be a part of isn’t just about improving the employee experience. It’s about setting up an environment people want to work in and being more competitive in recruiting new workers. Engaged employees who are tied to the organization through a great culture are your best ambassadors in recruiting new talent who are looking for a great work experience.