How to build a company culture that everyone feels connected to?

With challenges in hiring, engagement, and retention, it is essential to build an intentional company culture that aligns with an organisation’s purpose and values. In an Undutchables Expert Talk, Ligia Koijen Ramos emphasises the importance of creating a culture that fosters engagement and encourages employees.

Jasper Spanjaart on July 19, 2023 Average reading time: 5 min
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How to build a company culture that everyone feels connected to?

If you’re looking, the statistics are quite literally everywhere. Company culture is a significant consideration for 46% of job seekers, with married candidates placing a higher emphasis on culture compared to their single counterparts. A staggering 94% of entrepreneurs and 88% of job seekers recognise the essentiality of a healthy work culture in achieving success. Moreover, an overwhelming 86% of job seekers actively steer clear of companies with unfavourable reputations.

Cultures should be intentional

“Creating a company culture that everyone feels connected to is crucial for organisations to address challenges in hiring, engagement, and retention”, says Koijen Ramos, an expert in organisational culture, in an Undutchables Expert Talk. “The creation of an organisational culture must be intentional and should serve the purpose of the organisation”, says Ligia. “It is crucial to establish a clear vision and mission for the company as a starting point. The culture should align with these foundational elements, creating a snowball effect of alignment throughout the organisation.”

‘The way we do things here’

But when you get into the nitty gritty behind the definition of a culture, it’s easy to get lost. According to the dictionary, a culture is defined as the beliefs, customs, practices, and social behaviour of a particular group of people or society. It encompasses the shared values, traditions, arts, language, and way of life that characterise a community or civilisation. Culture can also refer to the cultivation of intellectual and artistic pursuits, as well as the ideas, attitudes, and behaviours that are prevalent within a specific group or organisation.

Three different cultures

“Culture is the way we do things around here”, explains Ligia. “It encompasses procedures, communication styles, and employee behaviours.” Overall, Ligia sees three different types of cultures that encapsulate how things are done. 

  • Assumed culture: This refers to the values, norms, and principles that an organisation or group believes it upholds. It represents the idealised version of how things are supposed to be, often articulated through mission statements, written policies, and stated values.
  • Current culture: This reflects the reality of what is truly happening within the organisation. It encompasses the actual behaviours, attitudes, and practices that exist among employees and leadership, regardless of the stated or assumed culture. It is important to understand the current culture to identify any gaps or misalignments between the assumed and actual values.
  • Paradise culture: This concept envisions an ideal world or desired state of organisational culture. It represents the aspirational and utopian culture that an organisation strives to achieve, characterised by high employee satisfaction, collaboration, innovation, and alignment with the organisation’s mission and values.

“It’s vital to understand the gap between those three cultures: the assumed culture, current culture, and paradise culture. Organisations need to assess their existing culture and determine if it supports the desired company vision. Recognising the current state of culture is the first step toward building a culture that aligns with organisational goals.”

Have you thought about the safety?

Ligia Koijen Ramos

But when culture discussions take place, one element often goes unnoticed. Ligia highlights the importance of creating a safe environment in three aspects: physical safety, mental safety, and a sense of belonging. While mental aspects and behaviour tend to receive more focus in discussions about culture, physical safety should not be overlooked. Factors such as seating arrangements, facilities, and noise levels can significantly impact employees’ sense of safety and trust. Trust is a critical factor in engagement, and organisations must create an environment where employees feel safe and valued.

“Our main goal should be to create that safety. We have a purpose, a vision and we’re going to be so congruent on designing a culture that represents that so people know what they can count on.”

“Creating a safe environment is crucial in culture building”, says Ligia. “This includes physical safety, mental safety, and a sense of belonging. Factors such as seating arrangements, facilities, and noise levels can significantly impact employees’ sense of safety and trust. The big issue with the current engagement, or lack thereof, is the trust. People don’t engage because they don’t trust or feel safe. Our main goal should be to create that safety. We have a purpose, a vision and we’re going to be so congruent on designing a culture that represents that so people know what they can count on.”

Don’t dismiss the past

Then the question beckons: how to build the paradise culture every HR and talent leader dreams of? The first step should be to not dismiss the past. “When transforming a culture, it is important not to reject the previous culture entirely”, advises Ligia. “Instead, organisations should reinforce the idea that change is occurring while providing a comparison point for employees. By understanding the reasons behind the change, employees can compare the old and new cultures, leading to a more successful transition.”

Three approaches for a strong organisational culture 

Ligia suggests three approaches to building a strong organisational culture. “Recruitment should be a starting point for cultural development. Hiring individuals who already exhibit the desired cultural traits can create a positive ripple effect within the organisation”, she says. Secondly, she advises organisations to really engage with employees who have complaints or concerns. “These individuals can offer valuable insights into areas that need improvement and guide the culture-building process.” 

“Values should be expressed through observable behaviours, creating a measurable framework for assessing cultural alignment and progress.”

As a third point, she highlights the importance of making values tangible and practical. “Values should be expressed through observable behaviours, creating a measurable framework for assessing cultural alignment and progress. Any culture will take some time to change. But you need to continue to focus on the gaps and how to measure those gaps between the assumed culture, current culture, then relate that with the ideal culture and focus on the gaps. Define the strategies and focus on how to increase or decrease certain gaps.”

Change starts from the top

To drive a change in culture, it is essential for management to take the lead. Merely instructing people on what they should be doing is insufficient. “It is crucial that leaders exemplify the desired behaviour themselves. This demonstration of trust is vital because employees need to witness their leaders practicing what they preach. If leaders fail to lead by example, it becomes easier for employees to give up and question why they should make the effort. Therefore, it is crucial for the management team to embrace the desired cultural changes. Making values real and relatable helps employees connect with them on a practical level.”

This article is based on the Undutchables Expert Talk Series by Ligia Koijen Ramos. On November 17, 2023, Undutchables will host Part 3, about The Secret to an Organisational Culture That Everyone Loves Belonging. Sign up for free via this link.

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Jasper Spanjaart

Jasper Spanjaart

Editor-in-Chief and Writer at ToTalent.eu
Editor-in-Chief and writer for European Total Talent Acquisition platform ToTalent.eu.
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