6 min read

January 06, 2023

7 steps to create a better business culture

Help ensure your employees both understand your company’s values and feel valued themselves, no matter where they spend their workdays.

Business people smile during a planning meeting.

If you were to ask each of your employees what defines your business culture, would they be able to tell you? If they can’t answer and you may not have formalized why your company is a good place to work, how you support and value employees, how what you do connects with the world outside your doors, then your workforce may struggle to understand their “why” of work.

The challenge is even more significant if, like 73% of small and midsize businesses, you’ve permanently shifted to a remote or hybrid setup.1 Those employees may feel a disconnect from your business culture, leading to disengagement, loss of talent, and a negative impact on the bottom line.

Developing a work culture doesn’t have to be complicated. You probably already know most of what you need to put it together. These seven steps (and question prompts) walk you through the process.

Step 1: Define and circulate core values.

What does your business do, and why? Beyond growth and profits, what’s important to you? Those are your core values; they can be written, formalized, and recirculated frequently.

“Effective leadership is about bringing people together and making them feel like they’re working together and contributing to a common cause,” says Ina Purvanova, Ph.D., professor of leadership and management and department chair at Drake University’s College of Business and Public Administration in Des Moines, Iowa.

In addition, employees’ roles contribute to “help people feel connected and ‘in it’ together, creating culture from the inside out,” says Peggy Shell, CEO and founder of Colorado-based recruiting firm Creative Alignments.

Questions to get you started: What are your core values?

  • What do you do?
  • Why do you do it?
  • How do you share what you do and why you do it? (brand messaging, employee roles, etc.)
  • What is your mission statement?
  • How do employees’ roles support your core values?

Step 2: Establish practices to ensure your employees feel valued.

There’s a perception gap between employers and employees in how they feel appreciated, understood, and valued. That includes understanding advancement opportunities, work-life fit, satisfaction with managers, and compensation.

As you work on the question prompts below, ask employees what’s important to them and what makes them feel valued—their employee sentiment.

Questions to get you started: How do you measure employee sentiment?

  • Do your employees understand advancement opportunities and opportunities to enhance work-life fit?
  • Do you measure satisfaction with managers and compensation?
  • Do you detail the expected frequency of routine one-on-ones and employee surveys?
  • Do you conduct regular reviews, including competitive compensation packages?
  • Do you collect feedback through daily interactions/get-to-know-me moments and free online survey tools?

Step 3: Create expectations for communication, connection, and psychological safety.

Your business culture is a product of the people that make it up. An ideal work environment supports employees doing their best work and ensures they interact with you and one another positively and appropriately.

“Don’t underestimate the impact that every small interaction can have on making or breaking company culture,” says Kara Hoogensen, senior vice president of specialty benefits at Principal®. “Make sure leaders in the organization have their pulse on how employees want to be communicated with and what ultimately leads to meaningful connection for them—both aggregate and on an individual basis.”

For example, you may check in with an employee through a quick message to ensure they're coping if they have a heavy workload. That’s informal communication and connection. You may ask department managers to hold bi-weekly meetings with direct reports to review workload and other needs; that’s formal. And you may encourage (and offer resources for) casual team meetings—virtual or in-person—giving members opportunities for formal and informal connection.

Questions to get you started: What’s the expected frequency of:

  • Formal communication?
  • Informal communication?
  • Celebrations and holidays?
  • Camaraderie opportunities such as employee resource groups for connection, community, and inclusion?

Step 4: Detail accountability expectations.

A positive business culture focuses on counting contributions, not counting hours. Flexibility demands different ways to hold people accountable, which may entail a shift in mindset and culture.

If you’ve shifted to hybrid or remote, you may feel a loss of control; that’s natural. Try to replace control with trust, Purvanova suggests: “How do you feel when someone trusts you? Valued, accountable, and responsible.”

Accountability expectations for your hybrid business culture may include:

  • Noting planned, significant time away on a shared calendar
  • Creating measurable goals for teams and identifying accountability members
  • Embracing transparency on performance
  • Instituting communication expectations
  • Letting go of intrusive monitoring (think activating webcams or questioning why someone didn’t respond right away)

Questions to get you started: How do you gauge accountability?

  • What are the attendance requirements at meetings, activities, etc.?
  • What communication expectations have you shared?
  • Do employees understand performance expectations?

Step 5: Align benefits to your culture.

Current employees feel valued when benefits support their work-life needs and goals. Potential employees view your workplace as desirable when a well-rounded benefits package is part of compensation. Your existing benefits may do both already, but it’s worth consistently reviewing traditional benefits such as retirement, health and income protection insurance (disability), and non-traditional perks. And think outside the box regarding hybrid and remote workers; an online workout subscription may be more desirable than an onsite gym, for example.

Connect with and involve employees through a working group made of people from all locations, levels, and demographics or a company-wide initiative. A survey ranking existing and potential new benefits work, too. “People change, and the environment changes. Make a deliberate effort to revisit periodically,” Hoogensen says.

Benefits to appeal to a hybrid or remote workplace may include:

  • House cleaning services
  • Wi-Fi reimbursement
  • Coffee shop credits
  • Fitness programs
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Workstation and office supply stipends
  • Pet insurance
  • Travel discounts
  • Caregiving support
  • Telehealth services
  • Mental health benefits
  • Flexible monthly stipend to use as see fit
  • Access to a choose-your-own perks platform

Questions to get you started: Do your benefits align with your values?

  • What benefits do you offer?
  • Do these benefits match up with what you say you stand for?
  • How often do you review benefits with employees?

Step 6: Create mechanisms to support mental health.

Employees that struggle with burnout, work schedules, or feeling undervalued are less likely to be able to contribute their whole selves to work. “People-first cultures are rooted in a philosophy that values people over profits. The ironic twist is that when employees are valued as whole individuals and provided the opportunity for well-being, connection, and fulfillment, companies are generally more innovative, resilient, and even profitable,” Shell says.

Support for mental health may include:

  • providing—and communicating access to—a confidential employee assistance program (EAP),
  • stress surveys—with action to follow, and
  • work schedule evaluation, including hours worked (particularly for those working extra).

“It comes back to creating an environment where employees are going to be best positioned to deliver their best work,” Hoogensen says. “If employees feel supported while at and away from work, they have more mind space available to deliver great results.”

Questions to get you started: How do you support mental health?

  • Do you offer and communicate about an EAP?
  • How are you supporting a work-life fit with work schedules?
  • How do you gauge stress and overwork levels?
  • How are you enhancing employee growth and development with new skills and experiences?
  • How are you protecting the health and safety of employees?

Step 7: Bring it all together.

After you’ve completed the steps above, create or update a document detailing your business culture for existing and new employees.

  • Our purpose is:
  • Our values are:
  • We ensure our employees feel valued by:
  • We encourage communication and connection through:
  • We measure accountability with:
  • We support employee mental well-being by:

What's next?

Once you’ve created or refined your business culture, what steps can you take to protect your business’s financial well-being? The Principal® Business Needs Assessment can help deliver a personalized report to help you set priorities to reach your business goals.

1 Principal Financial Well-Being Index, 2022 SM

Drake University's College of Business and Public Administration and Creative Alignments are not affiliates of any member company of the Principal Financial Group®

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment, or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel, financial professionals, and other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.

Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Company®. Plan administrative services offered by Principal Life. Principal Funds, Inc. is distributed by Principal Funds Distributor, Inc. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., member SIPC and/or independent broker/dealers. Referenced companies are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.

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