A vibrant workplace culture is commonly cited as the No. 1 contributor to organizational success. Never before has the workforce demanded that cultural elements such as diversity and inclusion, health and well-being, flexibility, workspace design, enhanced collaboration, and innovation are all in place for them to do their best work.

Organizations and their leadership teams cannot be passive in their approach to this cultural evolution. For too long, they’ve tried to take the easy route to culture. They’ve attempted hiring consultants to define the culture, restructuring the organization, or implementing open floorplans or the other latest silver bullet method (it’s currently “agile”). While these methods may have provided a short-term improvement, they’ve avoided long-term sustainability.

The Importance of Culture

Culture pervades everything that happens in an organization on a day-to-day basis, from the behavior of senior leaders in large global companies to the way that younger players are treated on sports teams. It dictates where people sit in a classroom, how meetings are run in an office, how decisions are made on a ship, how construction projects are delivered, how orchestras play together and how clothes are marketed online. Every organization has a culture, and it belongs to every one of its employees.

According to Gallup’s 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report, when organizations enable employees to define what a vibrant culture looks, like it can produce the following benefits:

  • Increased productivity
  • Higher sales
  • Improved safety
  • Higher engagement
  • Reduced operating costs
  • Faster time to market

When they don’t undertake this important culture work, organizations risk stagnation, and stagnant cultures, according to Gallup, cost U.S. businesses alone over $500 billion per year.

The Six Pillars of Culture

Organizations often avoid culture change work because of its perceived complexity or because it’s an unknown. Yet cultures evolve on a day-to-day basis either way, so it’s important to declare it a priority and start cracking. But where to start? Here are the six pillars of vibrant workplace culture.

1. Personality and Communication

The way into any culture is its people and the way that they communicate with each other. Personality surveys can be an effective mechanism for improving empathy and communication; however, all too often, they put people in boxes and create only short-term interest rather than improved self-awareness.

2. Vision

At the heart of a vibrant culture is an aspirational statement of the future — a short but powerful statement that inspires both the people who work within the organization and the talent outside it. It’s achievable at a stretch and sets the tone for the strategic intent.

3. Values

Values can be an asset to an organization, but it’s important that they’re not used as a weapon. Identifying and defining them is an important exercise, and staying true to them requires courage and determination.

4. Behavior

It’s crucial that everyone knows and understands the behaviors expected of him or her, because only then can the organization hold people to them. Diversity and inclusion, performance management, and recognition and rewards are important tools for upholding what the organization has agreed on.

5. Collaboration

The word “collaboration” is used frequently in cultures all around the world, but all too often, it seems to mean “meeting.” When done well, collaboration makes good use of technology, encourages streamlined process and provides workspaces where everyone can do their best work.

6. Innovation

Without employees who provide new ideas and challenge existing cultural norms, many organizations risk becoming the next Kodak. Innovation doesn’t belong in a special hub with special people; it lives inside everyone. All employees need is the time to use data to be creative and learn quickly from failure.

Making It Stick

Cultural evolution involves a systemic change of almost everything within an organization, but with the right level of commitment and determination from senior managers and employees, it’s achievable. By ensuring that each of the six pillars are addressed by everyone who is part of the culture, and by modeling the behaviors expected of them, senior managers can send a message that the employee experience is important. With a continual focus on culture, organizations will ensure that they never have to run a culture program or implement the latest method ever again.