12 key steps to shaping organizational culture

12 key steps to shaping organizational culture

Organizational culture is defined by BusinessDictionary.com as:

“The values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.”

Every organization has a culture. Whether it is a positive one, or the one that is desired by C-level leaders, is a different question. If an organization wants to shape its culture in a certain way, it must integrate cultural thinking into all of its practices. Here are some steps to take.

  1. Define your organization’s values.
    If you haven’t done this, it’s imperative. Your company’s culture will be built on its values. The more stakeholders you involve in this, the more effective, but more difficult, the process will be. You may need someone with an unbiased view to work with you to assess and determine which values are the most critical for your organization. It is critical to involve C-level leaders in this, at the onset. It cannot be “an HR program”.
  2. Hire people who “live” your organization’s values.
    You’ve heard it before, I’m sure – Hire for cultural fit, train for skill. It is next to impossible to change someone’s values, but relatively easy to train technical skills. One example of this came up when I was recently speaking with a past recruiter for a hotel chain with strong family values. She explained that as part of the recruitment phase, candidates are asked who they look up to as a role model. If they say a family member, it demonstrated that this value was aligned with the hotel’s. She said this was a better predictor of success on the job than any of the experience questions they asked.
  3. Make sure that your expectation is clear.
    If one of your organization’s values is that of fun, explain what you mean by that. Is fun decorating your cubicle and encouraging laughter, or is it performing stand-up routines at meetings?
  4. Demonstrate your values from day one, throughout new employee orientation and training.
    For example, if teamwork is a value, wherever possible, do orientation with groups of people. Have them start their career with you with a team. During training, have trainees do activities as a team.
  5. Make your workspace conducive to building your culture.
    Your physical environment contributes to the culture you’re building. Team-oriented cultures should have plenty of meeting spaces. If you want to promote open and transparent communication, create an open workspace.
  6. Use your values as a filter for everything you do.
    I worked for a supermarket chain that did this fabulously. For any new project to begin, the champion of the project had to prove its alignment to the company’s values. All communications included reference to the company’s values. If something didn’t fit, it didn’t get done.
  7. Promote people based on your corporate values.
    The best employee is not always the best leader. Many organizations promote individuals based solely on performance, but as people move up the corporate ladder, it becomes more important for them to live your values.
  8. Reward people based on, and using, your values.
    If one of your values is innovation, reward creative ideas, even if they aren’t perfect. Even better, reward them with something creative – like the opportunity to work on a creative project.
  9. Tell stories that demonstrate your values.
    I don’t mean make up stories. I mean DO things that create stories that demonstrate your values, and then continue to tell the stories. One company that I worked for valued servant leadership. Stories were often told about how the CEO would make rounds around the office with ice cream bars on hot summer days, and would deliver bonus letters personally to each employee. His actions created the stories.
  10. Demonstrate your values, every day.
    At one retailer I worked with, one of our values was of Social Responsibility. The CEO lived this value daily, from implementing charity drives in our stores, to investing in energy efficient systems, to donating his own time and money to social causes.
  11. Terminate the employment relationship with those who don’t share your values.
    Core values run deep, and it is difficult to force people to change theirs. If there are people on your team who do not share your company’s values, they can cause destruction, disengagement, and loss of productivity. Eventually, you may have to end the relationship.
  12. Let your values shine for your customers as well as your employees.
    In all customer touch points, from social media to IRL interactions, remember and demonstrate your values.

There are easily hundreds of other steps to take, and the ones that will have the most impact for your organization will depend on where you are in your development and what type of culture you’re building.

Have you taken part in the building process of a great culture? What steps have you taken or seen that had positive impact?

Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook page.

Related posts:

Building Company Culture – 3 Considerations

Building Positive Company Culture

Storytelling to Engage Your Team

Fun Gets Results (examples of building fun into culture)

Pic courtesy of sxc.hu user Linder6580


  1. October 31, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Where was all this information 30 years ago is what I want to know. Can you imagine how different our business environment and economy would look like had companies been hiring like this for a generation or two?

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      October 31, 2011 at 2:58 pm

      No doubt Michele! Imagine how much further ahead we would be... one day...

      Reply »
  2. September 14, 2012 at 8:58 am

    [...] Discussion about culture should be passionate and engaging. If it’s not, you can be assured one or more parties is either completely disinterested or completely disengaged. And neither of those is good. So speak up, and encourage your team to do the same. Culture is as important and meaningful as you make it–together. [...]

    Reply »
  3. December 7, 2012 at 9:44 am

    [...] minute that you’ve been putting some of the foundational, building-block things in place to foster and support healthy culture (things like clarifying the values, making sure teammates understand them, aligning recruiting and [...]

    Reply »
  4. December 31, 2012 at 8:03 am

    [...] 12 Keys to Building Organizational Culture [...]

    Reply »
  5. May 19, 2013 at 9:40 am

    [...] http://www.pamross.ca/12-key-steps-to-shaping-organizational-culture/ [...]

    Reply »

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