Tips for Maintaining Culture Through Change

14th September 2021

A company’s culture is vital to its success, provided it is a healthy culture that fosters inclusiveness, productivity and empathy, among other things.

93% of CEOs say that it’s important that their organisation has a strong corporate purpose that’s reflected in its values, behaviours and culture.

New employees need to feel as though they’re joining a group of people who have a clear group identity and a clear way of doing things. They should feel that they are united in their overall approach to achieving their objectives.

Existing employees should feel that they’re comfortable working in the current culture and able to deal with any changes appropriately with support from colleagues and managers. Whilst there is a clear group identity, within the group there needs to be a feeling of being comfortable with being themselves within the group.

A company’s culture is often closely linked to the quality of their employees’ experience. The better the culture, the more likely it is that employees will enjoy a better experience at work.

As a result, they’ll be more eager to come into the office (whether that be virtual or physical) for reasons that aren’t financial. The experience will have an effect on how engaged the employees are with their job roles, colleagues and their employers.

Over time, culture can change either out of preference or necessity. The trick here is to ensure if and when it does happen that the process is as seamless as possible and that the outcome is positive overall.

We’ll give you some great tips on how you can do this so that your culture can help your business to holistically thrive.

The benefits of using tech for employee retention Infographic

Why is Employee Engagement Important to a Company’s Success?

Engaged employees consistently perform better than those who aren’t. Oftentimes it’s the companies who are the most holistically successful, e.g. their positive external brand is matched or better internally, have the most engaged employees.

If a company wants to achieve anything, whether that be:

  • Increasing market share
  • Increasing revenue
  • Bringing new products to market
  • Entering a new market
  • Increasing revenue
  • Increasing brand awareness

They must have engaged employees. It’s virtually impossible to do any of this without them. Employers will benefit from focusing on employee engagement by being in a better position to achieve the aforementioned objectives. Making employee engagement a priority is also an opportunity for employers to show that they care about their employees outside of their skillset. Being valued as a human and not just for your job title is critical and potentially a competitive advantage when it comes to employee retention and acquisition.

However, managers must be aware of the type of job, company and role that both they and their employees are in. As important as engagement is to a company’s success, there will be different levels of it depending on the type of job and company. For example, the CIPD says that engagement for administrative, manual and casual jobs are generally lower than managerial and professional jobs.

Employers must take this into account when managing their staff. Expecting managerial levels of engagement from a casual job is unrealistic. However, if a person in a managerial job has casual levels of engagement, then that’s an opportunity to investigate why and improve it.

Engaged employees are also more likely to advocate for their employers during and after employment, which makes recruiting easier and more cost-effective for that employer.

High employee engagement will also make establishing and maintaining a company culture a more seamless process.

Changing Company Culture

78% of CEOs have changed their people strategy to reflect the skills and employment structures needed for the future.
Change is inevitable in pretty much all aspects of life. A lot has changed in 20 years, particularly in the world of work. Things such as:

  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Flexible working
  • Mental health
  • Cyber security
  • Employee wellbeing

All weren’t at the forefront of most company cultures back in the year 2001. Now they’re the norm for most. If you want a happy workforce, these are some of the key things to work on. A culture of ‘all I need is a pay rise’ is now obsolete.

But how do you make change without disrupting harmony? Well, in our opinion, that doesn’t exist. Company culture change is often a bit messy as you’re dealing with uncertainty at scale.

However, it can be made a bit less messy and sometimes surprisingly smooth if a few aspects are respected – most importantly, the feedback of the employees who have already been (hopefully) living and breathing the existing company culture. Leaving them out of the loop and just dropping the changes in without any consultation is a recipe for disaster.

Getting feedback from employees at every stage of the process of cultural change is vital to its success. What’s equally as important is ensuring that the feedback gathered plays an integral part in the process and is acted upon accordingly.

Culture is a Group Effort

Culture may start from the top, but it continues throughout the rest of the company. Think of culture building and maintenance as the senior leadership team being the ignition on a car, but employees being the engine and fuel to keep the car going once it’s started.

Everyone inside the business needs to be aligned and practise what the culture is. Otherwise, it will likely lead to disruption and a loss of productivity.

How to Maintain Company Culture in a Growing Company

The difficulty doesn’t end once the culture has been changed. Now is the time to maintain it, which in some cases can be even more difficult than the initial change.

Open and Honest Feedback

In a way, changing culture is an ongoing project – one that is never finished. In order to be in a position to make significant changes to an existing culture, it must be maintained in the first place.

It’s like building and maintaining a house: if you want to make renovations, the house needs to be in good shape for those renovations to go smoothly.

The process of maintaining culture as well as building it isn’t linear. There will be tweaks that need to be made along the way. There will be times when you feel that things aren’t going as well as they should be, times when you need to go backwards or sideways to move forwards. That’s a normal part of culture building and maintenance.

There needs to be a culture (yes, we know the irony) of open and honest feedback for any culture to be implemented and survive once done so. This is arguably at the core of everything employers do. The employees are just as important as customers. They aren’t always right, but they always need to be listened to.

Trust in C Suite

The ones in charge of setting the tone (with employee input) of the company must be trusted by the people they manage. In this case, think of a captain – or captains – and a ship. The staff on the ship need to trust that the captains are going in the right direction. Otherwise, the journey will be unpleasant – less ‘are we there yet?’ and more ‘do you even know where we’re going?’

C Suite staff must put their ego aside and focus on the greater good of the company.

A Proactive and Reactive Approach

Proactive or reactive, which is better? When maintaining a culture, both. Again, back to the boat from the last point, but imagine you’re in the captain’s deck, in charge alone.

To maintain the correct course, you’re being proactive (looking at the radar for obstacles up ahead and around you) and reactive (steering to avoid a rogue wave that appears out of nowhere).

Those at the forefront of maintaining the organisational culture must do both, and well, in order to maintain the correct course. This involves dealing with day-to-day things such as:

  • Employee feedback
  • Productivity levels
  • Employee experience

As well as more strategic, longer-term elements such as:

  • How is the current culture enabling us to achieve our objectives?
  • What are the current trends within our industry that can affect our culture?

Rewards and Consequences

Also known as carrots and sticks. In order to maintain a status quo (which in this case can be fluid), there needs to be clear and adequate rewards and a penalty system in place that rewards those who show that they are engaged and consequences for those who aren’t.

Now it’s important to distinguish this from ‘if you don’t do what we say, we fire you’. That’s not what we’re saying at all.

Consequences can be good or bad. The ‘stick’ in this case can mean regular check-ins for those who aren’t settling in well or struggling with the culture. From these check-ins, action plans can be made for both employer and employee to change or improve an element of their performance.

An example of this is implementing personalised rewards. Simply having a stock prize picked at random by one of the senior leadership teams isn’t good enough. It will only motivate some people. It may disinterest and possibly offend others.

A more effective idea would be to pick an amount of money (within reason) and say that the winner can choose how this money is spent on them (also within reason).

This approach is more likely to motivate everyone as they can win a specific item or service that they want on an individual level, rather than making do with something that someone thought they wanted.

Clear Cultural Definitions

It’s no longer good enough to have a ‘culture of innovation’ or ‘curiosity’. This isn’t because they are bad statements, quite the opposite, we think they’re great. The problem is that they’re ambiguous.

It’s likely that if you asked 100 people what a ‘culture of innovation’ was, you’d probably get at least 50 different answers. Clearly defining what the culture is in the form of observable behaviour is vital. Everyone needs to be in firm agreement of what’s required of them and their colleagues.

Getting this right in a mature company can be tricky, and the difficulty level increases when trying to do this in a company that is nearer the start of their journey and growing rapidly.

How to Maintain Company Culture in a Growing Company

In the beginning, everything is changing so fast – lots of testing and learning at speed. This means it can be hard to have a consistent company culture as you may be figuring it out on the fly whilst trying to achieve dynamic objectives.

As we mentioned in the previous section, ensuring everything is clear to everyone is crucial, particularly in a growing or early-stage business. This is the anchor you can put down when your boat starts to move unpredictably in waters you may not have been in before.

A piece by Jordana Valencia, Regional Learning and Development Manager at Grab from the HBR goes through the other aspects:

Build an Accessible, Digital Library of Learning Content

Once the applicable behaviours have been clearly established, it’s time to think about additional content that can help employees implement them.

Short and often crammed onboarding processes are inadequate at doing this, as it’s not enough time or content to educate a new employee about the internal culture. They’re decent at giving an overview of how things work, but if an employee is going to be at a company for a number of years, their learning has to be continuous to be effective.

This content also needs to be easily accessible to everyone within the organisation. It may take a significant investment to build and manage the software, as well as making it flexible, e.g. mobile applications as well as a desktop portal.

It’s especially difficult to justify resources being spent on culture scaling and L&D in companies that are in hyper-growth stages. Resources are often channelled into core revenue-generating activities, e.g. sales, marketing and production, in order to continue growing and/or attract external investors.

A balance must be struck between ‘push’ learning, e.g. getting everyone together in a room at a set time to teach a subject and ‘pull’ learning. Pull learning involves creating an online library that employees want to visit regularly at their own pace.

A blended learning programme has the best of both worlds (digital learning that can be done flexibly and set lessons that can be done in person – either virtually or physically) and accounts well for the differences in learning within an organisation.

A digital library that includes short articles, study guides, videos, online assessments, or recorded interviews enables employees to continue their learning in the organised chaos that can be an early-stage startup. To enable effective culture L&D from this, the materials must be regularly updated.

This continuous, fluid approach to employee development means that the potential of each employee isn’t capped. Uncapped learning opportunities could be seen as a benefit and a competitive advantage when trying to recruit and retain your best employees.

Top-Down Reinforcement

Senior management performance is crucial in driving culture. They must implement personalised recognition in order to reinforce the behaviours that are foundational to the culture they’re trying to build and maintain.

Tools like Trickle enable managers to use a variety of methods to give the right type of recognition to the right employee. Not everyone is comfortable with being publicly serenaded for their efforts, others thrive off of this.

There can be times where complacency sets in, particularly during a period of sustained success. Reinforcement helps to ensure that no one is taking their foot off the gas.

How to Maintain a Startup Culture in a Mature Company

Working in a business is a wonderful case study for when solving problems creates new problems. For example, once a business gets through its infancy stage successfully, building a culture in a state of flux, a new problem often appears.

When a company matures, it tends to go into preservation mode, becoming more risk-averse due to steering away from higher-risk activities when it was trying to establish itself. This can stifle innovation, so either rebuilding or maintaining a startup culture later in the business lifecycle can help to solve this problem.

Some useful ways you can do this are:

  • Fluid working practices – Enable employees to do things outside their job description if they feel it’s needed. Some crossover between departments is good, particularly if you have a multi-talented team. Siloing departments can decrease visibility and reduce the opportunity to be collaborative. More structure is needed as the house gets bigger, but it’s important that it’s fairly modular at the same time.
  • Keep teams small – It may sound counter-productive on the surface, but keeping teams small encourages more effective communication. Smaller teams are then forced to speak to other smaller teams. Larger teams may find it easier to end up in a company echo chamber, which can reduce productivity.
  • Open door policy – People shouldn’t feel afraid or concerned to speak to anyone within the company, no matter how senior they are. If an employee feels uncomfortable approaching senior staff, it could lead to problems festering and molehills turning into mountains. Additionally, it should be easy to speak anonymously, part of the culture if you will. No one should feel ashamed or scared of sharing their thoughts, or their anonymity being under threat. ‘Anonymity’ shouldn’t be seen as a dirty word, on the contrary, it should be considered just another healthy form of communication.
  • Encourage side projectsGoogle does a great job of doing this with their 20% rule. This encourages employees to spend 20% of their time working on projects outside of their job description.
  • Celebrate the small stuff – It’s easy for small wins to get lost in the sea of increasingly larger targets. However, it’s still important to celebrate small achievements, or at least what is now small but used to be bigger, to maintain that energising feeling of working in a startup.
  • Keep the mission crystal clear – At the start of a company’s journey, the mission statement is likely to be crystal clear and a key factor in building the culture. As a company grows, this can sometimes get lost in the shift in objectives or industry landscape. Always reminding employees of the who, what, where, why, and how can help to centre the attention on what to focus on in the short and long term.

How Trickle Can Help You Build and Maintain Culture

As we’ve discussed, culture building and maintenance is a tough task with so many moving parts. Ensuring employees are consulted, tracking their feedback, implementing their feedback into the culture, all this and more whilst trying to turn a profit – it’s tricky. However, that’s where Trickle comes in. Some of the things our platform can help you with include:

  • Getting employee feedback, anonymously if necessary
  • Giving personalised recognition to all of your employees
  • Empowering your employees to work together to solve problems

Build and maintain your company’s culture with Trickle.

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