7 essential components of healthy company cultures

If you want a thriving work environment, prioritize and clarify your organization’s mission, vision, values, purpose and principles.

The culture you create is the foundation of your organization.

Are you on shaky ground, or are you laying a solid, substantive foundation that can withstand tumult?

Some say culture cannot be designed or deliberately created, but it doesn’t happen by chance.

Take Amazon or Zappos, for instance. Both companies’ cultures are quite intentional, rather than a fluky result of environment or personality. Their cultures are rooted in and dictated by strong core values, and yours should be, too.

If you’re not sure where to start, or if you feel your culture is heading in the wrong direction, reevaluate these seven crucial ingredients that can make or break a culture:

  • Mission describes the business you are in, including what you’re doing and whom you’re serving.
  • Vision defines where leaders want the company to go in the future.
  • Values are the fundamental beliefs of the organization that guide your employees. Values identify right and wrong, good and bad, and how to interact with each other and with customers.
  • Guiding principles are more specific than values in how they guide the organization; they are more prescriptive in nature. Principles are objective “truths” or “laws,” whereas values provide a sense of direction.
  • Purpose is the company’s reason for being. It’s typically stated in such a way that helps employees understand the people the business is trying to serve.
  • Legends and lore can bolster camaraderie. It’s important to share stories about how the company started or where it came from, as they help employees feel a part of something bigger than just themselves.
  • Behavior is driven by all of the above, but especially by values and principles.

When culture stands upon these seven pillars, it’s most strongly reflected in the last one: behavior. You can have the other six in place, but if employees and executives fail to conduct themselves appropriately, the whole apparatus collapses.

Behavior is impossible to predict, but there are ways to minimize risk. Here are eight aspects to consider:

  • People. It starts with hiring those whose values and purpose align with the organization’s values and purpose. Culture fit is no joke. Hire for attitude; train for skill.
  • Executive alignment. Executives are not exempt from culture fit. They are not “above the law,” so to speak. Executives must lead by example and model the behavior that they wish to see from their employees. If they don’t live the values, why should employees?
  • Servant leadership. Leaders must be willing to prioritize employees’ needs over their own. This is a basic tenet of any healthy culture.
  • Rules and policies. If policies are out of line with the core values of the business, your employees will be confused. If your culture is strong, there’s no need for excessive rules and policies.
  • Metrics and measures. If your performance metrics are not aligned with your core values, don’t expect employees to follow them.
  • Rewards and recognition. Reward the behavior you want to see. Celebrate behaviors that support and reinforce your culture and values.
  • Events and programs. Events, perks and programs should also reflect your core values. If happy and healthy employees are important to your culture, consider wellness programs and other initiatives that prioritize well-being.
  • Communication. The way executives communicate with employees—and the way employees talk to each other—is a crucial aspect of your culture. It’s wise to prioritize and invest in seamless, consistent, transparent internal communications.

Here’s a quote from Shopify’s Brittany Forsyth: “Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture.”

Annette Franz is CEO of CX Journey. A version of this post first appeared on the CX Journey blog.


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