Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

7 Small But Mighty Ways Anyone Can Improve Company Culture

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It’s widely known that people quit bosses, not jobs. Usually when the boss sucks, the culture sucks too. Part of the problem is the idea that company culture is determined at the top and works its way down: 59% of employees think the CEO and other top leaders are responsible for changing culture. That leaves 41% that feel differently, and I wish we could get that number to 100%. Employees can impact culture.

Company culture can be vague to pin down and define, but for the most part, it’s your company’s unique behavior, beliefs, attitude, and nature. It’s also a vibe, a mojo, a mission, a passion, and a way to communicate. It’s simply about the people, and people are complex. While it would be nice if companies put as much thought into establishing culture as they do designing business strategy and product planning, the truth is that it usually doesn’t happen that way.

So what if your boss is a nightmare, the culture is toxic, and you’re about to start singing, “take this job and shove it”? Or maybe it’s not that bad but is getting there. Do you just give up and quit? Well, if you love what you do, the industry you’re in, the people you work with, or if there’s any other reason to have hope, then it is likely worth an attempt to make things better.

Here are seven things you can try to make a meaningful impact and turn things around:

1. Own Your Own Role

First, take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I part of the problem?” Be honest, because in most cases, there are at least a few things you can personally change. Make a list—maybe it’s longer than you thought!

Your personal attitude, the effort you put into making positive contributions to the culture, and how you communicate with others are a few things to consider.

2. Use Your Influence to Make Things Better

The true leaders at a company aren’t always the boss. Natural leaders set an example that people want to follow, so if that’s you, be a good one! If you understand the vision, use your influence to help others better support the vision. It’s amazing what a group can accomplish with a shared mission. It’s contagious.

Influence your sphere—and hopefully it will trickle out from you to your team, your department, and ultimately throughout the company.

3. Be Open, Transparent, and Fair

I have little patience for petty, backbiting office politics and social positioning, but it is inevitable that there will be people at a company who behave as if they’re still in high school. Let’s help them change. Let’s be open, transparent, and fair, and people will reciprocate even if it takes them a while. It’s incredibly refreshing when you’re free to say or do what’s best for the company—even if that means making some mistakes—rather than feel like you always have to CYA.

4. Educate and Train Your Boss

Dogs sometimes find it easy to train their owners—maybe we can train our bosses. I’m not saying we’re dogs, but you know what I mean. You’ll find a million supporting articles online to change culture.

Check out the slideshares from Hubspot and Netflix, or the Valve Employee Handbook. That should spark a few ideas. Share what you learn and what you’re reading. Maybe help the boss think it’s his idea.

5. Take Measurements

I like measuring things, but measuring culture can be tough! This may just be a feeling you get when you walk into the office or when you know your co-workers are happy. Less whining or grumbling. Many times, teams will be much more focused and productive. And frankly, everyone will work harder. Yes, we are happiest when we’re focused and working hard. If the boss sees this impact—if he has any leadership capacity whatsoever—he should jump on the culture wagon ASAP.

6. Talk to HR

Give HR a shot. If anybody should know the mission and vision of the company, it’s HR. Go ask questions, find out what HR thinks about culture and how it’s communicated to employees. Sometimes HR forgets, and you might be a helpful reminder.

7. Be Patient

Everyone loves an easy answer, but great culture requires great effort and time to get just right. And frankly it’s never perfect, but we should always be working on incremental improvement. There is a reason patience is a virtue.

The purposeful and deliberate action of working on culture is one of the best things you and your company can do. So don’t quit just yet. Figure out what you can do today, don’t bite off more than you can chew, then sit back and watch as things get better.

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