Topic: Company Culture


How to Change and Improve Your Company Culture

Insights from

Updated on 

May 17, 2024






Retaining and keeping great talent is top of mind for all organizations. Once that great teammate has joined, you want them to stay. You want them to be happy with their jobs, excited to come to work every day, and to feel safe and comfortable whenever they sit at their desk, head to the job site, or go to the breakroom.

But how can you make these goals a reality? By developing a healthy workplace culture.  

At O.C. Tanner, we work with hundreds of large organizations to shape their company cultures and deliver positive experiences for their employees every day. Read on for ways you can improve your company culture so employees want to join and stay at your organization.

What is a positive company culture?  

Company culture is the social operating system of your organization. A positive company culture ensures your company creates great employee experiences as they interact with their work, their leaders, and each other.  

While every positive workplace culture is unique, most of them have a few qualities in common like open communication channels, opportunities for growth, creative work, positive relationships, a clear shared purpose, and rewards for great work. Here's what these traits look like in practice:

Open and clear communication

Employees are encouraged to share their ideas and opinions openly during company-wide meetings and personal discussions with their managers. And while their ideas may not always be implemented, employees still have a voice.

Positive work cultures also limit vague or unclear communication practices. Every employee understands their tasks, knows who to go to for questions, and receives answers promptly.

Chart: Only 51% of employees think their organization is great at listening to employees, based on research from the O.C. Tanner Institute Global Culture Report

Ample growth opportunities

Offering growth opportunities, whether a promotion or continuing education courses, shows the employer is investing in their employees’ future. This creates a career path, which can improve productivity and work engagement.

Emphasis on creativity

In a survey, 84 percent of employers agreed that innovation in the workplace is important. When employees think outside the box, they can find creative solutions to challenging and simple tasks alike. Managers should also celebrate these innovations to encourage other employees to take similar risks in the future.

Healthy work relationships

Work relationships are supportive and energizing. Employees know their peers and managers are there to help them at work and are people they can genuinely trust. In fact, 72 percent of employees say it’s important for them to feel like part of a community at work.

“Workplaces are communities, built around the relationships we have with our peers. When these relationships are strong, they can be a source of energy, learning, and support.”
—Harvard Business Review

A well-defined purpose

Purpose is your organization’s reason for being. Your company’s purpose should be clear, communicated often, and inspiring to employees.  

Employees that find a meaningful purpose in their work are twice as satisfied with their jobs and 3X as likely to stay with their organization and contribute to its success.

Enticing reward systems

Employees like being recognized for their hard work, and positive work cultures have a formal way of rewarding those efforts. Whether it’s a pay bonus, public recognition, or even a special thanks, these rewards can motivate employees to work hard.

“Part of why it’s so important that we weave recognition and appreciation into the fabric of our culture and elevate the importance of its impact is because now, more than ever, we understand that recognition, just like compensation and benefits, is a fundamental part of the associates’ experience at work.”
—Nick Rosenthal, Senior Associate in HR Compensation, Capital One

How to create a positive company culture from scratch  

Whether you're a start-up building a brand new company—or your current company just hasn't invested in its culture yet—sometimes you need to start from scratch. Here are 10 steps you can take to establish a positive work environment from the ground up.  

1. Establish a strong code of ethics

The comfort and safety of your employees should be a top priority—and your employees will feel better about working for your company if you have an ethical workplace culture.

Establish a zero-tolerance policy regarding all unethical, illegal, or discriminatory behavior experienced in the workplace. And then promote that policy through training and consistent internal communications.  

2. Institute inclusive hiring processes

When you hire employees with diverse backgrounds, your decision-making is only improved by the range of ideologies, experiences, and points of view in the room.  

A recent study found diverse teams make better decisions than non-diverse teams 87 percent of the time. So, your hiring pool should consist of candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences.

3. Optimize onboarding strategies

Start investing in your employees the second they are hired on. This ultimately reduces employee turnover. One study from Glassdoor found that a quality onboarding program can improve employee retention by 82 percent.

A checklist of foundational and ideal onboarding experiences to maximize impact with new hires

Fill your new hire’s schedule for their first two weeks with applicable meetings, on-the-job training, and relevant paperwork. Have your HR department check-in with new hires regularly to ensure they are content in their roles and their needs are met.  

And don’t underestimate the impact of workplace relationships. Assign someone to act as your new hire’s “onboarding buddy”—someone who can show them around the building, answer questions, and be a friend.

Check out our tips for how you can create an elevated onboarding experience.  

4. Establish clear lines of communication

Every employee needs to understand the structure of their team and the larger organization. This creates a clear line of communication your team can follow when they have questions.

Employees should also know the appropriate way to communicate with their managers and peers. For example, if they need a deliverable from a coworker, should they send an email or an instant message?

5. Check in with your staff

Managers should hold regular one-to-one meetings with their teammates. This is a time for leaders and employees to connect, discuss opportunities and struggles, and address current and upcoming work. Employees should be encouraged to voice their candid opinions and concerns so their managers can address them.

“We have one-to-ones monthly because the work we do is quite stressful. I find that if we don’t have them regularly, we have more problems. Sometimes, when it has been three months, morale in the team goes down. One-to-ones help address issues as we go along, not wait 12 months to fix.”
—Focus Group Participant, UK

6. Create comfortable working situations

Make sure employees have everything they need to complete their tasks in a timely and comfortable fashion. This may include:

  • Approved safety gear
  • Break areas and water
  • Communication devices
  • Computer monitors & a mouse and keyboard (Bonus: Keyboard wrist rests)
  • Comfortable desk chairs
  • Access to offices and buildings

You don’t have to do a lot to give employees a comfortable working experience. A recent study found the majority of workers see environmental factors, like air quality and comfortable lighting, to be more important than fitness facilities or healthy food options.

7. Promote workshops and continuing education opportunities

Employees want to keep learning and developing. Giving them access to the funds and time to attend workshops and continuing education programs is one way to support their goals.

Skill building helps employees feel less stagnant in their careers while also improving their marketability if they choose to apply for another job. Meanwhile, employers benefit from these courses as they can develop a highly-skilled workforce.

8. Compensate your employees fairly

Pay your employees what they deserve. Offering fair wages can incentivize them to work harder because they feel valued at your company.

Also, consider offering bonuses and prizes when employees do a job well—this shows your appreciation for their commitment and that you value their contributions.

9. Encourage time-off

Even if you offer competitive time-off benefits, your employees might be afraid to use them. Make it clear that time-off is meant to be used and that they should try and use as much as they can in a given time period.

10. Appreciate and recognize employees regularly

Research shows that when employees are recognized and appreciated for their great work and efforts, it builds corporate culture in many key areas:

  • Employee engagement –  Simply recognizing great work elevates engagement by as much as 50%. Recognition is an easy, low-cost, proven way to build employee engagement.
  • Employee retention – The mark of a great corporate culture is the ability to keep top talent. 53% of employees said they would stay at their jobs longer if their employers showed them more appreciation.  
  • Attract talent – Another sign of a great organizational culture is attracting top talent. “Appreciation for my work” was the number one attribute that job seekers across the globe said was most important in their new job.  
  • Motivating employees – When asked “what is the most important thing your manager or company does (or could do) to cause you to produce great work”, the number one response (37%) was “recognize me.” And when you recognize employees, they are 33% more likely to be proactively innovating and generate 2x as many ideas per month.  

3 ways to improve company culture

If you’re a leader in human resource management, part of your directive is no doubt to help improve your company culture. But good company culture doesn’t happen by itself. It takes some planning and effort. Here are three powerful practices with specifics on how to improve workplace culture:

1. Provide leaders with resources that enable connection  

Our Global Culture Report outlines how direct leaders create the foundation for a meaningful employee experience. Leaders play a central role in shaping corporate culture. If the link between leaders and employees is weak or negative, employees will be disconnected from other aspects of culture as well.

Since immediate leaders are so vital to your overall company culture, provide them with the resources they need to listen, connect with, and support their employees and teammates.  

  • Create mentorship programs for leaders and employees. Mentorships help both leaders and employees (after all, leaders are employees too) develop critical skills, both technical and “soft.” Encourage mentorships across departments as well. This can improve cross-departmental collaboration and help your employees feel more connected.
  • Provide job shadowing opportunities. While mentorships are a great time for employees to meet and ask questions, job shadowing opportunities allow for employees to see, and even do, other job functions in their organization. Prototyping new roles and careers contributes to each employee's career growth—and might make it easier for them to stay with your company long-term.
  • Encourage leaders to hold regular one-to-ones with employees. Modern leaders go beyond understanding an employee at the office—modern leaders understand and know the whole person inside and outside of the office. If leaders don’t establish a regular time to connect with their employees, as often as twice a month, that essential connection between supervisor and employee can break down and damage your company’s culture.

The modern leadership index. Modern leaders connect employees to purpose, accomplishment, and one another.

2. Give teams and employees autonomy in their work

Research from our Global Culture Report reveals that only 37% of employees report having high autonomy at their organization. This lack of ownership and connection to one’s work can negatively impact employee motivation, engagement, and overall company culture.  

Our research suggests that there are six elements to focus on when trying to encourage autonomous teams:  

  1. Freedom to be creative
  1. Latitude for innovation
  1. Flexible work schedule
  1. Flexible work location
  1. A say in projects worked on
  1. Ability to prioritize workload

When leaders empower teams to exercise each of these freedoms, innovation soars and teams thrive. Establish an environment where teams can set their own goals, make important decisions, and decide how to manage projects without constant leader direction.  

3. Integrate employee recognition at every opportunity

Employees want to be seen and valued by their organization. One way to ensure this happens is through regular and integrated employee recognition. When we say integrated employee recognition, we mean employees are appreciated frequently for a variety of accomplishments, large and small, and praise comes from both leaders and peers.  

The essential elements of integrated employee recognition at an organization

Highly integrated employee recognition has a powerful impact on organizations, increasing the odds of several positive outcomes and decreasing the odds of some negative ones:

  • Great work (+1,181%)
  • High engagement (+784%)
  • Thriving culture (+648%)
  • Employee attrition (–29%)
  • Employee burnout (–80%)

Remember, employee recognition can come in many forms. Encourage your organization to share appreciation by:

If you are looking for a tool to share with leaders to encourage employee recognition, check out our guide to purposeful employee appreciation.

The easiest way to manage employee recognition and ensure everyone is appreciated is through employee recognition software, like Culture Cloud by O.C. Tanner. Built-in reporting tools and employee recognition pulse surveys allow your HR team to see the positive impact of appreciation in real time on your company culture. Get started today.

Retain top talent with a great company culture  

Using these tips, start shaping your company culture to be positive, welcoming, and productive so your organization can attract and keep top talent.  

To keep up with the latest company culture trends, check out our Global Culture Report.

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