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How to build a strong organizational culture

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Rapid advancement in technology and the global marketplace do not mask one core principle for success in any part of industry, commerce and public service; people still matter the most. Who businesses hire, and how they manage and empower them, will always be the two most important decisions an individual can make in a senior post or as an entrepreneur.

Consequently, the two most valuable assets may not be the buildings and equipment. Instead, they could be the organizational culture and reputation.

Businesses continue to work towards key performance indicators, healthy order books, and a strong set of figures on a spreadsheet, but the organization’s overall success could rest on something far more intangible and difficult to qualify. The culture of the organization is how it is seen externally and internally, and greatly impacts the level of trust achieved as an organization.

This article explores how business owners and key business players can build a strong organizational culture.

Reputation vs culture

What is the difference between organizational reputation and culture?

Reputation is how external stakeholders see the company, and what they think about it – especially customers and suppliers. The aim is always to have a relationship of trust and respect, and customers who understand and engage with the brand. Reputation is also seated in the compliance and ethics of an organization too.

Organizational culture is a more internal concept. It largely centers on what the workforce feels about the organization, and how well they operate together as a cohesive whole. To simplify it, the culture is how the organization treats employees, which then dictates how well they perform.

Organizational culture goes hand-in-hand with external reputation, and the two things together can ‘make or break’ the future of a business. A disaffected and disengaged workforce is bound to dent the reputation, whereas being a ‘good employer’ is part and parcel of being an ethical and trustworthy institution.

Every organization needs to build its own unique culture, depending on its size, sector, and workforce needs, for example. However, there are common factors that contribute to the best organizational cultures. There are also universal advantages to be gained by investing in culture. This includes continuously reinforced staff morale, loyalty, and motivation. This in turn brings greater productivity and efficiency.

Having the best organizational culture and an engaged workforce could well increase attractiveness to job applicants too, widening the available talent pool. It will certainly decrease costly staff turnover. It could even be argued that by becoming an attractive employer, organizations can increase their appeal to customers and suppliers as well. They could well feel greater trust in the organization as a result of a strong corporate culture and investment in staff.

According to research company Gallup, over a five year period companies can enjoy an 85% net profit increase as an outcome of building and maintaining a strong organizational culture. There is also evidence to suggest that in excess of 75% of job seekers evaluate an organization’s culture to decide whether to apply for positions or not.

With those impressive figures in mind, organizations must identify what their organizational culture should ‘look like’ and put in place measures to develop and support it.

Cultures are based on leadership qualities

The linchpin of any organizational culture – especially in supporting the engagement levels of employees – is the caliber of that organization’s leadership. Essentially, the fundamental relationship that exists between managers and staff is what makes everything else work well. This can start through hiring policies for technical, specialist or decision-making positions. Anyone in charge of a team should have proven leadership abilities.

Cultures founded on positive leadership qualities prove highly effective in fostering productive work environments and enhancing employee satisfaction. Embodying traits such as empathy, effective communication, transparency, and trust, positive leaders inspire and empower their teams. These leaders prioritize the well-being and growth of their employees, encouraging a culture of collaboration, innovation, and continuous learning.

To gain proficiency in these leadership qualities, managers should pursue advanced education, such as a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.). An online Ed.D. in Leadership and Organizational Innovation like the one from Marymount University, provides a strong curriculum aligned with best practices that empowers students to become inspirational change agents. While a Doctor of Education salary might vary based on factors like experience and location, the advanced education gained often translates into higher earning potential, which matches the added value they bring into the organization through their positive leadership skills..

Senior staff with proven leadership skills will be alert to the needs of employees, showing empathy and understanding to get the best out of every individual. In addition, good leaders ensure that every member of their team knows what their individual roles and responsibilities are. They then invest in providing personal and professional training and development for their staff, to release their full potential. Mentoring thus becomes an integrated aspect of employee support systems.

This relationship building is at the center of all positive cultures in workplaces. Managers with leadership abilities earn trust and respect from their teams, to ensure that all the other steps described in this article can be completed smoothly and successfully.

Vision, goals, and recognition

Though good leadership means recognizing and supporting individuals in a team, it is also important to provide clear guidance on overarching goals and how to achieve them. This often means sharing business plans with the workforce, so they feel fully invested in its aims and activities. A workforce or team with a purpose is always going to be a more cohesive and powerful one.

Sharing organizational vision and business plans can be incredibly empowering for employees. They know what their contribution is ‘worth’ and feel invested in being part of growth and development.

To achieve this, organizational leadership must be honest and open about some of the less positive things that happen too. Nothing undermines a strong organizational culture like rumor, speculation, and job insecurity! A breakdown in trust between managers and their teams takes a long time to correct.

Strong cultures and successful leaders are also deeply rooted in discernible incentive and recognition systems in the workplace. This can be as simple as giving credit where it is due and taking time to thank staff regularly. The alternative is a corporate culture that is negative, due to employees feeling underappreciated, ignored, and taken for granted.

Strategic steps to build a culture

Having strong leadership within an organization doesn’t necessarily ‘automate’ its ability to be a motivational and supportive employer, however. The organization still needs to be purposeful in creating the right work environment and employee support measures.

Much of that depends on what staff need and want, which can differ widely from organization to organization. It can also vary from branch to branch, or department to department. However, some employee expectations and aims are universal. This could include the management team assigning enough time, regularly, to listen to their staff when they want to voice concerns, questions, and comments.

Furthermore, it is vital for businesses to practice true inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, to support the right kind of culture. This is not simply about adhering to equality legislation and ethical principles. It is also about taking a holistic approach to employment and helping personnel to enjoy a healthy work-life balance.

For some companies, this means flexible work patterns around family commitments, sufficient paternity and adoption leave, and other distinct allowances to accommodate diversity in the way people live outside working hours.

Additionally, the strategy to create and deliver a strong, positive culture most definitely needs to focus on hiring processes, and the way employees experience onboarding. It is vital to ensure the business is recruiting the best fit for the job role but also for the team they will be working within. Then, from day one, all employees should feel like the company cares about them as individuals, and values their contribution, ideas, and commitment.

Creating a truly diverse and inclusive culture in the workplace also requires investment in the mental and emotional health of staff. This can start with having emotionally intelligent leaders, who are constantly alert to signs that individuals or teams are becoming stressed, overwhelmed, or confused. It also involves initiating simple employee welfare measures, such as having Mental Health First Aiders trained and easy to access, or funding health and wellbeing events and classes for employees.

Do employee wellbeing initiatives really matter?

Many companies believe they are a crucial part of creating the right culture, and a launchpad for better staff retention and engagement. For example, Vinod Philip, of Siemens Energy, said that to be “an organization that people want to come and be a part of” it is imperative to focus on mental health in the workplace. He added that businesses: “want to be an organization where people want to stay, where people can come in, be their true selves, and then also become their best selves.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) , workplace depression and anxiety create an estimated 12 billion lost working days every year globally, which equates to $1 trillion in lost productivity per annum. WHO urges companies to create safe and healthy work environments, not least to create “confidence, purpose and achievement” in employees.


Successfully building and maintaining a strong organizational culture depends a great deal on communication processes. This includes the open and honest rapport with leaders referenced above.

Keep in mind that effective communication is not simply a two-way process. It should be information going up, down, across, in, and out of the organization. For example, there must be ways of stimulating opportunities for cross-departmental liaison and collaboration. This could simply be by ensuring that all departments get to meet and mingle regularly, to create organic unity and avoid information silos.

Supporting cross company collaboration and discussion can be a launchpad for also delivering a culture of innovation and shared good practice in an organization. Steve Jobs of Apple said: “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 pm at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.”

The best leaders are also excellent communicators, sharing and gathering information in a manner that illustrates their transparency and accountability, and builds trust in their teams. This involves constructive listening skills too, with leaders who ask the right questions and read non-verbal cues to connect to staff thoroughly.

Good communication is also about swift conflict resolution and providing constructive feedback constantly and consistently. This can mean training managers and supervisors in authentical leadership skills so they can fix things in a tactful way. They should be encouraged to use motivation and inspiration to keep everyone on track, meeting individual and universal goals.

To make communication authentic and effective, senior staff need to be very present in the workplace and make themselves accessible to their teams. This includes offering staff the opportunity to raise issues and questions freely and whenever necessary, alongside timetabled meetings and mentoring.

The challenge of culture within remote or hybrid working

Having an open-door policy for managers, and creating organic collaboration and team building, is easier in physical work premises. Replicating that for digital workplaces is far more of a challenge. The complexities are even greater for cross-cultural virtual teams who need to deliver effective collaboration within global projects.

Among the measured steps organizations need to take to create a strong organizational culture within dispersed workforces is to provide a digital corporate social opportunity. Staff can then use this to chat and exchange ideas and concerns. Also, line managers should check in with their remote teams and individual employees on a regular and consistent basis.

There are many more well being measures that can be utilized to support remote and hybrid teams. They all start with making sure the work environment is conducive to good physical and mental health, and by investing in any additional equipment and aids required.

No blame or shame

One of the biggest measures of how strong and effective an organization’s culture is comes when the pressure is on, or the mistakes happen! This is also the time that any investment in this concept could prove to be invaluable.

If the workforce feels enabled and empowered to speak up, they are far more likely to alert senior staff to issues and problems. This means they can be nipped in the bud more often and with minimum damage. An engaged workforce will also feel more confident in bringing general points to the notice of their line manager, such as ideas for how to do things safer, better, quicker, and with less waste. If there is a culture of no blame or shame, employees will feel more assured in identifying their own training needs and knowledge gaps too.

During a tough period, managers may need to ask the workforce to put in additional time and effort to get through the pressure or crisis. Employees who feel nurtured, respected, and acknowledged are far more likely to respond favorably and provide the results the business requires.

In other words, businesses will create a more resilient and versatile organization that can weather the storms better. It all comes as a result of the work done year-round to create fully engaged, loyal employees willing to go the extra mile.

Last few steps towards a positive organizational culture

There are two last things organizations need to do to be sure they have ticked all the right boxes. One is to regularly review what competitors do to build and sustain their internal cultures. Are they doing things that give them a competitive edge which might tempt the workforce to jump ship?

Alongside that, organizations need to constantly monitor and assess their organizational culture. This involves remaining alert to whether the cultural aim and measures are being put into practice company-wide, consistently and thoroughly. This will also enable the organization to respond more quickly to issues and threats to staff engagement, for example. Managers can switch things up and launch new initiatives, to continue their stance as an enlightened and supportive employer with the best leadership qualities.

Constant evaluation of organizational culture requires regular communication with the workforce or team, asking them for their views, suggestions, and questions. After all, an organization may think their blueprint for positive employee relations is working, only to find that employees see things very differently. Only they can say whether the organization is a good one to work for! In other words, it is important to see building a strong organizational culture as a journey, not a destination.