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Building a Better Workplace Culture

Learn how to build a better workplace culture in six basic steps that can move a negative or toxic workplace tone in a positive direction.

Building a Better Workplace Culture

How would you describe your workplace culture? How does everyone do what they do, and how do their actions make others feel? If you had to express the mood within your organization in one word, what would it be? Supportive? Hostile? Fun?

Workplace culture is shaped over time by the actions of its members. If the overall tone moves in a positive direction—and people feel happy—you will likely see an increase in retention, engagement, productivity, and innovation. But if the tone becomes negative or toxic, you’ll see problems.

If your workplace culture isn’t where you’d like it to be, you can take steps to move it in the right direction!

Ways to Build a Better Workplace Culture

Set Clear Objectives

As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up where you’re headed.” Before you can begin to improve workplace culture, you need to figure out what you’re shooting for. Start with your organization’s core values. What guiding principles shape how you do business? For example, here at Niche Academy, we strive to be people-focused, kind, empathetic, open-minded, trustworthy, and to have a growth mindset.

Our CEO refers to these values at the start of every company meeting. But perhaps more importantly, he and the rest of our leadership team embody these principles in their daily activities. They treat people with respect, are receptive to new ideas, and quick to offer support. Defining your core values is the first step. Living by them is where the real magic happens.

Step 1:

  • Define or refer to your organization’s core values
  • Look for ways to fulfill them

Model the Behavior You Want to See

It’s easy to say you value something. The trick is to show it through your actions and behaviors. Then people will believe you. 

For example, there’s a lot of buzz about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace right now—and that’s great. Cultivating DEI creates a better workplace for everyone and can lead to wonderful things. But, if you claim DEI is important to your organization, you have to do more than pay it lip service. There are vital steps in building a diverse workforce, equitable conditions, and an inclusive environment. And if you miss a step, you might get unexpected results that make things worse! What if you hire a diverse team but fail to create an environment where all voices are heard?

Sometimes you may need to learn how to take action to ensure you are modeling the right behaviors. It’s best to seek out training on sensitive topics like DEI. Niche Academy has many professional development tutorials—including a series on DEI and equitable workplace practices.

Gaining new insights and skills can help you make big changes. But small daily gestures are also important. Simple things like saying “thank you,” and other acts of respect and kindness, go a long way in building a better workplace culture. Everyone wants to feel respected.

Step 2:

  • Learn how to take action effectively
  • Model the behavior you want to see through daily acts of respect and kindness

Build Trusting Relationships

How people interact and get along impacts the overall tone of a workplace. Feelings of distrust, unhealthy competition, or isolation can push the tone in a negative direction. Shifting to a more positive tone can take time, but it comes down to trust and good communication.

To build a sense of trust, be honest and share information as often as you can. Some information can’t be shared, and that’s okay; just let people know. Providing some information is better than no information because rumors are usually worse than reality.

It also helps to share your mistakes to show you aren’t perfect. Sharing your flaws makes you more relatable and helps put others at ease. If a situation involves another person, speak in general terms to protect their privacy. You might say something like, “I recently learned I’ve been setting people up to fail because I wasn’t giving them appropriate support. I’ve changed how I assign and track tasks to ensure everyone gets needed information to fill their role.”  

When other people make mistakes, respond with thought and care. Instead of reacting without thinking, be respectful and focus on development, growth, and success. You might even ask how you can help.

Make an effort to get to know people and show you care. Knowing how to listen, provide feedback, and follow up on concerns—especially in difficult situations—is vital. So, look to improve your communication skills to help people feel safe and valued. 

A good communicator also makes sure all voices are heard. People usually feel more comfortable speaking up in a safe environment, but you may need to encourage some to share their ideas. Find non-threatening ways to bring quiet people into discussions.

Step 3:

  • Be open and honest
  • Learn how to communicate better
  • Create a safe and collaborative environment

Solicit and Act on Feedback

Asking for feedback is a great way to hear different voices—especially if you ask in different ways. 

People are more likely to share their honest thoughts and opinions through anonymous surveys or suggestion boxes. To keep things manageable, you might have a suggestion box available at all times and send out short quarterly surveys. A suggestion box doesn’t have to be an actual box. It could be something like a link to an anonymous Google form. Just be sure everyone has access. Someone doing a job will have the best insights about the job—so you want to give everyone a chance to speak up.

Once you build trusting relationships, you can also get helpful feedback during one-on-one and group meetings. Make a habit of asking open-ended questions, like “How can we improve our workflow?” Open-ended questions require more than one-word answers, so you’re more likely to get useful information. 

As you collect feedback, watch for trends. Take every concern seriously but pay extra attention when you hear multiple people saying the same thing. If more than one person has the same concern, it’s likely a real problem you need to address. 

Feedback can provide valuable insights, but acting on the information is even more important. If all you ever do is ask for feedback but never do anything with it, people will get tired of speaking up. They might decide it’s not worth the effort because nothing ever changes. So, use feedback to guide your actions and behaviors.

Sometimes people are reluctant to give feedback because they are afraid of being punished or it being used against them. It takes courage to speak up! When someone shares a concern, take steps to prevent any kind of retaliation. In addition to watching how others treat them, be mindful of your actions. Ask the person for ideas on how to address the issue. Involving them in finding a solution can help ensure they feel okay about the outcome.

Step 4:

  • Gather feedback through anonymous surveys, one-on-one meetings, and other methods
  • Watch for trends
  • Act on information, including taking steps to prevent retaliation

Provide Opportunities for Success and Growth

Most people want to be good at their job. And they want to feel like they are making a difference. So it’s important to give people opportunities and tools to succeed from the very start. 

Make sure everyone has the training to do their job well. A mentorship program is a great way to help new hires begin strong. Being paired with a coworker provides an instant sense of support and guidance.

Then, take things a step further. Help people identify career goals and map out career paths. Provide the training and support needed to advance within your organization or elsewhere. And be sure to allow time for learning as well as access. You might want to reduce workloads or offer flexible hours. It may seem counterintuitive, but you will get the best version of a person if you help them grow while they are with your organization, even if it means helping them move on to something else.

Step 5:

  • Provide mentoring and training
  • Help people map out career paths and support them 

Recognize Effort as well as Outcomes

Recognition plays an important role in building a better workplace culture. When people feel valued, they are more likely to enjoy their work. 

It’s easy to say “Nice job!” or “Great work!” when someone reaches a goal or completes a big project. But, work is more than outcomes or products. It takes effort to get there. And sometimes, a lot of effort can go into something that is ultimately unsuccessful. Acknowledging effort—regardless of the outcome—is what really makes people feel valued.

In addition to celebrating big wins and milestones, find ways to recognize the unique impact of every person. You might point out how someone’s particular skill made a huge difference on a project. Pay attention to small details and praise people’s contributions as much as possible.

It’s also a good practice to align pay increases, bonuses, and promotions with performance. There’s nothing more demotivating than someone with a lousy work ethic appearing to reap the same rewards as a hard worker. When someone does good work, show them it pays off.   

Step 6:

  • Give people credit and praise for their efforts
  • Align pay increases, bonuses, and promotions with performance

Learning New Behaviors

Building a better workplace culture may require behavior changes. You—and the people you work with—may need to gain new skills and insights, like conducting effective surveys or establishing a mentorship program.

The Niche Academy Marketplace is filled with relevant professional development tutorials. Set up a free trial today to get a sneak peek at some of our learning content.

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