Corporate culture. We read about it, study it, hire executives to create and sustain it, and sit in boardrooms discussing how to get people engaged in it. And for good reason. Your culture defines your brand. And how well someone fits into your organization’s culture is directly connected to their happiness, engagement, and productivity. As a result, hiring managers are putting more emphasis than ever on bringing in talent that offers not just the right “hard” skills, but the right “soft ” skills, too – ensuring each person is a good fit for both the job at hand and the workplace culture.

Culture isn’t a one-sided scenario. Employees care a lot about it, too. They want to know what a brand stands for and how its corporate culture connects to its products, services, and purpose. Today’s workforce isn’t shy about pushing for this information, either. Luckily, there is a plethora of information available for all the job seekers out there – from detailed corporate websites to social media platforms where employees publicly broadcast their opinions, making it really easy for just about anyone to get a good sense of your culture before even stepping foot in your door.

If you already have a culture that is loved and respected – kudos. But if your culture is stuck in the days of “free bagel Friday,” then you have some work to do! While corporate culture wasn’t given much attention until the 1990s, it now plays a major role in whether someone accepts a job – or even decides to apply in the first place.

And that’s where this paper comes in. It’s designed to remind you of the basics for creating a strong culture – one that unites your people and inspires them for the long term. It also gives you some inspiration to push yourselves to innovate so your culture evolves into something even stronger than what you have today.

Cultivating Your Culture through Strategic Innovation

Culture is a big, pervasive concept, but it’s also a simple, active concept.

It’s big because it’s something that should impact each and every aspect of your organization – something that goes much deeper than an office game room or weekly lunch delivery.

And it’s simple because it’s defined by the day-to-day work and the everyday interactions among your people.

While the underpinnings are in your traditions and history, your active culture is driven by today’s norms and behaviors reinforced at the team, department, or organizational levels.

What are the culture winners doing that makes them so well known for their excellence? Sure, there’s probably great free food available, inviting and modern work spaces, and perks like on-campus gyms. But those features alone can’t sustain your organization’s culture.

So, what’s their secret?
We all want to be one of the “greats” and these six tips can help you get there.

Be strategic.

Great cultures are carefully cultivated, celebrated, and enabled in-line with your purpose and your strategy. And therein lies the secret – let your purpose be your guide. This cannot be underestimated – why your organization exists in the first place. Then you need to make sure your people know where it’s going and have a definitive plan for getting there and staying the course, despite the many obstacles that will surely be placed in your path.

While your purpose stays relatively the same year over year, your strategy and how you operate as a business does shift over time. As your strategy and operations change (hello working from home and new technology), you need to make sure it is baked and that your people have the tools to execute said strategy and sustain it, too. Then, you need to make sure the culture (your beliefs, processes, and behaviors) aligns with this strategy and complements your mission. When purpose, culture and strategy work in service of each other, you’re off to the races and to driving performance!

Focus on the basics.

When you’re ready to make changes to your culture, begin by focusing on the basics – the stuff you can control today. This is the perfect time to ensure the culture you’re building aligns with both your purpose and your strategy. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is our culture representative of our purpose and why we exist?
  • Do we have a clear view of where we are going as a business?
  • Are we behaving in a way that is consistent with what we need?
  • What are the managers doing?
  • What are the employees doing? How are they treating each other?
  • Are our communication and reward practices making interactions among employees and leadership easier or creating unnecessary challenges?

You need to be thoughtful and deliberate when it comes to these culture-impacting behaviors. But don’t ponder for too long. Change what isn’t working now. There’s no need to continue engaging in unsuccessful behaviors.

Experiment with ideas.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas and approaches. Take some chances and adjust as you go. Creating and sustaining a thriving culture that supports the business mission is not a static deal.

Try things out. Test them. Replicate what’s working well for your and your organization. Proudly learn and move on when things don’t work. (See tip 4 for more on this.)

Reinforce behaviors.

If something is working, double or triple down on those behaviors.  One of the best ways to make positive changes in your culture – to innovate so you achieve cultural greatness – is to look to your successes and replicate them.

In the same way you use customer feedback to drive product or service improvement, use employee bright spots to take what’s working and apply it in a deliberate way to achieve your desired changes. If you’re unclear as to your most successful practices, gather your intel. Ask! People won’t be shy to tell you what motivates, inspires, and resonates with them. Once you know these levers, pull them more!

Look for the influencers.

Which of your people are the  “culture carriers”? Who are the individuals having a positive impact and delivering the behaviors you need to succeed? Help these folks serve as models for others to follow.

The alternative is also true. People watch the way resisters are treated. Engaging them using respect and transparency, while also being clear about the direction of change and what will and won’t be tolerated, sends a clear message.

Often, uniting everyone, including your resisters, can be achieved by taking the time to ensure everyone understands the reasons why the plans have been put in place. Educate them and show them that each player is key to the “big picture” success.


No matter how wonderful your culture, striving to make it better should be the goal. But please don’t innovate for innovation’s sake or to keep up with the hot new brand next door. To maintain a position as a leader, or become one, you need to consistently innovate your culture in alignment with your strategic imperatives in order to win.

You and your leaders must create deliberate connections between purpose, strategy and culture and then innovate the way you communicate, the way you share, and the way you engage your people in that culture so it stays fresh, relevant, and inspirational as the needs of the strategy evolve.

A common definition of culture is “the way stuff gets done around here.” If you can get your people to feel connected with the way “stuff gets done” while maintaining alignment with your purpose and strategy, you’re on the way to a strong culture worthy of imitation.

As you continue on your culture journey, be sure never to rest on your laurels. Instead, commit to innovating your culture – keep it exciting, alive, and thriving, and you’ll create an organization that excites your people, draws in your customers, and sets you apart from the competition.

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