All over our websites, social media, and across the digital world – are the words we use to paint a picture of our business.  These elements of our culture and the core values we sprawl on our sites and company profiles are words that show how we operate and what makes us different.  

But, when you peel away the outside layers, what do you get?

When you leave the all-hands meetings with leadership at center stage, what’s left?

What are people saying in the hallways, in whispers at their desks, or in private Slack channels?

What happens when what you’ve put out in the world to define your company isn’t all that accurate?   

It seems that businesses today are often making the news for their company cultures in one way or another.  With the rapid changes the world of work has seen these last few years and rising expectations employees have from employers, people are speaking up about their actual experiences behind the scenes.  And you see one-time icons heralded for setting the gold standard for company culture fall.  

While conversations — and taking action — around company culture are, admittedly, difficult and can sometimes get pushed aside in the busyness of delivering for clients and customers, the fact remains: businesses are powered by the people who work for them.  

And those organizations that want to be and stay successful, to continue to attract and keep fantastic talent to create amazing things, will be the ones who have these honest and tough conversations and just plain do the hard things to do better.

Putting words and values into practice

At Leanplum, these are our values and how we make them authentic:

  • Move as one team.  We’re all working together toward a common goal, and each and every team member contributes to it.
  • Be open and receptive.  There can always be room for improvement, and inspired ideas can come from anywhere.
  • Own it. Taking ownership and responsibility helps us all move forward, make progress toward our goals, and see our vision come to life.
  • Act with humility. Everyone is on a learning path toward personal and professional growth.  Learning from others and taking in feedback helps us be better.
  • Show gratitude. Expressing appreciation for others’ contributions makes the workplace a more positive, happy environment — one where you want to be and do your best.

Having cultural conversations that work

Making long-lasting changes in company culture — or even just taking a temperature check of the daily realities of your company culture — all starts with talking about it, and asking are we living it? breathing it? 

With how complex and fraught the topic of life at work can be, having these conversations the right way can be easier said than done.  And it looks different for everyone.  

Here are some common elements to constructive cultural conversations:

  • They’re a two-way street.  Don’t forget an essential characteristic of conversations: the back and forth. All sides should be able to have a say. Otherwise, if you just have leaders speaking, you don’t have a conversation — you have a speech. If you take a survey only one time per year – that is not a conversation.
  • They’re proactive.  You don’t need to wait for employees to come to managers.  Leaders should be going to their employees and asking questions to learn more.  And, when team members ask questions, it doesn’t hurt to turn the question back on them to get their perspective, making them part of the conversation (remember: two-way street).
  • They’re open.  Nothing’s off-limits when it comes to topics and who’s allowed to ask the questions. This can be scary, but, again, these conversations are not easy.  If you limit the types of things people can talk about or who gets a say, you also limit how you can learn and change for the better.
  • They’re protected and sacred.  These conversations can involve sensitive topics that take courage to bring up.  To open up freely, employees should have a way to give their input anonymously and know that their feedback isn’t going into a void.
  • They’re not easy.  That’s undeniable.  And why a lot of businesses shy away from them.  But they’re also worth it and can bring tremendous value for your team and the company overall.
  • They are not top-down. Leaders have a responsibility to engage their teams around culture for sure.  But if you have not created an atmosphere where culture is led, contributed to, and lived every day, challenged and changed in new positive ways constantly by your teams, to better reflect their evolving ideas and passions – then your path to creating a culture that is authentic is not yet complete. 
  • Live it. Authentic culture is not words on a wall, website, or value statement.  Leaders need to model the culture every day.  Organizations need to consistently recognize team members or activities that model or contribute to the culture. Don’t let your culture fade away slowly because you stop putting energy into it.

Future vision workshops: a practical example

There are a variety of ways to have cultural conversations.  One activity that can help facilitate these conversations in a group setting is a future vision workshop.

All you need is a team — big or small — and a board (physical or virtual) that everyone can see.  The goal is to come together and define the culture and what steps or changes are needed to foster it.  

Not only are you getting people involved in the conversation, but this helps them feel empowered and involved in defining and creating the culture through their actions.

  1. Describe your culture.  Have the team write words to describe the current team culture — both positive and negative.  List all the words on the board.
  2. Look at it from another lens.  Have them brainstorm words they think others would use to describe their team.  This could be from the perspective of another team, function, leadership, client, or other company stakeholders.
  3. Look to the future.  Ask the team to imagine two years from now and what they’d like to see for their team culture and how they’d want other groups to describe them.  Make a list of what comes up.
  4. Make a plan to fill the gap.  To get to this 2-year goal, what does the team need to look like 6 months from now, a year from now…  Think of specific steps to take and changes to make this to get there.  
  5. Make it personal. What will each individual commit to do to take these steps?

The conversation — and the work — never end

Once you’ve defined your culture, it’s important to remember: the story doesn’t end here.  

In fact, it’s just the beginning.  Now, it’s time to live these words in your everyday lives and interactions.

And, as the organization continues to grow and evolve, your core values and how you embody them daily will have to as well.

For app-first companies, Leanplum is the only solution that helps personalize and optimize all customer touchpoints, both inside and outside the app. Leanplum combines multi-channel Lifecycle Marketing with the ability to A/B test the Product Experience for complete, end-to-end personalization of the mobile journey. Break down organizational silos and eliminate point solutions to enable rapid growth

To learn more about what Leanplum can do for your team, check out these resources: