There comes a time in every store owner’s career when you realize you just can’t drive company culture alone.
Modern conceptions of company culture are in a state of transition. For, as many companies there are that recognize the importance of senior management and proactive champions in driving culture, there are just as many that are eager to push the work off to HR. As I’m sure many practitioners are aware, when just one department in your store is driving key cultural initiatives, the well of ideas can dry up quickly.
The need for a more holistic, organized and thoughtful approach quickly becomes clear. If culture is to be strategic, it needs more input, collaboration and co-creation from the people it’s supposed to be helping.
That’s where the company culture committee comes into play. Culture committees are cross-functional teams of employees that discuss, plan and proactively drive all matters pertaining to company culture. The committees organically generate employee buy-in for culture – because they’re the ones building it – and help the company’s central principles and values permeate the day-to-day work experience.
While employee-driven efforts have always been encouraged at companies that understand the strategic role of workplace culture, the existence of company culture committees is yet another sign of the changing times. Increasingly, research shows us that strong company cultures have the competitive edge in the marketplace because they produce more engaged employees. In a recent study analyzing more than 110,000 engagement surveys over 10 years, companies with engaged cultures saw up to 30 percent greater levels of customer satisfaction.
Committees are the latest way of ensuring the company can reap benefits like this by fighting one of culture’s biggest threats: stagnancy. Committees are designed to bring together employees across different departments. This ensures that new ideas come from all areas of the company, and that no one function has too much influence over the direction culture takes.
But that alone does not a great company culture committee make. Reflecting on my own experiences as a champion of company culture, I’ve identified five key ingredients for successful culture committees:
Companies that prioritize diversity perform better than those that don’t. But to make a difference, diverse faces and voices must be given seats at the table.
The makeup of a culture committee should be representative of your company in every respect. Your company culture committee needs diversity across your organizational chart in terms of employeesspanning different roles, tenure, seniority and departments to ensure that everyone has a voice, no matter what floor they work on. But you also need diversity in demographic considerations of age, race and gender to promote inclusivity and a positive atmosphere.
Company culture isn’t all about bake-offs and team-building events. It must have a clear sense of purpose. That purpose, in turn, should be a response to the needs of your store. Likewise, company culture committees must be purposeful in their actions. Every initiative a committee puts together must be planned with intent and forethought. Sure, things can be planned because they’re fun, but your committee should have at least a basic understanding of the bigger function these initiatives serve.
For example, to an outsider, a committee-organized food drive might look like just a plain old food drive. But from the perspective of the committee, the food drive serves the purpose of invoking employees’ sense of charity and compassion through the act of giving. Those feelings can make work more meaningful for employees and engender a sense of company loyalty.
3. Leadership buy-in
Company culture committees are important for securing employee buy-in and enriching culture overall, but grassroots efforts organized solely by employees can only ever get so far. Without sponsorship from a member of the leadership team, these efforts will flounder.
Sponsorship from leadership is necessary for a couple of reasons. To get the obvious out of the way, sometimes you need a budget (usually a small one in the grand scheme of things) to run culture initiatives. But leadership support amounts to much more than money. It’s also about time. Employees on the committee have obligations to their professional roles. The time and effort they put in to keep the spirit of culture alive must be validated as important and valuable by company leaders.
It’s always easier to see the output of a company culture committee’s work than it is the input. A committee deeply embedded into the DNA of a company’s culture could have its fingerprints on everything from team-building events to core value statements to even elements of the onboarding process. That all takes considerable time and effort to organize.
Part of HR’s job as committee organizers will be to communicate that time investment up front. Every committee member must have a clear understanding of the commitment required before joining. If a committee member can’t (or won’t) put in the requisite effort that employees deserve, there will be a low ceiling on what you’re able to accomplish.
5. Curation and iteration
Your committee could be full of genuinely dedicated culture champions, but that commitment can be negated if they don’t bring fresh proposals to meetings. Culture thrives on the energy of new ideas and creative thinking. Your committee should rotate members in and out periodically to keep new blood circulating.
We’ve introduced term limits on our own company culture committee to address this issue. Each member has a term of 12 months with the option of serving additional terms. At the same time, other employees who are motivated to enrich our culture can indicate their interest in joining. The leadership team ultimately determines the committee’s membership.
In forming your committee, it’s important to remember that culture evolves all the time. Yes, part of that change will come from the committee’s work, but some of it happens naturally. This is because the vitality of culture will always be determined, in part, by the needs of the business.
As such, a company culture committee must always be in touch with employees to monitor changes in their culture’s appetite. But if you have all the right ingredients, your committee will make sure culture never goes hungry.