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Cultivating the Kind of Culture Employees Crave

Rachel Howard
Reading: Cultivating the Kind of Culture Employees Crave

As the Chief Cultural Officer, of LeadingAgile, I view myself as an advocate for our employees.  I’m super passionate about creating a working environment that is supportive, nurturing, inclusive, and respectful of all employees. Not just the ones that work here, but anyone who might one day work here, too.

As you might expect, I spend a lot of time thinking about our culture and how I can contribute to its evolution and continuous improvement.    A few days ago, someone asked me what it was like to work at LeadingAgile and it got me to thinking…If I had 1,500 words or less to entice someone to work here, what would I tell them?

That question led me to write this post. So, in 1500 words, I thought I’d take a closer look at what it takes to cultivate a great culture and explore some of the steps we’ve taken as a company to foster an outstanding working environment for our employees. 

Before I dive in, I’d like to share LeadingAgile’s hypothesis on culture with you.

1500 words start…now. 

Our Cultural Hypothesis

LeadingAgile’s hypothesis is that successful organizations are built on a solid foundation of intentionally built systems. Our consultants preach this to our clients all the time.

Many organizations think that if they just say and do all the right things that a vibrant culture will emerge over time. Other companies believe that they can indoctrinate people into their culture by simply putting them though training, workshops, and onboarding programs.

Practices are important and they absolutely contribute to a company’s culture. But the practices alone don’t breed a better work environment. And it’s hard to change the hearts and minds of your employees through training, workshops, and programs if the systems around those things don’t reinforce the messaging.

So, if you want to build a vibrant, joyful, and fulfilling culture, you have to develop the systems that will support it and drive the behaviors and shared beliefs you want your company—and more importantly, the people within it—to adopt. Then you add the right practices. Once all that stuff is in place, the culture you crave will be a fast follow.

But make no mistake. every company has its own unique culture—no two are alike. And that means that the systems you build will have to be different too. Figuring out which systems to invest in is the hard part.

Defining Culture

So, what is culture anyway?

Essentially culture is the vibe and feel of an organization. It’s the first impression that’s derived from the practices and “rituals” of the work community. It sets the tone for the interactions that take place between team members and it heavily influences the values of the workplace. In turn, it heavily influences how employees feel about the company. You could say that culture is the company’s subconscious.

To go even further, you could say that it’s the measurable expression of a variety of different elements fusing together to create how an environment is experienced by others. It’s the shared assumptions, values, and beliefs which dictate how we behave.

Having a strong and thriving culture is all about understanding and ensuring that your company’s “why” is being consistently demonstrated in everything the company does. That means that leadership behaviors, team member relationships, activities, and communication are all reflective of the company’s current principles and values. 

“Culture is what we do + how we do it + why we do what we do.”

We believe that culture is the common set of observable behaviors and underlying narratives and beliefs that shape how LeadingAgile personnel work and interact day to day.  

Defining LeadingAgile’s Culture

This is how we define our culture:

  • We strive to live up to our core values: honesty, transparency, and committed to staying on message and remaining results focused.
  • We always aspire to apply these values within our company and community, as well as to each and every one of our client interactions.
  • We take pride in being fearless, adaptive, sustainable, and egalitarian, and we admire attributes like integrity, respect, teamwork, and passion for continued learning. 
  • We are a company that’s principled in our beliefs and believe in walking the walk at all times.

10 years ago, before my tenure at LeadingAgile began, when the company was first getting started, it was much easier to cultivate this kind of culture. As a small organization, LeadingAgile was able to have natural transparency and connection through personal relationships and 1:1 interaction.

Our core values, principles, and desired character attributes were cultivated through an innate closed-loop accountability system that had no choice but to exist.

But, as we grow larger and more distributed, we knew we had to become more deliberate about fostering these connections and creating more channels within the organization to reinforce our core values and principles, or risk losing the culture we’d grown accustom to. Even worse, we’d run the risk of letting our new and legacy employees get lost in the noise.

We knew we’d have to intentionally put some systems into place to keep our culture alive.

Executing on Our Cultural Hypothesis

The need for intentionally built systems is something that small growing companies will face as they hit certain inflection points. In my experience working with small growing consultancies, I have seen these changes start to appear at 50, 100, and then 200 employees. And LeadingAgile was no different.

Like clockwork, we saw that at around 50 people, culture, connection, and community started to break down. So, we implemented the idea of small groups. In the beginning, we called them tribes. Today, we call them Pods. Basically, a Pod is a small cross-section of employees with a leader who’s dedicated to mentor and advocate for their pod and provide opportunities for career progression. The Pods meet on an agreed-upon cadence, and everyone in each Pod knows that they can reach out to other Pod members for questions, help, and a friendly voice.

We knew early on that building these small working groups was going to be crucial to creating the feeling of connectivity and camaraderie that’s important to any workplace, but especially in one that’s remotely distributed like ours.

But working groups, made up of mostly peers wasn’t going to be enough. We knew that for our employees to feel like they were a part of something bigger, if they were going to truly internalize our “why” that we were going to have to create transparency and give them access to the executives and pull back the curtain on what other Pods were up to, our company strategy, and the business goals we’re trying to accomplish.

So, three times a week, we have an optional Operations & Intelligence (O&I) call. This is where the entire staff is invited to come and get a glimpse into all of our accounts and the work that we’re doing for our clients. Which is an awesome opportunity to stoke conversation so that we can learn from one another and spark ideas for how we can take what we learn and apply it to solutions for our clients.

Pod leaders will give Pod updates, executives will often present a thematic company strategy and introduce larger, company-wide initiatives. Also, once a month, we look under the engine, and talk about the company’s financial health and discuss opportunities for employees to make a financial impact, not just on the company, but on their paychecks. We also will often discuss sales, marketing, and talent acquisition opportunities.

Basically, the O&I call is the ultimate window into the company.

In addition to the company-wide O&I calls, we also have monthly 1:1s built into the system. Each Pod Leader meets with every member of their Pod, once a month, to discuss how each individual is doing and to give guidance on how to navigate the organization and their career path within it. This is our way of giving a voice to every employee who wants to be heard and an influential ear who’s ready and willing to listen.

But, Wait. There’s More…

I whole-heartedly believe that the Pod structure, O&I calls, and executive sponsorship is crucial to cultivating and maintaining our culture. But, that’s only half of it.

At the end of the day, the number one indicator of happiness in the workplace is whether or not you have a best friend at work. Having coworkers that you actually enjoy being around is what differentiates a place you like going to work versus a place you love going to work.    

So, another aspect of our culture that we highly encourage is the creation of a wide range of avenues that will foster and maintain connection and comradery. We deliberately build time into our schedules so that our employees can do things like go to conferences (or speak at them), spin up a book club, invest time into one of our many communities of practice, or join us for one of our virtual happy hours.

In addition to allotting time to do some of these micro-team activities, we’ve also invested a large amount of time, money, and effort into building an infrastructure to support our employees. We invest in communication tools like Slack and Zoom so that we can all stay connected when it’s convenient. We’ve built a world-class Ops team that acts as a concierge for every consultant to make life easier when it comes to travel, expenses, and payroll & benefits questions. We even have an Executive Career Coach on retainer to help foster and promote professional growth and an open-door policy with all our executives—including the CEO.

Parting Thoughts

As the Chief Cultural Officer, of LeadingAgile, I view myself as an advocate for our employees.  I’m super passionate about creating a working environment that is supportive, nurturing, inclusive, and respectful of all employees. Not just the ones that work here, but anyone who might one day work here, too

To me, that means ensuring that our culture is easily recognized and demonstrated from the very first touchpoint all the way until the day comes that one of our team members pursues other opportunities.   

Like I said before, I spend a lot of time thinking about our culture and how I can contribute to its evolution and continuous improvement. I understand that culture isn’t just about first impressions and saying the right things. It’s about reinforcing the desired organizational behaviors by making sure that our values and principles are reflected by leadership and the systems we create.

Whether it’s the talent acquisition and onboarding programs, the way we put intentionality around connection points where our team members can share, participate, and grow or the commitment we have to honesty, transparency, and respect…

LeadingAgile is dedicated to ensuring that you feel connected to our “why” and making sure that we have the systems in place that will enable you to navigate a rewarding and fulfilling career with us.

For those of you who were counting, I went over by 143 words.

Next Remote Work and PSTIR w/ Jeff Howey

Rachel Howard is a collaborative and innovative HR professional with 17 years of experience working in IT and business consulting services. Her passion is talent engagement and development — Connecting Companies, People, and Clients to a common, cohesive vision.

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