Workplace culture has become one of the most popular ways to evaluate whether an organization is a good place to work.  We know that it is crucial for employee attraction and retention that our organization has a “good” culture. But, as with any culture, it can seem daunting to shape, improve, or sustain.  So, where do you begin?

1. Understanding Your Values

To build an intentional culture within your organization you need first to define your values. To do this, you must ask, consider, and answer the following questions:

  • What difference do we want to make?
  • What do we want to be known for?
  • How should we treat each other? our customers?
  • What does success look/sound like for our organization?
  • What is the significance of “how” we work and make decisions?

While it can be tempting to limit this conversation to top-level leaders, we encourage you to explore these questions with your entire organization.  We are firm believers that people own what they help create.  So, we believe it is important that all voices within the organization are heard when defining your core values.   

Through this process, you should be able to narrow down the list to the handful of values that are most important to your organization.  These values will serve as the compass for your organization. Ensuring that you are heading in the right direction with each new decision.

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2. Developing The Behaviors

Identifying your values is one thing, but living out those values is another. As an organization, you will need to match values to behaviors. For example, imagine your organization decides they value innovation. The behaviors you would expect to see from employees could be curious minds, and willingness to try new approaches.  

The behaviors must be felt and seen throughout the organization, from top to bottom.  Additionally, those behavior expectations should be reflected in various places like communication, onboarding, and performance reviews.  

3. Communicating Your Values

You have indeitfied the organizations core values.  Now you begin the ongoing process of frequently and consistently communicating your values to every member of the organization.  The ultimate goal is that every employee is able to quickly and accurately articulate your values when asked.   To achieve this goal, your employees will need to interact with the values numerous times and in various contexts.

As you think about ways to communicate your values to your employees, make sure to consider different learning styles. You’ll want to include strategies that focus on standard written messages, static graphic representations (think illustrations or infographics), and auditory messages such as video and/or sound recordings.

We’ve created a list of ideas to get you started:

  • List and explain values in the offer letter, employee handbook, on the external website, and internal employee portal
  • Visually display values throughout the workplace (e.g., wall/door/window decals, mousepads, pens, stationary, lanyards, employee ID cards)
  • Feature values in employee newsletters (e.g., highlight employee experiences related to values, provide queries to help employees reflect on how to live out the values, etc.)
  • Add values to your email signatures and/or meeting agendas

4. Aligning Your Words and Actions

Now that you’ve done the work of identifying and communicating your organization’s values with and to your employees. You’re all done, right?  Nope!  This is where the difficult yet crucial work begins.  It is time to take a hard look at your rules and rewards to determine whether they reinforce your values or undermine your credibility.

When there is dissonance between your stated values and how your organization functions, it begins to erode the employee experience.  As a leader and human resources professional, you have a significant role to play in ensuring the alignment of your organization’s words and actions. It’s your job to design the policies and procedures that keep your organization’s largest asset (your employees!) moving forward. Ensuring a seamless transition from learning about the values to experiencing them in action.

Now is the time to re-examine your policies. Use your values as a compass, to determine if you are actually encouraging your employees to consistently live out your values.

Consider the following examples: 

  • Teamwork is your top value, but your incentive structure is based only on individual performance goals, are you actually encouraging teamwork?
  • Trust is your top value, but your sick leave policy requires a doctor’s note for even short periods of time off, do your employees actually feel trusted?
  • Continuous improvement is your top value, but you don’t offer time or financial support for professional development, do your employees actually feel empowered or able to improve?
  • Family is your top value, but you don’t offer paid time off for new parents, do your employees actually feel as though they are treated like family?

As you begin aligning your words and actions, we recommend looking at three employee experience elements.


Consider how you introduce your organization to new employees and new employees to the organization.  Everything from the communications you send them to how their training is structured to the way you encourage their departments to engage with them.  Each element of the onboarding process should be created with intention and highly aligned with your values.  You only get one chance to make a first impression, and you want to start this relationship off on the right foot.

Employee Handbook

Consider the policies in your employee handbook. Take into count everything about the handbook, including the display and words used.  Language matters. Even if you secretly think that no one actually reads the handbook cover-to-cover take the time to be intentional in the framing of each policy so that it aligns with your values.  

Performance Management Process

Consider your existing performance management process and what behaviors it is encouraging and discouraging.  Review the individual measures on your formal performance review assessments, the frequency of required reviews, the guidance to managers on informal and ongoing feedback, the process for awarding raises, bonuses, and other forms of compensation, and the process for working through performance issues.  Each step of this process should reflect the organization’s values and work to reinforce positive behavior while discouraging counterproductive behavior.

Connecting to Culture

Ensuring that your employees’ lived experience within your organization aligns with the values your organization touts is the foundation for building a great culture.  It builds trust among current employees because they know your organization will follow through on its commitments to them.  It also breeds trust among employees as they begin to hold each other accountable to the shared values.

We know that trust leads to better outcomes. It causes employees to feel safe to engage in healthy debate and conflict, care more deeply about each other’s safety and the success of each other and the organization as a whole.

As you can see, culture is a thread that runs through every part of your organization, from attraction through retention, operations to marketing, and more.  So, if you genuinely want to impact your organization’s culture, set aside the quick fix perks and focus on the root of the problem.  Who knows, maybe kegs in the breakroom or bring your pet to work days will actually align with your values!

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