Across Australia, workplace culture has become the number one driver for business performance and attracting staff. In fact, Forbes recently reported that the majority of the global workforce (94% of executives and 88% of employees) believe that a distinct corporate culture is vital to corporate success.
Contrary to the media’s obsession with ‘top-down’ change, this approach – where leadership comes up with all the plans and makes all the decisions around building culture – runs the risk of becoming irrelevant and exclusionary. While it’s critical the company’s leadership sets the values of the company, it’s up to the staff to bring these values to life.
Yes, role modelling and influence from the C-suite is important. But as the CEO of a startup marketing operations platform, IntelligenceBank, I know from experience that the best ideas come from the broader team – otherwise ‘cultural events’ at work can easily end up being a bit like a summer camp that no one wants to go to.
There’s a balance
At the end of the day, culture is not about ping-pong tables, Kombucha on tap and beanbags. Rather, I believe it’s about bringing staff together around a central purpose, while working hard, having fun and being intellectually challenged at the same time. At IntelligenceBank, while we are obsessed about rapid growth, we also think it’s important to always ‘have each other’s backs’ and create a supportive environment. When I explain what it’s like to work at IntelligenceBank, it’s like a yin-and-yang environment. On one hand we are driven, obsessed about excellence and achieving our goals. On the other hand, we interact like a big family that is diverse and quirky but are completely aligned by our shared values.
- The best ideas come from what matters to the broader team
Employees should be encouraged to create their own events, or a social committee should be formed to drive the initiative. The only role senior management should have in the process is to make sure it’s safe, legal, aligns with company values and of course is funded (within reason).At IntelligenceBank, we regularly open the floor up to ideas that our team really resonated with or believed in, and facilitated actions based thereon. For example, some members of our team were impacted by cancer, so we had a fundraiser for the Cancer Council. One of our clients is Red Cross blood services, so several members of staff went to go donate blood together. We also are partial to singing so Karaoke is always on the cards, as are tennis tournaments, and fun runs.
- Consider what works for everyone
Not everyone can go out for drinks after work, especially if they’ve got responsibilities at home to attend to, or perhaps the bar scene just isn’t their thing. Have a mix of events that aren’t only at night, but during office hours too – morning teas, lunches and international holiday celebrations are perfect for this. We have staff from 10 different countries in our Melbourne office, so we started celebrating international holidays such as Diwali, the Dragon Boat festival, Taco Tuesdays and Thanksgiving where there’s amazing food to bring into the office. Food brings everyone together (and who wouldn’t be up for Dutch Poffertjes?)
- Celebrate often
At IntelligenceBank we celebrate people and milestones all the time. A new initiative we have just started is that each month, we acknowledge people who live our values. There are a series of badges people can win for exemplifying our company values which ensures what we care about as a company is talked about all the time. In addition, we celebrate business milestones such a hitting a performance improvement or a sales target, as well as personal moments such as babies, weddings and inter office transfers which is powerful in boosting morale and creating connections amongst staff. We also think it’s important to bring together global offices. Last year, we did 12 Days of Christmasand had a desk decorating competition around the world so that everyone in every one of our offices could join in. Our workspaces looked like an ornament bomb went off, but it was fun, and it was surprising who won the competition.
You don’t need a beanbag to have a good time
Forced fun is rarely successful and leads to wasted resources and time that could’ve been put towards solutions that actually work. So next time your C-suite considers going to a beige hotel conference room and sitting around to play bongo drums as a cultural initiative, remind them or yourselves that it rarely works – unless it’s what the people have asked for.
Start asking questions. And once you have the answers from the bottom-up, give employees the choice to get involved or not. There’s no need to make events or initiatives mandatory. This keeps each element more fun, less forced and more likely to be attended by team members who are actually engaged and want to see each initiative really work.
Tessa Court is CEO of IntelligenceBank. IntelligenceBank is a marketing operations platform, helping content marketers seamlessly manage digital assets, creative content approvals and compliance, and creative project management. It is used by over 400 brands with 250,000+ users in 55 countries, and has offices in the US, Canada and Australia.