Written By Chris Ihrig

Published on August 23, 2023

Few things have a positive or negative impact on your organization like company culture. It affects every facet, from productivity and team satisfaction, to brand reputation and growth.

And yet, many executives find it a challenge to foster and maintain a positive environment. Doing so takes time, effort, and dollars — three things organizations are often hesitant to spend on something that isn’t directly product related.

But regularly investing in organizational culture change is just as critical as traditional investments like CAPEX and OPEX. Your teams make your business run, after all, and when the people you count on to actually do the work are happy, so is your business.

A positive company culture is also a substantial driver of cost savings. According to research from the Work Institute, it typically costs a business 33 percent of a departing employee’s salary just to replace them. 

That’s a lot of money to refill a single role, and when you zoom out — when a business has constant turnover due to a negative workplace culture — the amount of money being burned just to keep seats filled can be financially devastating.

Beyond the negative effect on your bottom line, having an unhealthy company culture can severely damage the trust and loyalty of your customers. Think about all the outlets now available for information about a company these days. Not just sites like Glassdoor, but social media sites like Twitter — er, X — and Facebook, where internal dirty laundry can easily be aired out in the open.

Given all this, it’s clear that investing in culture is critical. But that investment has less to do with dollars than it does priorities. It’s more why than how much. And it starts by defining what we mean by a healthy organizational culture.

Much More than Office Perks

Most companies claim to have a “fun” working environment. But while providing things like free lunches, regular work outings, and office foosball tables seem like easy wins for leadership, they fail to get to the heart of what team members actually care about.

Team members want to feel invested in the places they work. Smart leaders recognize this and cultivate an environment that makes a team feel committed. Every business is on a journey, and as a leader, your role is to help team members recognize their own self-interest in being on that journey.

No amount of office perks will make up for a team that is not engaged, motivated, and excited about where a company is going. You can’t buy a person’s dedication simply by offering kombucha on tap at the office.

Instead, you need to do the hard work of investing your time and attention into the things that keep team members engaged. Things like training and personal development, recognizing achievements, fostering a healthy work-life balance, and so on. 

Side note: If you need help figuring out what your team members care about and could keep them engaged, check out our Annual Culture Index. It may be a valuable tool to help you. Ok, now back to the rest of the post.

Most of all, as a leader, you need to be the driving force behind creating a positive company culture. That means embodying the same shared set of values, behaviors, and vision you ask your team members to buy into.

Too often, leaders complain their teams aren’t as committed as they are. Or worse, they believe that simply telling team members what the company culture is will be enough to get everyone onboard. That’s not leadership, it’s a poster hanging on a wall in the break room.

According to research from Gallup, just two in 10 employees surveyed feel connected to the culture of their company. That’s a shamefully low number. It also highlights the substantial advantage companies with leadership committed to “walking the walk” when it comes to company culture can have over their competition.

It’s no secret that happy and motivated team members are more productive. In fact, that’s straight out of Business 101. That means a failure to create an environment where team members feel that happiness and motivation isn’t a failure of culture, it’s a failure of leadership.

Paying More than Lip Service

In basketball, coaches constantly focus on follow-through because even the most gifted shooter will consistently make a brick if their shooting motion ends when the ball leaves their hand.

Similarly, a leader who doesn’t follow through on their promises will constantly miss their target with team members. Not only that, they will likely make their company culture worse.

Take something like a company culture survey, for example. These are valuable tools for leaders to gauge where they are falling short with team members, but only if their findings are actually followed through on.

Ask yourself: 

  • Would you make a CAPEX investment in expanding your company’s offices only to abandon the plan once work has started? 
  • Would you suddenly stop paying people because you felt like it or because you had other things on your mind?

The answers to both of these questions is obviously, no.

Yet too many leaders who talk about improving company culture do just that — talk. And when they fail to do more beyond taking the temperature of their team members, they do more harm than good. After all, no one likes to be asked for their input only to watch nothing change. 

So when you commit to changing your company culture for the better, you need to recognize that you’re doing just that, making a commitment. That means digesting all the positive and negative feedback, identifying where your current culture is lacking or doing damage to team member morale, and following through on addressing those areas.

Yes, change is hard. So is receiving negative feedback. But successfully creating an environment where team members feel valued, motivated, and committed does more for your company’s bottom line than any product you may offer. 

The people who make up your company are your most important investment, and while you can always budget for pay increases, new benefits, and office perks, you can’t put a price on happiness and loyalty. 

To learn more about what is driving workplace engagement, download our Culture & Workplace Engagement Report. The report includes the summary and analysis of proprietary data collected by the team at Fired Up! Culture and could provide valuable insights for you as you build your company culture.