Successful companies know that in order to entice and retain top talent, they have to create an environment where people actually want to work. Over the past few years, what used to be motivators for employees — pay, benefits, perks — have simply become satisfiers. Now employees want to feel like their job matters and work for a company with values similar to their own.
Although focusing on organizational culture as a differentiator has become a more common practice in the business world, there are still many misconceptions about what culture really means and how to make it successful.
Here are five truths about creating a strong culture:
1. It takes more than a ping-pong table and free food.
A lot of companies mistakenly associate culture solely with fun. Don’t get me wrong, having fun at work is important to your employees’ engagement and can help stem burnout. Like most companies with great cultures, we have spaces for employees to unwind and build friendships with coworkers. However, fun rooms, free food, and ping-pong tables are just a small part of the equation.
While it’s important to have a good time at work, fun has to be combined with an atmosphere of trust, caring and support. Employees should be free to be themselves and feel comfortable sharing their opinions and ideas without fear of retribution. Fun, in and of itself, is not enough to sustain a culture.
2. Culture impacts business success.
Culture and business go hand in hand. Employees who are actively engaged in their job produce better results. In fact, 30 years of research has found that companies who invest in creating people-centric cultures average 50 percent less turnover and grow their profits as much as two times faster than the competition. But the return doesn’t stop there. These companies also experience increased customer loyalty, higher quality job candidates, more brand recognition and increased innovation.
My company has experienced these benefits firsthand. Since we started investing in our culture 16 years ago, employee engagement has climbed steadily. That engagement has led to lower turnover — from nearly 50 percent in 2000 to 17 percent today — and the highest revenue in the history of our company. There’s no doubt in my mind that our culture is the primary driver of our business success.
3. Culture doesn’t cost too much.
Let’s be clear, over the long-term you’ll need to invest money into your culture. There’s no way to sustain it without investing in more listening, more communication and more training. But you can start small.
Try sending out surveys and holding focus groups to get a pulse on what employees like and dislike about your company. Listening, being transparent and making changes based on feedback not only ensures you’re making meaningful improvements, but it also helps you build trust more quickly.
4. Leaders are not the only owners of culture.
There’s no way around it, culture has to start at the top. Leadership shapes and sets the tone for what the culture should be within the organization. If leaders aren’t invested in creating and maintaining a strong culture, it will become hollow and meaningless and employees will never believe in it.
However, ownership of your culture does not lie exclusively with leaders. It’s true that leaders are essential role models for a company’s culture, but real success comes when you also empower employees to take ownership. By doing so, they become invested in seeing it succeed. When everyone takes an active role in driving the culture it gets even stronger.
5. Culture isn’t created overnight.
People ask us for tips about creating a strong culture and we always remind them that we’re more than 15 years into our efforts. We approach our culture plans the same way we do our long-term business plans. We make goals, develop strategies and tactics, monitor results and hold ourselves accountable. And then every year we make changes to stay on track and get better.
Take time to figure out how a cultural component could strengthen your business and then be thoughtful about what type of culture you want to create. Once you’ve established a plan, nurture and grow it like you would any other business effort. When you accomplish your initial goals, set more. Culture evolves and needs constant attention to ensure its success.
Creating a great culture can seem daunting, but don’t let that overwhelm you. If you take it one step at a time, you’ll find the reward is well worth the effort.
This article first appeared on Entrepreneur.