Building a Strong Company Culture
By Debbie Adrian, Chief Operations Officer California, Warner Pacific
Debbie is considered Warner Pacific’s indefatigable COO, or “Chief Optimism Officer.” She leads our organization with a positive outlook, encouraging employee engagement and building teams with heart and purpose. Debbie’s background includes 23 years with Anthem, eventually leaving her position as Vice President of Sales and Operations to join Warner Pacific.
Over the past year and a half, organizations throughout the San Fernando Valley, and the world, have had to adapt to constant change, pivoting as quickly as possible at every unexpected turn. From navigating shutdowns to implementing new business models to planning for a safe and successful reopening, everything has been in a perpetual state of flux. And with so many moving puzzle pieces, it’s easy for company culture to get lost in the shuffle.
That said, in challenging times, a strong company culture is more important than ever. It is the driving force that holds your team together and keeps them inspired and motivated, even in the most difficult circumstances. As we all continue to work through COVID-19 and adjust to post-pandemic life, building and maintaining a positive company culture will require a conscious, dedicated approach — but the payoffs are absolutely worth the effort.
Company culture can make all the difference when it comes to attracting talented team members, retaining employees and encouraging each individual to perform at their best.
When you look at why people choose to stay at a company, pay is only part of the story. More often, loyalty happens when team members are happy about who they work with and who they work for. Attitudes start at the top and resonate throughout the whole company, so it’s important for leadership to demonstrate the culture they hope to create. Of course, an employee who doesn’t fit well in the company culture, at any level, is less likely to be happy in their job and can negatively impact the whole team.
Further, while fun perks can be a great bonus, a strong culture is about more than free lunches and gifts. Team members also want to feel like they are working alongside like-minded people and contributing meaningfully to the organization. While company culture varies based on the needs of any given organization, in all cases, a strong culture requires a proactive approach and excellent communication.
Even in the best of times, a good company culture is hard to build and easy to lose —and the pandemic has made the process even more difficult. In the coming months, many pandemic-related challenges will continue, and new challenges will arise as post-pandemic life spurs additional changes.
For example, many organizations will have to decide whether to continue allowing remote work. On one hand, remote work can make effective communication more difficult and add additional barriers to teamwork and collaboration. On the other hand, many employees may prefer working from home and — due to the lack of commute and reduced need for sick days — remote workers can often be just as productive as in-office teams, if not more so. Each company will have to find the right balance to ensure business needs are met while also taking employee preferences into account.
For team members who do return to the office, it will be important to make sure they feel safe and confident that their health is being prioritized. For employees who continue working from home, it will be important to make sure they feel supported and included in the company culture. As an example, here at Warner Pacific, we’ve been sending out weekly e-newsletters to share news about employees, tips on working from home, recipes and other interesting articles. We also send a daily “Good Vibes” email with an inspirational quote. Our team members look forward to getting these messages, and it helps everyone feel engaged and connected, even when they aren’t able to see each other face-to-face.
Building a positive company culture post-pandemic will require persistence, creativity, flexibility and a commitment to communication. We’ve all been through a lot lately, and for many, the struggles are not over. Empathy, gratitude and understanding are more important than ever.
While it may be tempting to rush back to “normal” as quickly as possible, it is better to give yourself enough time to plan and approach changes strategically. If you’re bringing employees back to the office, consider a phased approach to help everyone adjust, and don’t force anyone who isn’t ready — let them ease back into it at their own pace.
Whether your team is remote, in-person or both, implementing a recognition system that encourages participation and rewards good work can be a great way to renew excitement. In addition, company events, virtual or in-person, can encourage everyone to collaborate and get in the team spirit, even if people no longer see each other in the office every day.
When you can, try to create unexpected experiences — the kind people can’t wait to tell their family and friends about. For example, during summer, we hosted the Warner Games and broke employees into teams to compete in Olympic-style events like lawn darts, sidewalk chalk art and TikTok dance challenges. Remote employees were able to join the fun by sending in videos, and everyone really got into the spirit of the competition. Another time, during our busiest quarter, we brought a bunch of puppies to the office to give everyone an opportunity to laugh and unwind. These memorable moments go a long way toward building loyalty and comradery.
Finally, as you plan future hiring decisions, remember to keep cultural fit in mind. Often, technical skills and industry knowledge can be taught, but the personality traits that will help your company culture thrive cannot.
Happy employees produce better work, stick around longer and contribute more to the overall success of your organization — and company culture plays a vital role in employee happiness. Creating a positive culture post-pandemic may not always be easy, but if you put in the hard work to make it happen, everyone benefits.