“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

-Bill Gates


According to a study from UC Berkeley, 70.1% of workers would continue working despite receiving enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Initially, this may come as a shock – at least to me it was. However, when you give it some thought, we’re all wired for purpose. At some point, the question “what am I doing with my life” eventually hits us all between the eyes. So given the fact people like to work, how do you create a culture that inspires them? One that keeps top talent in place, while creating a Black Friday size line of candidates at your door. Let’s dive head first into ways you can build an inspirational culture.

Pay close attention to environmental factors.

Ever heard of the broken windows theory? Essentially, it postulates behavior is altered based upon environmental factors. If an environment has disorder and vandalism, it can lead to anti-social behavior. The theory became the basis for New York City’s “Quality of Life Campaign” in the 1990’s. And guess what? By improving the environment – broken windows, graffiti, etc. – petty crimes subsequently dropped – go figure!

I understand work environments aren’t typically graffiti ridden, but even some disorder can impact behavior. As such, ensuring a clean work environment becomes mission critical. Think especially of common areas where people congregate. Are they up to par? Clean enough that if photographed and placed on the front page you’d be proud? If not, get them cleaned and create a maintenance schedule. Also, think about the décor. Does it uplift or degrade? With behavior being impacting from the environment, it’s important this becomes a focus point.

Use honesty and leave placating for cocktail parties.

Have you been to a party where you don’t know a single soul? How’s the conversation? Are you on your best behavior? Are you placating, you know, go along to get along? If so, you know there’s typically very little being accomplished. Yes, you meet a few folks and friendships may spawn. But all that happens later. 

If you want an inspirational culture, you want honesty. Unfiltered opinions – respectfully shared of course. Sure this can bring about conflict, but it’s healthy conflict. The type that elevates everyone’s thinking. When everyone always agrees, it’s time to duck and cover because someone missed the bomb that’s about to explode. Fostering honesty and allowing opposing viewpoints to be vocalized is productive and healthy. Plus, when people are honest at work they leave more things at work. The benefit is they return the next day refreshed. And fresh employees each day is great for culture.

Develop trust amongst everyone.

Steven Covey writes a great book called The Speed of Trust. When companies are built on trust, they operate with a quickness. Individuals don’t hesitate when decisions are made. They don’t contemplate what politics are at play. They just work. What a dream right?

So how do you reach this point? You help people gain a deeper understanding of one another.  Perhaps everyone completes a questionnaire about themselves and shares at a monthly meeting. Just make sure the questions humanize the person. They should be cast in a personal light. Or you build in social time for people to mingle with one another. Whatever the case, help people develop trust. The process can be lengthy, but it’s worth the effort. You even offset the fundamental attribution error that exists in our wiring (more on this another time).

Bring people together offsite.

Gathering offsite allows people to drop their professional guard. We all act differently to some degree when the environment changes. Such outings can be highly productive for building relationships with one another. It feeds what we mentioned earlier about building trust.

Now I’ve heard some excuses below and they are just that, excuses.

  • “We don’t have a budget.”
  • “Nobody will go.”
  • “Everyone can’t agree on the place.”

Sure, there’s a dash of truth in them, but who cares, make it work. If budget is an issue, tell everyone it’s a BYOM (bring your own money). Or find a place where people can gather for free. If you think nobody will go, guess again, somebody will be there. Oftentimes, people think if everyone can’t go then it’s pointless. I have one word for that – wrong! Finally, when everyone can’t agree on the locale, just make a decision. Find a place, create an event, and those who don’t like it are charged with creating the next one. You’ll be surprised at the level of responsibility they assume.

Recognize life events for everyone.

Recognizing life events mean the world to people. And each month somebody has something special to celebrate. Here are some of the most common: birthdays, marriages, babies, anniversaries (work or marriage), or college graduations (even kid’s graduations). In any given month, you can celebrate a milestone for someone. When you do, it creates a great working atmosphere. One predicated on “OPA!”

Here’s a word of caution, if you start recognizing you must continue with everyone. What you do for one, you do for all. The best way to manage is to get it scheduled. Find out when, and where, and lock it on the calendar. However, don’t feel each celebration must be an all-out shebang.  Simply candy and an announcement go a long way. Just know, celebrations liven up the place. It makes people happy and does wonder for the tone of the day. Eventually, everyone is celebrating everything. And that’s an inspirational environment.

Final thoughts

I love what Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can mock up plans to take over the world, but without the right culture, you’re doomed. With statistics proving employee tenure rates are falling year-over-year, company culture is the answer. When cultures inspire, people not only stay longer but contribute more. They become prideful of their workplace and work with excellence. But building culture – the right culture – takes time. It’s a commitment. And consistency is a key component for maintenance.

Question of the day: Is there something you do to build company culture?

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