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4 Groups Will Make or Break Your Company's Culture
Business Journal

4 Groups Will Make or Break Your Company's Culture

by Jake Herway

Story Highlights

  • Culture depends on leadership, support functions, champions and managers
  • Together, they inspire each employee to feel a sense of belonging
  • They build the culture through each part of the employee life cycle

Did you miss the first article in this two-part series? Read it here.

Every employer wants employees who feel they belong at their organization, because those employees are able to give their best every day. Those employees feel empowered to go all out, take risks and be their best selves.

That kind of deep belonging comes about when an organization fosters a culture that helps employees feel aligned with the company, every day, through every experience at work.

Organizational culture is created through both institutional moments -- the experiences that employees have with the corporation -- and interpersonal moments -- the everyday interactions employees have with each other.

To learn about the way interpersonal moments at work can build or break a company's culture, read Part 1 of this series.


Institutional moments are periods in the employee life cycle from hire to retire, such as onboarding, performance management, promotion and leadership development.

The four populations who contribute to the institutional moments that build or break the culture are the people who represent the organization as an entity:

1. Leadership enables the culture.

Leadership creates the vision for culture, makes it a priority and sets the example for everyone else to follow. They're also responsible for providing sufficient resources for initiatives that build the culture and create accountability.

2. Supporting teams facilitate the culture.

HR, finance, accounting, legal and analytics teams set policies, procedures and programs aimed at bringing leadership's vision for the culture to life. They also find and distribute best practices, provide education and measure outcomes.

3. Everyday champions activate the culture.

Champions may not be formally identified within your organization, but they can and should be. They are the influencers and change agents, the instigators of social contagion.

Find these hidden gems and train them to do what they already naturally do: encourage others in the moment, vouch for culture initiatives, and be a vocal ambassador for your brand.

4. Management delivers the culture.

Every day, in every moment, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement and thus necessarily affect how employees experience the culture. Employees interact directly with managers throughout most major moments in their employee life cycle.

But without the other three groups functioning as they should, managers can feel like their hands are tied, and they are unable to deliver what is needed every day.

When these four groups coordinate and are aligned, the institutional moments they create together enable, facilitate, activate and deliver a sense of belonging and engagement to each individual.

These populations need to be intentional about inspiring individuals to commit to the organization, bringing the company identity to life.

But ultimately, responsibility falls to every individual in an organization to do their part. Employees must choose to commit to, engage with and belong to the organization's culture.

The roles of the four populations who create change and build the right institutional moments are interdependent. If one population fails, the others will be limited in their success.

When an HR team laments that their managers aren't using the education, processes and technology they've implemented, there may be a larger breakdown happening. Has leadership effectively enabled the behavior change? Are champions on the ground activating? Without institutional support, the manager has a much tougher time delivering. This kind of situation creates a poor institutional moment for the manager and for their direct reports.

Together, leadership, support functions, champions and mangers create and deliver programs, structures and processes throughout the employee life cycle that affect the employee experience.

For example:

  • Onboarding:

    Consider, a company that famously defines their culture by the customer service they offer. They're so serious about it that they offer new hires a payout if they feel like they're not ready to adopt the cultural tenets after 90 days.

    The right fit is so important to them, that they would rather risk a bit of turnover than sacrifice customer service.

    The leadership enables this by providing the budget, support functions facilitate the "test drive" policy, champions help activate the decision, and managers make sure new hires know there's no shame in leaving if they realize that they're not a good fit.

  • Performance management:

    Most companies with strengths-based workplaces leave education and coaching to HR to facilitate, but one company strongly encourages managers to take strengths coaching certification. The company believes that employees have a better daily experience with managers who act as coaches.

    The division presidents of the company have become strengths coaches -- an example of leadership enabling the culture by modeling the right behavior.

    The company has a culture of performance development, not just performance management, and they know coaching is central to performance development. Not only that, but most millennial employees expect coaching from their managers.

    Support functions -- in this case, HR -- facilitate the culture by bringing the certification opportunity to managers. They also do the research and educate managers on why the best coaching is strengths-based.

    Champions are managers who encourage their peers to become certified, inspiring others to take action by sharing their personal experiences of success.

  • Promotion:

    The way another company brings their culture of loyalty and hard work to life is a "new house" bonus for associates who stay for at least two years and reach a second promotion.

    The culture is one of reciprocity and loyalty; they expect a lot of dedication and long hours, but they value what employees give and show appreciation in return through this unique institutional moment.

    They recognize that many people at that stage of life have high student debt and want to buy a house, so this payout supports those employees' financial goals, just as employees support the company's goals.

    Managers deliver the culture by making sure employees know their hard work will be rewarded, and champions tell stories about the personal goals the payout helped them achieve.

  • Leadership development:

    One of the top performing companies I work with gives unlimited tuition reimbursement to all employees.

    Their culture places a high value on learning and development, and the leadership says they want people to be continual learners, getting better every day.

    Support functions handle the administrative details of the benefit, and champions spread their enthusiasm for the degree they earned and how it advanced their career with the company.

All of these institutional moments in the employee life cycle create a palpable culture that employees can commit to, bringing the words on paper to life.

Gallup can align, educate and train all four groups to make culture change a reality as they create the right institutional moments for your employees.

Jane Smith contributed to this article.

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