If I could pick one word to describe the past few years, it would be: unstable. (Are we due for a break in major global developments any time soon?) There is, however, an opportunity to help your employees weather the unpredictability. The key? Intentionally design your company culture as a strong foundation during distressing times.
Design and company culture: how do they relate?
To get started, what is design exactly?
To create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan
To conceive and plan out in the mind
To devise for a specific function or end
Similar to the importance of having a thorough and calculated plan for developing the leading recognition software product, it’s equally important to have a well-thought-out plan when building your company culture.
Some of the most successful designers like Coco Chanel (iconic fashion designer), James Dyson (inventor, industrial designer, and founder of Dyson), Bill Gates (software designer, developer, and co-founder of Microsoft), and Julie Zhuo (former VP of Product Design at Facebook) may come from completely different industries and backgrounds. But they have one thing in common—a design process.
However, like an iceberg, we rarely see the behind-the-scenes design and planning processes that happen below the surface—we only see the end results above the surface. Those invisible processes are what shape the majority of our world and lead to truly successful end results. (If you’re interested in learning more about overlooked design, there’s an entire podcast dedicated to it aptly named 99% Invisible.)
When it comes to creating an extraordinary company culture, whether you’re the Director of HR or CEO, the design and planning process should be your primary focus.
The process of building an unshakeable company culture
In this step, you’ll want to collect data to understand potential problems to solve for your “users.” Of course, your “users” will be your employees.
This step also includes research, with the goal to gain an in-depth understanding of your “user journey” or employee experience.
Research methods include:
● Review existing data
○ Take a look at data you’re already collecting that may provide insights into the employee experience. That might include attrition data, analytics from your employee recognition program, or past employee engagement surveys.
● Employee interviews
○ Conducting a handful of 1:1 interviews is a great way to better understand employee experience. Start by coming up with a list of questions you would like clarity and insight on from your teams. Consider selecting one or two individuals of varying seniority from each team within your organization.
○ Surveys are a great way to collect data on a larger scale. You may decide to conduct quick pulse surveys or more comprehensive employee engagement surveys.
● Competitive research
○ Many companies have made drastic improvements in their perks, benefits, and salaries. Are you keeping up? You might even be able to glean some insights from competitor Glassdoor reviews to gauge employee sentiment.
Now that you’ve collected a wealth of information in step one, it’s time to analyze the data to determine the primary problems you want to solve.
In this step, you can create “point of view” statements to organize “user” or employee needs. Get specific by identifying each team’s individual needs, or keep it broad to identify the needs of your entire organization. Here’s what the format looks like:
(Description of employee) needs (verb) because (insight from research) .
“Employees at Company Z need more recognition from their managers and fellow co-workers because they report feeling underappreciated at work.”
“Employees at Company Z need to build stronger connections with one another because they report being disconnected and siloed on remote teams.”
“Employees that report to Jane Doe need better professional development opportunities because they noted they were feeling stagnant in their growth.
3. Brainstorm and prioritize solutions
Using the statements developed in step two, you can brainstorm solutions with your HR or leadership team and then prioritize them.
A helpful tool you can use to prioritize is an impact-effort matrix. Once you’ve identified your solutions, you can plot them on the matrix and focus on the low-effort, high-impact solutions first.
To get buy-in from stakeholders, you can create another type of statement or “user story” to clearly outline solutions to solve your underlying company culture problems from above.
User stories are formatted in this way:
As a (description of employee) I want to (goal employee wants to achieve) so I can (benefit) .
“As an employee at Company Z, I want a recognition software program that is tied to company core values so that I feel that my contributions at work are valued, I feel more connected to my colleagues and the company mission, and I have visibility into the work that occurs within the rest of the company.”
“As an employee at Company Z, I want to have more frequent in-person events with my fellow colleagues so I can build stronger connections and better collaborate with them to reach team and company goals.”
“As an employee at Company Z, I want a professional development stipend and support developing a clear path to achieving my career goals so I am motivated to continue doing my best and don’t feel static in my growth.”
4. Deliver and evangelize
Now that you have a data-driven understanding of the specific problems affecting your company culture and employee experience, you’ve brainstormed and prioritized solutions, it’s time to execute.
Before rolling out your solutions to your employees, you’ll want to be able to answer these questions:
What is your plan for communicating the new changes to the rest of your company?
What responsibilities do leaders, managers, and individual contributors have to ensure successful implementation of your solutions?
Are the improvements documented so employees know what to reference if they have questions?
How are the new changes reinforced?
What does measuring success look like after a solution has been implemented?
It’s important to note that once you’ve implemented solutions, the process isn’t over. You’ll need to measure the impact your solution has on the problem you’re trying to solve for and iterate as needed. Company culture (like software products) isn’t static. User (employee) needs continuously change and evolve over time.
With a thoughtful and intentional design process, it will be easier to respond to ongoing changes. Not only that, but rather than being a house of cards when circumstances get tough, your company culture will be rock solid and able to withstand any storm.
For more insight on how to design your company culture using themes and processes from product design, see Andrew Brinkman, VP of Product at Bonusly in action at CultureCon 2022!
About the author:
Andrea Stutesman is on the marketing team at Bonusly where the company mission is to help people connect with their work and each other in meaningful ways. Having grown up in an entrepreneurial family and, as a former business owner herself, she cares deeply about fostering positive team cultures and believes that the way we work today can be so much better. Andrea is passionate about serving her local community through non-profit organizations that support environmental and social initiatives. She is a global citizen and has visited countries spanning North, Central and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. When she’s not writing, traveling, or volunteering, she enjoys reading and hiking in the Colorado mountains with her husband and their dog, Izzy.