Unless you’ve had your head buried in sand for the last few years, you know that climate and culture have become one of the hottest topics in business today. Climate and culture are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between them, and one that business leaders must understand in order to move organizations forward.

Climate is the shared perceptions of employees (or other groups) in an organization and is best described as the feel of the corporate environment. It is an internal quality of the company that affects behavior, based on the collective perceptions of that behavior. Think about the current Catholic Church situation – changes in societal climate affected individuals’ feelings, and their subsequent choice of behaviors.

Culture describes the beliefs, core values and assumptions that anchor the behavior of individuals in that environment. Culture shapes what people believe and value. According to the research, culture can best be summed up as “the way we do things around here.” The unfolding of the #MeToo movement resulted from a change in the nation’s culture that fostered behavioral choices.

Both climate and culture have impact on the way employees behave.

Organizations have some work to do. Climate and culture are contributing to talent challenges that business leaders face. In an economy where unemployment rates are very low, employees have greater bargaining power than ever before. Social media such as LinkedIn, Indeed and Glassdoor have made companies’ climate and culture public information. Today, people find out quickly if you’re not a great place to work, if your climate and culture is not inviting and appealing.

So how can you create and/or protect an appropriate corporate climate and culture? There are steps you can take to improve your climate and culture without hurting the bottom line. All of the best practices, examples, suggestions and guidelines from the research point to the same thing: put people first. Here are three ideas (and there are certainly more!) to create and protect an employee-centric climate and culture.

First, treat every employee as an individual. Get to know your people on a personal level. Every person in your company plays an important role in your organization’s big picture regardless of their job description or title. See them as who they are. A team party to celebrate a division’s success is great, but so is giving an employee the flexibility to leave early to watch a child reach a milestone at a speech competition. If your company is too large, have managers take responsibility for getting to know people.

Another idea – take simple steps to show you care. It is estimated that 40 percent or more of employees leave jobs due to lack of recognition. Take the time to give a hand-written thank you note (not an email.) Celebrate work anniversaries with team lunches. Circulate accomplishments across leadership. Give feedback on jobs well done. Surprise your employees with treats. Celebrate personal successes, too. These small steps can go a long way to build and sustain an employee-centric climate and culture.

Finally, actively listen to your employees. Improving corporate climate and culture requires on-going check-ins with employees. (Former mayor of New York City Ed Koch’s “How’m I doing?” question made him memorable, and also gave him consistent feedback.) In addition to soliciting feedback with an open door policy, you can also formalize the process with the use of employee surveys and focus groups. By consistently checking in with your employees, you’ll stay aligned with the current state of your company’s climate and culture. You’ll also be able to quickly pivot or change course when there’s room for continuous improvement.

An appropriate, employee-centered climate and culture is a leadership responsibility. Effective leaders attune themselves to the business environment and make adjustments over and over again. There is no finish line with climate and culture; as business and society evolve, so do employees and constituents. A great climate and culture will attract the brightest and best workers, will improve retention, will increase performance and will create a happy and healthy workplace – what really matters in any business today.

Dr. Stephanie Urchick is Owner and COO of Doctors At Work LLC, a leadership, communication, and customer delight consulting company, and also provides business development for universities and colleges. Urchick may be contacted at saurchick@gmail.com or 724-747-5055.

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