Company culture is the one intangible benefit that can be a deciding factor between retaining or replacing top performers. Employee surveys typically point to their impression of the company, it’s leadership and their managers when making decisions to leave an employer. Employees might find better benefits or better paying positions, but there are almost always cultural influences that caused them to start looking in the first place. With culture playing such a significant role in retention of top performers, it’s important to know what’s building your company culture.

happy-employeesThe first step to developing company culture is identifying what you want your culture to be. This is not necessarily what the culture is right now but rather what you want it to be. It is key to determine what you want to be known for internally and externally. External messaging needs to be consistent and supportive of internal messaging. Inconsistency in your internal culture and external marketing messages can be damaging to morale, so take time to define the culture and ensure your messages are consistent.

With a defined culture, start to evaluate your processes to see if your procedures are supporting that message. Every encounter that a person has from the start of the application process to their last day of employment influences their impression of the company culture. When messages conflict with procedures, procedures will always win. For instance, if a company emphasizes in its marketing messages that it is innovative and flexible but then has a rigid, paper application process for new hires—that paper process will be the applicant’s impression instead of innovative processes. If a company emphasizes that it is family-oriented but then requires employees to work long hours and weekends to progress then the “family-oriented” message will be disregarded. The message and the procedures that an employee encounters must be consistent.

Culture is also defined by how a company deals with issues. Employees naturally want to work in an environment that is fair, stable and consistent. They will notice how issues are handled and their impression of their work culture will be influenced by what they perceive. Management that tolerates low performance, shows favoritism or even overreacts to legitimate mistakes will influence employees who are performing. Employees will lose motivation and their sense of loyalty if they feel their environment is unfair or their efforts are not valued. The level of professionalism, consistency and respect that is shown when dealing with underperformers and violations influences culture.

The final opportunity that an employer has to build their culture is the way they deal with exiting employees. Naturally, employees build friendships with their coworkers. Employees sometimes leave employment or are asked to leave employment. This is also natural and part of the employment process. The way an employer handles these separations will influence more than just the exiting employee. Everyone is watching to see whether they will be ostracized, bad-mouthed, or isolated. If management reflects any of these reactions then employees walk away with the impression that “management only cares about you when you are performing, as soon as you aren’t you’re out of the circle.” That’s not the message you want to send into the community or your own workforce. Always show professionalism, care and support when people leave. This will come back to benefit your own company culture and community reputation.