Skip to main content

15Five acquires Emplify and relaunches human-centered platform Learn more

The 3 Foundational Elements for a Strong Company Culture


All businesses know how important it is to have a strong company culture. Unfortunately, most organizations also have experienced just how difficult it can be to define and differentiate what makes a culture unique. The values and behaviors that keep colleagues in harmony can look very different from one business environment to another, and even from team to team.

Despite its elusive nature, the engagement experts at Emplify have identified several consistent characteristics shared by companies possessing thriving cultures.

As we look back at the lessons learned from our work with hundreds of companies and thousands of people-leaders, we feel it’s time to share these insights and help executives create outstanding organizational cultures in 2019 and beyond.

What makes for a strong company culture?

Before diving into specifics, it’s important to first explain what we mean when we refer to a strong culture.

At Emplify, we measure the strength of a company’s culture based on engagement levels. The more engaged employees are, the more likely a team is to operate through a cadence of collaboration and camaraderie.

Companies offering the most inspiring examples of outstanding cultures tend to focus heavily on engagement drivers such as autonomy and feedback, and keep people united on a common path to purpose over profits. These flourishing environments aren’t achieved overnight, however. There’s a lot of forethought and fine-tuning involved.

By now, you may be wondering:

What, exactly, are the keys to success?

In our experience, there are three things all companies with strong cultures tend to do well.

1. They help employees find meaning at work.

Without fail, the companies with thriving cultures are also ones where people derive real meaning from their jobs.

It sounds simple on the surface. But helping employees find meaning at work can be surprisingly difficult to achieve. Even at top-ranked companies where people are otherwise happy with their employers, it’s not uncommon for employees to feel like the work they do doesn’t have much meaning.

We can’t emphasize this enough: If you want to strengthen your company’s culture, you’re going to have to ensure your employees have a strong sense that the work they do matters. Increasing a sense of meaningfulness at work has been shown to have far more influence than initiatives related to growth and development, and even supporting work-life balance. One study found that employees who derive meaning from their work are 1.4 times more engaged and three times more likely to stay with their organizations.

Taking time to identify what your employees need to make work more meaningful is one of the best steps leaders can take to improve culture.

2. They deemphasize pay, perks, and rewards.

We’ve said it before and will emphasize it again: Perks and rewards alone won’t motivate people. For employees to be truly engaged, they need to feel inspired by the work they’re doing — and not just the paychecks they’re earning.

While culture and compensation go hand-in-hand, the latter won’t by itself strengthen the former.

That’s not to say free lunches and year-end bonuses aren’t worthy of your time and attention. But if these are the only steps you’re taking toward strengthening culture, keep in mind that no amount of weekly happy hours will make up for the stress of working with a toxic team.

It’s far better to focus first on finding out what your people need to feel valued, and to actively seek out ways to help motivate employees through passion and purpose.

3. They match mission statements to investments.

It’s one thing to have a carefully crafted mission statement. It’s another to invest in it.

After all, it’s your employees and their day-to-day experiences that ultimately make or break a strong company culture. And there’s one surefire way to meet their needs: Devote time and resources to learning what they need to be successful.

This can be achieved by measuring employee engagement for insights specific to your culture. For example, at companies like Steel Encounters and California Closets, a regular cadence of employee engagement surveys, scores, benchmarks, and analysis is used to pinpoint areas in need of change.

It’s a continual process, and one that relies heavily on employee feedback. The leaders at these organizations know exactly what their cultures’ key-performance indicators are, how they’ll measure them, and when to act on the data to revisit milestones and mission statements.

In conclusion: As we head deeper into 2019, this is a great time to take a good, hard look at what’s going on within our organizations and learn how we can create more engaging cultures.

As you work your way through these three foundational elements, it’s important to recognize that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for creating a strong company culture. The environment that works well for one organization and its employees may look vastly different than the style that’s effective for another. Ask for feedback, evaluate responses, and take action accordingly.

Looking for more insights you can use to strengthen your company’s culture? Follow Emplify on LinkedIn and Twitter for all the latest from our employee engagement experts.

Unlock the true potential of your people.

Get Started