Zappos, Google, Expedia, Airbnb — what do some of today’s most innovative companies have in common?

The huge success of these people-first organizations is founded by one crucial ingredient: a strong company culture.

In a letter to his entire team, Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky, writes, “Our culture is the foundation for our company.” And what exactly is culture? Chesky explains, “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion.”

When candidates, employees, customers, and the public interact with your organization, what do they experience? The way your company is perceived hinges on the internal culture you build and manage. And that company culture impacts everything in the organization — from productivity, engagement and retention, to employee happiness and business success.

If this core investment in your organization’s success isn’t already a part of your People team’s budget, it’s time to factor it in.

But for most organizations (who don’t quite have Google’s lavish allowance), they don’t know where to begin making affordable investments in company culture. Luckily, there are cost-efficient, incremental changes that can make a big impact.

Here are 7 inexpensive ways to invest in company culture.

1. Recognition and Reward

According to Gallup, organizations with above-average levels of employee engagement enjoy 147% higher earnings per share.

As a basic human desire, employees need to be recognized for their efforts and achievements. Building authentic and meaningful recognition into your company culture is a low cost, high impact way to drive performance, retention, and engagement.

Encourage teams to recognize their members’ efforts, ideas, and victories on a daily basis to reap the benefits of a recognition-rich culture. Thriving tech company, Motley Fool, makes everyday ‘Recognition Day’ by using company-wide peer-to-peer recognition to regularly congratulate employees on a job well done.

With purpose-built technology, staff appreciation programs don’t have to strain your People budget. Affordable platforms like Bonusly foster a culture of appreciation through timely, frequent, and visible peer-to-peer recognition. Positive reassurance and frequent displays of confidence create a strong culture of motivated, engaged, and happy teams.

Companies using strategic recognition are 48% more likely to report high engagement.

2. Team-Building

For an organization made up of highly talented individuals, the value of team-building is enormous. Thoughtfully investing in team-building tactics encourages collaboration, increases open communication, builds trust, and promotes employee engagement.

33% of employees say the ability to collaborate makes them more loyal, and building strong teams is essential for a collaborative work culture. Team-building shouldn’t be a one-off activity, but must be embedded into the day-to-day.

Zappos is one people-first company that takes teamwork seriously, with its employees reporting to teams rather than managing individuals. This work style instils total trust in the team and its ability to effectively collaborate on, produce, and monitor its own projects.

If you’re not quite ready to ditch management, consider encouraging your organization’s teams to set regular, formal team goals, then give teams the freedom to make their own decisions on how they carry out projects. Strong peer relationships are essential to a healthy company culture, and working towards common goals is one of the best ways to strengthen them.

3. All-hand meetings

Regardless of your organization’s size, all-hands meetings are a great way to strengthen company culture.

97% of employees and executives believe lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project. Regular all-hands meetings offer an opportunity to build that alignment across not just individual teams, but the entire organization.

Zappos hosts quarterly all-hands meetings in which the entire company - of over 1,500 staff - shuts down and gathers off-site to communicate transparently, celebrate victories, drive engagement, and inspire its employees. The organization’s willingness to put a full halt on all operations each quarter shows just how important all-hands meetings are to their strong company culture.

Hold regular all-hands meetings for a stronger company culture.

4. Employee Onboarding

Founding a strong company culture begins with setting employees up for success. By delivering a great employee experience at the start of the active employee lifecycle, you lay the groundwork for a consistently strong company culture.

An effective, repeatable employee onboarding program breeds engaged employees who will continue adding value to your culture. Invest the time in building scalable, repeatable onboarding plans for your new hires to foster a culture of learning, engagement, and success.

Want to find out how Sapling’s Employee Onboarding software can help strengthen your company culture? Download Sapling’s Essential Guide To Employee Onboarding Success, or schedule a product demo!

5. Environment

As detailed in Ron Friedman’s The Best Place To Work, researchers measured a 32% increase in performance among employees who were allowed to customize their offices compared to those who were not.

Allowing employees to choose when, where, and how they work leads to higher levels of satisfaction, innovation, and job performance. This freedom strengthens the work culture by fostering happier, higher performing teams.

The folks at Square, the mobile payment and financial services company, discourage their employees from sitting in a single chair all day, viewing it as anti-collaborative. In an Inc interview, Square’s office manager explains, “We have a completely open floor plan. It creates this really open, comfortable environment where people can just walk up and engage one another in a way that wouldn't happen with a typical office.”

One inexpensive way to invest in your employees’ environmental freedom is to introduce the concept of hot-desking to your office — a method in which employees use a desk as required on a rotating system, rather than have their own dedicated desks. You don’t have to pay an interior designer to thoughtfully design your workplace — just make sure your office encourages regular movement, provides quiet work spaces, open areas for collaboration, and appropriate space for work breaks.

Researchers measures a 32% increase in performance among employees who were allowed to customize their offices compared to those who were not.

6. Learning and Development

A strong company culture is one that fosters continuous engagement and improvement. 68% of workers report professional training and development as the single most important workplace policy. For these employees, an effective development strategy must be part of company culture.

Cross-training employees is a great way to make a low-cost investment in learning and development. Consider moving employees across different functions, giving them a chance to take on another role or responsibility for increased learning, development, visibility and understanding of the entire business. Learning about how different parts of the business function will in turn strengthen company culture, as employees will make decisions based on the organization as a whole.

This doesn’t just apply to employees — for a better work culture, managers can also be swapped into an employee’s role for a comprehensive understanding of the daily challenges and victories their teams face.

7. Communication

A strong company culture is a culture of communication. A tell-tale sign of unhealthy organization is one in which peers, managers, People teams, and executives don’t communicate effectively.

No employee should feel like they can’t voice their concerns, thoughts, or ideas. Arranging regular one-on-ones between managers and employees, frequent team brainstorms, and scheduled employee feedback catch-ups are all crucial in founding a strong, communicative culture.

If you haven’t already, try introducing an employee intranet like Slack into your workplace for accessible, frequent communication. Online audio giant, SoundCloud has even built its own employee intranet, called Opus. This platform allows all employees from their 4 offices across 4 different time zones to chat, post team priorities, and provide and receive regular updates.

But SoundCloud doesn’t neglect the importance of face-to-face communication. Its employees are also highly encouraged to travel to other offices, as these visits ensure effective communication and visibility across the entire organization.

Making transparency the norm is the goal of an effective communication strategy, so foster a culture in which total candor is welcomed and expected on a daily basis.

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7 Inexpensive Ways to Invest in Company Culture