Too often, company culture is like a bad romance; it starts out hot but later fizzles when other distractions get in the way. Like any lasting relationship, though, an enduring company culture requires a continuous investment of time, effort, and attention. Sure, it’s important to identify and record your cultural values, but words without action are just letters on a page. Culture—at least the kind you want—doesn’t just happen on it’s own. It’s up to you to start the fire and keep it burning. Here’s how:

1. Live your values. The author of this 7 Geese article summed it up perfectly: “Leading by example is the best communication tool any leader possesses.” If you don’t demonstrate buy-in of your own values, how can you expect any of your employees to do so? Conversely, if your cultural values govern your day-to-day actions and behaviors, the people around you will follow suit. And if they don’t—well, then it might be time to reevaluate your hiring practices. Let’s say you value open communication and honesty. In that case, you wouldn’t keep secrets or talk behind people’s backs. Appreciate hands-off management? Then you wouldn’t hover over your employees’ shoulders and critique their every move. You get the picture.

2. Let culture guide your personnel decisions. Speaking of hiring practices, if cultivating your ideal culture is truly important to you, it should play a pretty big role in the way you hire, fire, and review your staff. (For more on the reasoning behind this idea, check out this blog post.) This might require you to take a step back and consider each one of your staff members in a new light. It also might require you to make some tough decisions. This article offers the following example: “…if being ethical is one of your core values, it would be detrimental to keep an employee who is cooking the books, no matter how well he is doing his job.” Hopefully, though,  your hiring, training, and review processes are well aligned with your culture so that it won’t come to that.

 

3. Bring people together. Culture is contagious, and your values—whatever they may be—will stick better in a team-oriented environment where employees continually feed off of each other’s energy. But often, the best kind of team-building happens outside the confines of your office walls. That doesn’t mean you all have to be best friends, but every once in a while, you should try getting together off the clock— perhaps for a team lunch, a team happy hour, or a team potluck. Last summer, a pair of physical therapists from Lakeside & Polson Physical Therapy even trained together for a relay triathlon. (They also set up a table near the finish line where race participants could pick up a coupon for a free consultation—talk about killing two birds with one stone.)

4. Make it a game. People love games. Why? Because they’re engaging, fun, and challenging—all things we humans naturally appreciate. As Adam Penenberg, author of Play at Work: How Games Inspire Breakthrough Thinking, says in this Forbes interview, “Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Deloitte, Sun Microsystems, IBM, L’Oreal, Canon, Lexus, FedEx, UPS, Wells Fargo, and countless others have embraced games to make workers more satisfied, better-trained, and focused on their jobs as well as to improve products and services.” In fact, gamification—applying elements of game playing into other types of activities—is one of the hottest trends in human resources today, especially the kind of gamification that reinforces your company culture and rewards those who embody your cultural values.

At WebPT, for example, we promoted our health and wellness core value with a company-wide step challenge in which teams of employees used pedometers to track the number of steps they walked over the course of eight weeks. At the end of the contest, the top ten teams received prizes.

5. Recognize rather than incentivize. As the author of this article explains, incentives reward the “what,” whereas recognition rewards the “how.” For example, let’s say you offer an incentive of $500 to the first therapist who brings in five new patients. What happens after a therapist’s fifth new patient makes an appointment at your clinic? Chances are, your therapists will stop investing so much energy into their marketing efforts. But if you instead consistently recognize therapists who put forth extra effort to serve the community that keeps you in business—by volunteering at a local sporting event, for example—those therapists are much more likely to keep up the good work. Furthermore, they likely will inspire other employees to engage in similar behaviors and activities, thus upping your clinic’s visibility within your market. So, in the end, the entire practice wins.

By the way, when it comes to recognition, slapping a photo of your practice’s “Employee of the Month” on the wall above the coffee maker isn’t really what we’re talking about. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw that concept out the window completely—just tweak it to make it more meaningful and more relevant to your company’s core values. For example, you could choose a different value each month (or each quarter, if you’re in a small office) and have all of your employees vote for the colleague they feel best represents that value. You could then reward the winning employee with a prize or an office lunch in his or her honor. Another example: Every month, we here at WebPT dole out prime parking spaces to employees who best exemplify our core values.

 

How do you foster—and maintain—culture within your practice? Have you tried any of the above methods? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.