Setting Company Culture? You Better Understand Employee Motivation

People in the business community love their clichés.

There’s no ‘I’ in team,”work smarter, not harder,” and my personal favorite, “think outside the box.” Ugh.

When it comes to describing a workplace culture, clichés are abundant here as well — especially with our open-door policies and expectations of giving 150 percent (how is this even possible?). These general statements don’t provide the employee with a lot of useful insights into what it really means to work, and fit in, at the company in question.

Now, I don’t mean to offend those in charge of setting the company culture. For some reason, workplace culture, despite the fact that we all work in it every day, is actually pretty hard to define.

But just as water is critical to a fish’s survival, a well-oiled company culture helps keep your business afloat. And many companies sink or swim (sorry, couldn’t resist)! based on their workplace culture and how clearly it’s defined.

It’s tough to really define workplace culture

Most people have a hard time defining their work culture. An Internet search of the subject produces all kinds of answers from technical explanations of a workplace culture using words such as “values, beliefs and principals,” to more broad ones like, “the workplace culture is the culture of your workplace.” Well, then.

I also noticed some people get too centered on the culture of places like Google, believing those models can apply to all businesses, which just isn’t the case. Sorry, but a financial company is probably not well suited to having a bowling alley, or able to offer eyebrow shaping at the office.

A workplace culture shouldn’t just be about somewhat irrelevant perks.

Let’s start with this definition: a company’s workplace culture is about inclusion of all levels, from top management to entry-level employees, where he or she feels they have an equal part in the business. It should be about tying employee enthusiasm with a solid work ethic.

Whether you’re the manager or the CEO, you should be fully aware that there is a connection between a strong workplace culture and solid business results. In fact, a 2012 study from Deloitte found that exceptional organizations think about their business as a two-sided ledger: strategy and culture.

Key survey findings

Deloitte’s Core Values and Beliefs survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive. They surveyed 1,005 U.S. adults (aged 18+, employed full-time in a company with 100+ employees) and 303 corporate executives on a number of questions related to culture in the workplace.

Some key findings include:

  • 94 percent of executives and 88 percent of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.
  • 83 percent of executives and 84 percent of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success.
  • There is a correlation between employees who say they are “happy at work” and feel “valued by their company,” and those who say their organization has a clearly articulated and lived culture.

However, the study also revealed there is a disconnect between organizations simply talking about their culture and those that are embedding their beliefs into their operations.

  • Executives have an inflated sense of their workplace culture when compared to employees based on significant differentials in their responses to questions about how culture is expressed in their organization.
  • Only 19 percent of executives and 15 percent of employees believe strongly that their culture is widely upheld within their own organizations.

Obviously, workplace culture is something management needs to work a little harder on.

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Establishing your workplace culture

While the majority of respondents indicated that culture is important to business success, the study said executives tend to prioritize a clearly defined business strategy (76 percent) above clearly defined and communicated core values and beliefs (62 percent), whereas employees value them equally (57 percent and 55 percent, respectively).

Punit Renjen, chairman of the board for Deloitte, who commissioned the survey, said in a news release that this suggests that business leaders should be looking at their organizations through a wider lens and considering both sides of the ledger: core values and beliefs, as well as strategy as essential to long-term sustainability.

So here’s an interesting section of this survey: in considering the elements of workplace culture, executives rank competitive compensation and financial performance among the top factors influencing culture on the job.

You would think employees would say the same thing, but in fact the workers say the intangibles (regular and candid communication and access to management), outweigh the tangibles (compensation and financial performance).

This is encouraging because most companies have tightened up their budgets where they are restricted in handing out raises or bonuses, but intangibles are something every manager can actually provide for their employees.

Motivation is the key

An important way to further establish your workplace culture is understand motivation. As a manager, you have the ability to influence your team member’s motivations. When motivation is strong, performance is usually also very strong.

Remember these facts that apply to workers on all levels:

  • People want to do a good job. People feel good when they do well and feel bad or discouraged when they do not.
  • People want control at work. Managers maximize motivation when they maximize the amount of control people have.
  • People do not want to be held accountable for things that they believe are beyond their control.
  • People want their efforts to be respected and appreciated.

Now that you know motivation plays a key role in culture, make sure you empower others to contribute at higher levels through providing special assignments and encourage cooperation, rather than competition, between different work units.

Keep in mind that establishing a culture where employees are engaged will not happen immediately after finishing this article. You need to put in the time and dedication and while it may be a slow process, at the end of the day it will be a win-win (Seriously, that’s the last one…)

Derek Murphy is CEO of TruScore , an assessment company with over 4 decades of experience in 360 degree feedback and assessment customization. TruScore offers a fully managed solution, where their team of experts serve as an extension of your internal team, and where their success is tied to yours. Contact him at .


11 Comments on “Setting Company Culture? You Better Understand Employee Motivation

  1. Lots of detail here and thought provoking. Thanks for sharing your perspective! I tend to say, the “energy” of a company.

  2. Here is my
    definition (short version) of work place culture: It is the way how we behave
    and therefore feel (all stakeholders involved) when conducting business. The
    right culture (s) will feel infectious when it comes to performance.

  3. The Deloitte’s survey is enlightening. However, different employees may respond differently to the workplace culture in an organization.

    The four things listed as motivating are, indeed, motivational in nature.

  4. You raise some great points, and thank you for citing the Deloitte study, as I hadn’t seen that one yet. Per defining culture, in a previous articles on TLNT I shared my thoughts on that, as well as: . I would add, people shape the culture as much as the culture shapes the people. Much discussion has occurred lately regarding hiring for a culture fit or a skills fit, and my view is it is a balance, especially for motivation as you mention. Culture and strategy also need to be linked. Walk the walk don’t just talk the talk.

  5. Thanks for sharing, Derek.

    At the heart of this I think is that companies get so focuses on defining what their “culture” is that they lose sight of what they’re trying to do in defining that culture – Find great talent and get them engaged in doing quality work.

    If a firm can do both of the above they’ll be in great shape.

    Keep writing.



  6. “Motivation is Key” YES!!! I believe that Derek is bang on target. What often happens, though, is that many managers, who are technical specialists and not trained in or prepared for their role as leaders of company culture, try out these prescriptive ‘Google’ type approaches, and revert to ‘command and control’ when they fail to work, and thus drive motivation through the floor. Managers and leaders at all levels need to understand some fundamentals of human psychology in order to give their folks the right kind of strokes, involve them, connect them and create the kind of environment in which they will be motivated. You can read more at – it makes a lot of sense. Hope to see you there, Geoff

  7. I would like to challenge a little this article, Derek. I disagree that all people want to do a good job, a lot (at least 28%) does not care! People want to have control – not all of them, again. At least, statistically speaking 25% of employees likes to be a follower, so they do not crave for any kind of control.
    Now, motivating others is highly overrated. People should be self-motivating and you can only bring to the horse to the water… but I do agree about compatibility od employees values and company’s culture, which is rarely verified by HR and managers. Company culture is always, always going from the top!

  8. It’s important for corporate personnel to understand operations and treat their field personnel as the component that will make or a break the success of a company. It is good to have Marketed the Diversity, The Company Values and Vision of your company, but if it only sounds good on paper and you don’t do a self check to see if values are walked and talked, they mean nothing and it loses integrity for a company. If you try and hire right 90% of the time and you find the passionate folks, they will drive your business. If you treat them as a business owner, keep them engaged, continue ongoing training and offer opportunity to folks, that is what sustains and a keeps a business or a company successful. Too often senior leadership are intimidated by strong passionate folks that have opinions and think outside the box, because they don’t understand that energy is what gives stellar results versus just the average Joe. Folks that are successful want a voice and feel as though they contribute something. You do not always have to go with it, but it gives a company integrity when you listen and value your teams feedback. The key is not demotivate your team by doing or manging in a way that lowers their self-esteem and takes away their enthusiasm for doing a good job. Too often folks in Senior Leadership hold an opinion of it’s my way or the highway. All I can say is that will not sustain a company for the long haul.

  9. IT will be interesting to see how Netflix makes out over the next year of so. They just released their culture statement, it’s 127 pages, I got bored at 57 and it’s just bullets.

  10. Why do companies love to “pigeon-hole” culture when in reality they have and need a whole variety of sub-cultures throughout their organization, very little of which may have broad commonality.

    The “culture” of support may need to be responsive and highly adept at problem solving; the “culture” of production may need to be consistency and discipline; the “culture” of marketing may need to be innovation and risk taking.

    I worry that too many companies are jumping on the culture bandwagon, but start looking for a simple answer to what is essentially a fairly complex problem. The risk of this is that they misunderstand (or worse alienate) parts of the organization leading to bias in hiring and a poor fit of employees and hopeful candidates to their intended team environment.

    We haven’t met a company yet that can show us common cultures and work behaviors across departments! I don’t think that’s the exception to the rule.

  11. I agree that financial perks are not the greatest motivators for most people. However, having motivated, engaged employees can only occur when the employee’s basic needs are met. Those needs are primarily financial; a competitive salary, being able to support & provide food, shelter and healthcare for their family. Once this foundation is established, a healthy work environment can be created. The intangibles reinforce the employees’ sense of value to the company so the employees wants see the company do well. The employees become engaged. They become motivated. At this point they want to do more for the company and they do it not for financial motivators. At this point the intangibles fuel motivation.

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