What is company culture? It may seem straight-forward but can be tricky to define. Some people might think of company vision, values, and daily operations. Others may think of an open-office dynamic, a mentorship program, or in-office happy hours. There are many aspects of company culture to consider, but the most important thing to understand is: culture is fluid.
When you join a new company, there's a pre-existing culture in place. Employers don't wait around for employers to provide the culture, they seek out individuals who are a good match for what's existing. That said, there is a give-and-take relationship with culture. CEOs have their own plans for the company's development, but as the team grows, it can change in unexpected and rewarding ways.
Culture has nothing to do with your job title, it has everything to do with your beliefs and actions as an individual. Here are some ways you can influence your company's culture, regardless of rank:
Practice what You Preach
Be a model for what you'd like to be true of your team. If you don't agree with something a team member is doing, reflect on how you handle the same issue as a starting point for the kind of culture you aspire to create. By modeling how you want others to act, you'll be making it visibly known what can be improved. If things go well, the CEO and/or your manager is going to notice. In other words: Show what you’d like to better in the organization — don’t just wait for it to happen.
If there's something you think could be better in the organization, or that the team should improve on, speak up. As an employee, it's part of your responsibility to voice your opinion when the opportunity to give feedback presents itself. However, be sure to always do it respectfully. There may be situations it's best to give your opinion in private. It's also important to share your suggestion in context to the full team, not just your individual interests. This will also get others motivated to share their own ideas. Culture can only be intentionally shifted if it’s intentionally talked about.
It can take some time for your team and others to catch on to what you're trying to influence for the better. You may even get some resistance if you're suggesting change. Leaders are juggling many priorities and may take some time for them to take note. If you're patient, and your methods are working, you can be sure others will catch on. In the meantime, be sure you are thanking leaders and team members for things they do that already reinforce and support the kind of culture you desire.
It's true, you don't need to be the CEO to influence culture, it's possible at any level. It might seem more difficult, but it's an important role to take-on as an employee, especially if you have sights on advancement. If you are shifting the culture for the better, you're not only making improvements for yourself but for the whole team. A better company culture can start with you.