Now more than ever, Culture is King and the key to retaining and attracting the best talent.

As a CEO, one thing I learned when taking the lead at companies founded by successful entrepreneurs was that it’s critical to understand what truly motivates your team. In order to change direction as a leader and authentically adapt your culture to attract the right talent, you have to evolve the culture into a sustainable, scalable organization.

When business leaders think about company culture, the focus typically starts at the top and goes down. Founders have the luxury of blank slates in the beginning, so they can be very altruistic and visionary about the type of company they want to build and the people they want to attract. But leaders of more mature businesses have to regularly assess the reality of the current culture compared to the desired culture and build the strategy to evolve over time. Within the leadership team, conversations typically focus on the kind of cultural evolution management envisions and, after the principles for building that foundation are crafted, they are shared with the company. I think this approach is a bit backwards and should include feedback from the bottom up.

There are many definitions for company culture, but I like to simply refer to it as “the rules of engagement between colleagues.” Culture is what we are committing to do ourselves and in turn, it’s what we expect from our peers in order to deliver overall business objectives. Companies are simply mini-communities where like-minded people gather to contribute to the micro-society. Whether it’s a fraternity, a church or a family, members of a community determine the acceptable consistency (or inconsistency) of behavior. This allows outliers to take note of the group’s expectations and quickly course-correct or seek another society that better matches the individual’s personality. For example, if your company frowns upon bringing electronics into internal meetings, you don’t have to have a big poster with a red slash through a cell phone hanging in the conference room. New team members can simply observe, learn from the actions of others and take the non-verbal hints tossed their way.

Alternatively, if a company permits team members to bring their laptops and smartphones into meetings, encouraging people to multitask during discussions, a newcomer will have to adjust to that cultural communication and not be offended if their peers seem disengaged at times. Culture goes way beyond just the principles articulated in a corporate mission statement. It speaks to the very core of the collective organization.

A solid culture should do these two things: support the delivery company of goals and create overall job satisfaction. In researching what motivates most staff regarding the latter, one thing that came through loud and clear. While raises and bonuses are always towards the top of the list, the following two things bubbled up as equally or more important than money: more personal time otherwise known as “work/life balance” and recognition for great work and contribution. I created a program at a former company that checked both boxes and ended up becoming a cornerstone of our culture, called Golden Tickets. Each member of our leadership team was given 3 Golden Tickets annually distribute to team members who went above and beyond or consistently delivered A+ work. Tickets were redeemable for a paid day off of work to use however the recipient desired. Golden Tickets were awarded during company-wide meetings where their contribution were recognized by their peers. These types of insights can only come from having open and regular conversations with your team—from the receptionist to the EVP’s.

With the hiring market being more challenging and competitive than in recent memory, retaining your A Players is imperative to ensure that your business can grow and thrive in this changing market. According to a 2021 study, nearly 25% of employees said they planned to leave their current job after the pandemic, and culture misalignment is a major contributor to these decisions. Improving your culture now will help retain your key team members, and build a better environment to attract the quality candidates that will be available in the future.