6 Concrete Ways to Improve Culture That You Can Do Right Now

When it comes to making a change, big, vague goals are daunting.

This will be especially relevant to many people this January when they take time to write down their upcoming resolutions. For example, “Losing weight” and “Saving money” the number one and three resolutions for 2015 are rarely achieved: In fact, a mere 8 percent of people keep their resolutions.

All for a simple reason: most resolutions are vague.

They’re also massively daunting. The most effective way to lose weight is to adopt a healthier lifestyle, but this process involves hundreds of small decisions during the day

What do I eat for breakfast? What do I buy at the grocery store? Should I get a gym membership? Which gym should I go to? Should I take up running? Yoga? Walking? Do I worry about gluten? Coffee? Alcohol?

Despite the many, many benefits (reduced risk of chronic disease, ease of mobility, higher self-esteem, etc.), the sheer amount of activities that are involved in “losing weight” is enough to turn off nearly anyone from taking the first step.

Luckily, researchers today know a lot about what it takes to help someone succeed or fail in keeping his or her New Year’s Resolutions. One common theme is to commit to actions that are both concrete and achievable. That’s why you are much more likely to be successful at losing weigh if you structure your goals this way:

  • Objective 1: Eat one green thing per day.
  • Objective 2: Exercise 20 minutes each evening after work.

Easy, actionable, and clear steps.

Similarly, making it one’s goal to change a workplace culture has the same “daunting, vague” elements as “to lose weight.” The benefits to improving your culture are plenty. Novareté has the main ones listed here, but the key takeaway is that a strong and unified culture translates into improved business performance, which positively impacts multiple indicators of long-term growth and profitability.

At first glance, no one would say no to this. Just like at first glance, no one would say no to shedding a few excess pounds.

But sometimes, the how of it all can get lost in translation. That’s what this blog post is for. In it, I provide six, actionable steps that you can take right now to begin improving workplace culture. (Get a BONUS 4 ideas by downloading the checklist below!)

After you read through them, I recommend you talk to someone here at Novareté. Just like a scale can help you measure your progress in the gym, you’ll be more successful if you measure your impact on improving your company culture.

Now, let’s get into the ways to improve culture that you can use right now, beginning with what I think is the most important item on the list.

#1. Make the conscious decision.

At first glance, this may seem like I’m trying to pull a fast one over you.

“A decision?” you say. “I thought this was going to be a list of actions. I already want to improve culture, so what decision do I need to make that I haven’t made already?”

Before reading further, this is crucial to understand: To change your culture, it’s not enough to decide that you want to change your culture; you have to decide that you will change it. Semantically, that’s a subtle difference, but when it comes to internalizing your motivations, it’s huge.

Let’s look again at the “losing weight” analogy. Recently, Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, did a study on goal-setting with 267 participants. She found that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down. That’s it.

While there is arguably some mix of causation vs. correlation, it can at least be argued that if you’re not willing to make the effort to write your goal down on paper, you’re not willing to put in the much greater effort to achieve it.

Culture change is not going to happen on its own. If there is a single, effective thing you can do right now to start that change, it’s this: Make the conscious, effortful decision. And then write it down.

If it feels a bit cheeky to be so intentional about changing your culture, you should realize that the companies most-known for great cultures (Google, Netflix) make these kinds of decisions constantly. I blogged a short while ago about how United Airlines begins every board meeting with a safety check, solely to highlight the company’s value of safety. Netflix eliminated tiered titles and called everyone a “Senior Software Engineer,” regardless of experience, because the leadership wanted to highlight that they value results, and not hierarchy.

Great company culture is created, and it’s both effortful and mindful. Yours should be the same. So commit right now.

Of course, I recognize that the decision to change is the first step of many. But you can continue to improve your culture right now by taking the next logical step: Build culture change into your routine.


#2. Block time on your calendar to plan or evaluate your culture.

As you can imagine, the process of changing culture is a long one. As I pointed out above, it’s effortful and mindful and each day (or at the very least, each week), you should be checking in on your progress. Make that process easier by scheduling it into your calendar.

Right now.

Productivity guru Cal Newport argues that to-do lists are not nearly as effective as scheduling to-do’s in your calendar.

“Assigning work to times reduces the urge to procrastinate,” he tells blogger Barking up the Wrong Tree. “You are no longer deciding whether or not to work during a given period; the decision is already made.”

Just like it’s important to make the conscious decision to take the first step, it’s equally important to make the conscious decision to make the next step each day. And a calendar item is going to go a lot further in ensuring you keep to your word than an item on your to-do list that you’ll continue to “get to tomorrow.”

Bonus: Boost engagement by adding employees to the invite. If the idea of you sitting in your office pontificating on your culture sounds boring, there’s no reason you can’t include a few of your close advisors or employees in the process.

Plus, aside from physically writing down your goals, can you guess what is also highly correlated with successful New Year’s resolutions? Committing to them publicly. So having a few extra people know about your desire to improve culture is likely to make you much more successful.

On that note, there is another thing you can do right now that combines calendar time and other employees:

#3. Schedule an office happy hour.

Even if you’re the CEO, it’s nonsense to think that you can change your office culture without the buy-in of your employees. After all, culture is the combined activities and attitudes of every person in your organization; thus, you need everyone (or at least a significant majority) on board.

Why not then work to create some inter-office bonding among your team? If you don’t want to use this happy hour as a chance to commit to your culture-changing efforts publicly, at the very least, you can work toward building trust among your members.

Plus, according to a 2013 study conducted by PGI, 88 percent of millennials want a “fun, social office environment” at work and will happily appreciate something like a happy hour. If you’re struggling to connect with these younger folks in your office, a happy hour could do the trick.

Be sure, though, that you remain professional. This article lists some helpful keys to a good office happy hour, but the bottom line is to enjoy yourself in a classy way and avoid getting sloppy. Keys to remember:

  • Let your guard down, but not too much: Keep the conversation light, but remember these are not your college roommates. You’ll have to face these people next week in the company meeting, and you want them to maintain their impression of you as someone who can lead a company. That said, you can afford to lighten up and crack a few jokes.
  • Don’t talk about work; talk about hobbies and weekend interests: Keep the shoptalk for the office, and take this time to learn about your employees’ interests. It will go a long way to generating trust and camaraderie.
  • Don’t go to the after party (Don’t let your guard down too much pt. 2): Again, know when to exit. If you feel yourself getting too lose, leave and sleep it off.

Now you’ve committed to yourself that you’ll make an effort to improve your culture, you’ve blocked off time to continue to work at it in the coming months, and you’ve taken the first step to get your employees on board. You’ve taken some serious steps to get the ball rolling!

What’s next? Is there a physical change you can make?

#4. Optimize the office temperature.

It’s important to contribute to your employees’ physical comfort before you can expect them to perform like superstars. One easy fix is to adjust the office temperature to optimize for productivity and creativity.

Before I prescribe the perfect temperature, I will say there are caveats to this. And no matter how “magic” a study can make a “magic number” seem, everyone is different. Inevitably, a single temperature won’t be perfect for the entire organization. However, there are trends:

  • For the overall office: According to research published in 2006, the optimal office temperature for peak productivity is 71 degrees. So if you’re trying to find one, general temperature, consider this one.
  • For the brainstorming rooms: Earlier this year, researchers published the results of a study that found warm, quiet environments are better for creative thinking, so you might want to bump up the thermostat in the brainstorming conference rooms by a few degrees.

    Note: This is doubly-helpful for brainstorming, because warm rooms are thought to foster “warm feelings” among people, according to an earlier study published in Psychological Science.

  • For the quiet rooms, devoted to deep work: On the flip side, when you need to be alert and focused (like when you’re trying to solve a complex problem), warm vibes is counterproductive. Instead, you’ll want cooler temperatures to promote alertness and mental clarity, according to a 2012 study. For quiet rooms dedicated to individual, complex problem-solving tasks, consider lowering the temperature a bit.

The next tip is also a physical action you can take right now to promote employee productivity and boost your culture. More importantly, though, it helps you set a good example, which will go a long way to supporting employee buy-in.

#5. Buy a round of healthy snacks for the team.

“Benefits can make or break small business efforts to attract great employees in a tight hiring market,” writes Susie Wyshak in the balance. “Small-to-midsized companies from San Francisco to Silicon Valley are attracting employees with big company perks: kitchens stocked with healthy, tasty snacks and foods that make employees happy. “

This trend is taking off for a good reason: Healthier employees make more productive employees. 

Research from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), Brigham Young University and the Center for Health Research at Healthways shows:

  • Employees who eat healthy are 25 percent more likely to have higher job performance.
  • Employees who exercise for at least 30 minutes, three times a week, are 15 percent more likely to have higher job performance.
  • Absenteeism is 27 percent lower for those workers who eat healthy and regularly exercise.

It’s little surprise that employee-oriented snack events are on the rise in office culture. And if you’re the one buying the first round of snacks, you’ll be setting a good example for the rest of your team.

So go out and buy a round of snacks for your employees right now.

Just make sure they’re not too full of sugar and fat, which decrease productivity due to the spike in blood sugar. Remember, we’re talking healthy here, as in nuts and dried fruit. If you go to the market and find yourself dumbfounded, use this list of 16 great snack ideas from Inc.

Way to set the example! Also, on the subject of leading change from the top, there’s one more thing you can do right now to improve workplace culture.

#6. Clean your office.

Whether you like it or not, your employees notice the tidiness of your office space. According to a survey published in Forbes, 57 percent of Americans say they judge their coworkers on the cleanliness of their desk. More notably, most of them attribute a messy desk to laziness.

Beyond image maintenance, order and cleanliness have behavioral impacts too: In 2013, ABC News reported the results of an interesting study on cleanliness and employee behavior:

“Participants were assigned tasks while seated in a neat, orderly office, or in an office that was identical in every way except it was filled with clutter, such as papers on the floor and stacks of files on the desk.

Thirty-four Dutch students were tested to see if the orderliness of the room had any effect on their generosity and sense of needing to do the right thing. At the end of the experiment, for example, the students were asked to contribute to a worthy cause.

Some 82 percent of the students in the orderly room contributed money, compared to only 47 percent in the disorderly room.

As they left the room, they were offered a treat, either an apple or a piece of candy. Participants from the orderly room were more than three times as likely to take the apple.

Moral: orderliness brought out a need do the right thing.

Culture starts at the top. As a leader in your organization, you have the potential to inspire change by being a good example. Just like encouraging your employees to live healthier lifestyles, cleaning your office could be the push some people need to tidy up their own workspaces.

And as the studies above indicate, a clean office will go a long way toward a more collaborative (read: less “judge-y”) and even ethical office.

If you’re tidy by nature, a quick dusting and organizing will do. If you’ve got a bit more of an overhaul and don’t know where to start, check out this great article: “How to clean your office in 10 minutes.”


The key takeaway is that big, vague goals will not be much help in moving you toward positive change. Instead, try and locate concrete, actionable steps.

In this blog post, I’ve listed six steps you can take right now to get the ball rolling toward a more engaged workforce. However, there are still more action items that will produce a similar outcome. I’ve compiled a checklist with a BONUS 4 ITEMS, which you can download by clicking the button below.

Don’t let New Year’s be a time of big goals and no follow through. Turn those big goals into easy-to-take steps, and you’ll be on the path toward big changes in 2017.

Download the checklist of items – WITH AN EXTRA 4 BONUS ITEMS – you can do right now to move your office toward a culture that is more engaged: