Look to the Past to Build Your Culture

This post originally appeared on Glassdoor’s blog, and is republished here with permission. Jill Kelly is director of people ops at Imgur, an online image sharing community and image host.

In HR circles, for quite some time now, culture has been a big buzzword. Most companies understand the importance of having a positive company culture and probably have an idea of what they want their culture to be.

Yet culture is actually defined as, “The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively over time.”

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In other words, culture is the sum of what you collectively have now—not a vision of what you one day hope to have or something you hope to build by sending a companywide email to “make it so.” Think of culture as past tense, created and defined through actions and behaviors that have already happened.

Influencing the Future

Unless you are employee No. 1, you most likely didn’t have a big influence on how your company’s culture started. But that doesn’t mean People Ops and other stakeholders can’t play a large part in influencing what your company’s culture will 

Company culture is something that is always evolving.

Company culture is something that is always evolving. As your company grows and more people come on board, things organically change—including organizational needs. The best company cultures come from a place of authenticity, evolve from an understanding of what the culture already is, and build on that existing foundation.

The first thing any People Ops professional can do to foster company culture is to know the culture you already have.

Understanding Company Culture

At Imgur, the first thing People Ops did to support the organization was to learn as much as we could about our existing company culture and its history, the thought process of how we work, how we make decisions, and what we value.

Once you understand what has already developed naturally, you can pick out existing cultural strengths and leverage them to further develop and influence your company culture in an authentic way.

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To really understand what strengths your company’s culture already has, put yourself out there! Talk with a diverse group of people across multiple functions and departments, learn what they love about what they do, what fulfills them about working at your company, and what drives them to come to work everyday.

Spend time with company leaders to understand how the company evolved. Learn how the company communicates, how job functions interact and what collective purposes drive everyone to push forward. Common themes will begin to surface, illuminating what makes up your culture’s foundation.