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Designing Your Workplace Culture For Organizational Success

“Design for culture” has become a popular topic of conversation in the business community. Organizations of every size are learning that the culture they foster effects every facet of the business, trickling all the way down to the bottom line.

But, what exactly does “design for culture” mean? Chances are, you could present this question to five different organizational leaders and get five totally different answers. Is it about company mission and philosophy? Procedures? Or perhaps workplace design? The truth is, it’s about all of these things and more. While the specifics vary from company to company, what remains consistent throughout, however, is the foundation – trust and engagement.

How Can Leaders Build Trust?

Forbes contributor and change management consultant, Glenn Llopis, indicates the top two things he is approached for guidance on is employee engagement and trust. He has spent years consulting some of the nation’s top organizations and studying this very topic.

“I’ve learned from years of research that what they’re actually seeking is to create an environment of greater intimacy. The lack of trust and engagement happens because leaders are not intimate enough with the workplace and the people who touch the business. They fail to connect with the business at a level where they understand what’s needed for the business, the brand and the people to evolve.” -Glenn Llopis

He indicates that, by nature, leaders look to build trust and workforce engagement, as it takes the pressure off their shoulders and places it on the employees. Developing intimacy, however, places the responsibility back where it belongs – on the leaders. It forces one to delve deeper into the intricacies of the business and really understand what employees need to trust in their leaders and the organization. This level of intimacy is a process and requires planting the workforce at the center of enterprise’s development strategy.

The Connection Between Trust and Intimacy

Workplace trust requires more than simply asserting that the enterprise and its leaders are honorable and sincere. It’s about taking that mission statement and putting it into action. Each member of the management team must develop an intimate connection with their workforce, going beyond the standard workplace pleasantries. This can only be achieved by integrating oneself into the group and listening. Listening to their needs, hearing what they are saying, and taking action based on these findings.

Recognizing the need to develop deeper relationships, Steelcase set out to identify the most effective strategy for achieving this goal. Their finding – design for it. Historically, the office space has been designed to segregate. Leaders took the outside offices, with employees occupying the rest of the space. This segregation actually stifles leadership, isolating them from what is really going on within the organization.

In an effort to break down these barriers, Steelcase redesigned the workspace, placing management in the center of the action. The result was a more collaborative environment. The design promoted chance encounters, dissolving the hierarchy mentality that inhibits trust.

Steelcase CEO Jim Keane summarizes it best: “If you and I were in a meeting for an hour, we would develop a certain level of trust. But if we could be together once a day for five minutes each over 12 days – we would develop more trust in the second way than the first. It’s 60 minutes both ways, but there’s something about the frequency of face to face.”

For many, workspace design is regarded as making the space aesthetically pleasing. Designing for culture goes beyond that, humanizing the business so each individual’s talent and voice are highlighted. Considering a  disengaged workforce costs enterprises $450 – $550 billion annually, we all stand to gain from fostering a more intimate workplace culture.

Design for Culture Goes Beyond Workspace Design

While workspace design is an excellent start, it is just one component to design culture. There are a number of strategies leaders can implement to promote a trusting and engaging environment.

Consider the Culture During the Hiring Process

The workspace is often an amalgamation of personalities. A candidate’s experience and education can be exceptional, but if their personality and belief system doesn’t match that of the workplace culture, the entire team stands to suffer. When considering prospects, delve deeper and try to uncover their personal and professional mission, value system, and goals. If theirs does not align with the enterprise’s, move on to the next candidate.

Foster Intimacy From Day One

A new employee’s first day is when they are the most enthusiastic and inspired. Yet a vast majority of organizations fail to capitalize on this ardor. Humanize the workplace from the moment a new hire steps on the floor by partnering them with a mentor. Encourage mentors to empower their mentee by unearthing their ambitions and embracing them. Use this small window of opportunity to capture your audience and properly integrate them into your company’s culture.

Company-Wide Transparency

Transparency regarding organizational and departmental goals, and where each individual fits into the equation, is a critical component of trust. Those who take it a step further, determining and supporting their employee’s individual goals, solidify a healthy and engaging workplace atmosphere.

Business leaders have a unique opportunity to help shape the future, both on an organizational and personal level. Designing your workplace culture around, and for, the humans who will help shape the company’s success insures a more engaged and driven workforce.  The result – prosperity and growth company-wide.

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