How to Create Your Own Work Culture (and Why It Matters)

Justine Clay

by Justine Clay

6 min read
How to Create Your Own Work Culture (and Why It Matters)
Experts Guides Managing Teams Careers

Have you ever experienced the soul-crushing effects of a toxic work culture? Perhaps you’ve felt the pain of working with an emotionally erratic boss, dealing with shifting priorities that come with no explanation, or not knowing how your work contributes to a bigger vision.

Yep, me too!

Now, how about a culture that is clear on its mission, hires people who are aligned with its values and walks it’s walk. Doesn’t that sound better?

A great work culture, defined by behavioral scientist and inclusion and diversity consultant, Dr. Pragya Agarwal as “the shared values, belief systems, attitudes and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share” can be the difference between your living a life of meaning and one where you dread eight hours of your day.

In my experience as a business coach for creative professionals and entrepreneurs, I’ve learned that one of the leading reasons people choose to start their own business or work remotely, is a desire to do work that is meaningful to them, decide who they work with and how, and find more balance in their life.

Yet, when we do make the decision to work remotely, or start our own business, we often forget about the culture piece, perhaps assuming that once the overt stressors of an office environment are removed, the rest will take care of itself.

Building a fulfilling career and life is never an accident, but rather a result of clear intention, communication, and consistent action. Over the years, I’ve helped hundreds of people who are at a place of transition in their career or business figure out what they stand for, why it matters, and how they share that value with the world. Here are 3 ways creating your own culture will help you improve your fulfillment, productivity and growth.

1) Identify your values
If the idea of doing a values exercise has you rolling your eyes, I get it! All too often, declaring our professional values is more about appearing to be/do the right thing. But when we’re willing to drill down to what’s really important to us, and walk our walk - even when it’s the harder choice - we build transparent and honest relationships with the people we work with and report to.

Action step:
Identify your 3-4 core values. Now, this sounds simple, but a lot of values are alike, so you could very easily end up with a list of 15 before you know it! Stick with the process with the goal of landing on to 3-4 values. If you need help, use this values list from Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead to get you started. This exercise alone will be invaluable in figuring out what really matters to you.

2) Align your values with your actions
When we live our values, we signal to the rest of the world how we show up, what our boundaries are, and what it looks like to engage with us. For example, if one of your values is integrity, always doing what you say you will, when you say you will do it, to the absolute best of your ability, might be one way you can live that value. The result: over time you’ll build trust and confidence with your co-workers and managers, likely leading to better projects and less micromanaging.

The way I encourage my clients to align with their values is to identify what those values look like on the inside (personally) and on the outside (professionally). For example, if one of your values is “respect” what that looks like on the inside might be respecting yourself through self-care, a commitment to personal growth, and self-discipline. On the outside you might practice respect by always showing up 5 minutes early, doing what you say you will, even if it’s inconvenient, and never sharing information shared with you in confidence. Below is an example of what my core values look like on the inside and on the outside:

Value What that looks like on the inside What that looks like on the outside
Clarity I seek clarity for myself through personal development, spiritual practice, exercise, sleep, and nutrition. When I am clear, I am of most benefit to my clients. One of my ideal clients’ pain points are lack of clarity and, therefore, focused action gets results. I help my clients gain clarity so they can achieve their goals and realize their dreams.
Integrity Personally, I strive to do what I say I will do, be the best person I can be, and do the most good that I can. In business, I help clients align with their true talent so they can do meaningful work they love, create positive change, and feel in alignment with their values and their clients’ values.
Growth I am always looking to learn, grow, and evolve in my relationships, business, knowledge, and contribution. I help my clients feel excited about growth and change, and to figure out how to continually expand so they make the most impact possible.
Community As a social person, I seek communities of like-minded people to help and be helped. Creative business owners need community and networks to thrive. I help my clients find their tribe of clients, collaborators, and vendors so as a collective everyone thrives.

Action step:
Create your own chart with what your core values look like on the inside and on the outside. Now you know exactly how to live your values!

3) Learn to communicate what you need to support your boss/company/team
If healthy communication in the workplace isn’t something that’s been modeled, you may be horrified to find yourself engaging in the same toxic patterns, despite no longer physically being in an office environment. An overbearing boss or client can be just as toxic - perhaps more so - when they can hide behind email instead of providing direction or feedback in-person.

BuildWorkCultureHeader

In this step, we talk about how to specifically communicate what you need to do your best work. This may feel scary because it means advocating for yourself and communicating boundaries, but it’s also what builds confidence and trust, ultimately setting you free from reacting to every email fired your way.

Action steps:
If this feels like the right thing to do, but you have no idea how to go about it, try breaking it down into the following three parts:

What you need
We often don’t ask for what we need because we’re worried it will make us look incompetent or weak, but the opposite is actually true. When we have what we need, we can deliver our best work, and that benefits everyone. Be honest with yourself about what you need to do your best work - from time, resources, support, and money - and ask for it. The first time is the hardest, it gets easier, I promise!

What your process is
Because our process is second nature to us, we often assume everyone does things the way we do. They don’t. For example, in my work as a business coach, I have a minimum 6 month engagement because I know that’s just how long it’s going to take to break down all the information we need to cover and support a meaningful and permanent transformation. That level of commitment won’t be for everyone, so I share the process every step of the way. That clarity means that prospects who are into that level of commitment are all-in and the ones looking for a “ninja version” of the process (yes, someone really did ask me for that), pass.

How long it will take
Have you ever got caught up in a boss or co-workers deadline drama, only to find the deadline was completely arbitrary?

Infuriating isn’t it? If you find yourself consistently responding to fires that need to be put out, at the expense of doing the work that matters, it’s up to you to establish some boundaries.

Here are a few tips to managing expectations around time:

  • If the request is unrealistic, say so. Don’t be afraid to ask why the deadline is what it is. Is it a hard deadline or simply an unreasonable stakeholder or client?
  • Communicate what else you have on your plate so you can have an honest conversation about what needs to be a priority.
  • Assume the other person is doing their best and always be kind, clear, and calm.
  • Ensure you have agreement on the priority and timing before walking away from the conversation.
  • Be consistent and always deliver what you say you will.

Whether you’re a remote employee or team leader, building a values-based culture will enhance your experience personally and professionally. From the personal satisfaction and joy you get from showing up authentically and supporting others, to positive feedback and professional recognition from your peers and bosses, being the change you want to see in the workplace is an empowering and inspiring role. I can’t wait to see you step into it!

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Email me at justine@justineclay.com and share what culture means for you, or connect with me on LinkedIn so we can stay in touch!

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