Businesswoman Leads Meeting Around Table Shot Through Door

Using culture as a tool to build and maintain a strong workforce

Using culture as a tool to build and maintain a strong workforce

3 Minute Read

While attracting and retaining talent is usually top-of-mind for business owners, culture sometimes falls to the back burner. But the two are inseparable — a positive organizational culture is what allows you to build the right team. Deliberately designing and nurturing your culture becomes especially important in today’s era of economic uncertainty.

Culture, strategy, and purpose are more than buzz words. Your culture needs to be clearly defined, articulate measures of success, be uniquely yours, and be built in alignment with your company’s objectives and how to work together to achieve success. These elements will foster wellness, engagement, and productivity on your team, and ultimately boost client satisfaction.

As a business owner, do you dread conversations about company culture? Do you gloss over subjects like culture, vision, and purpose because you find them hard to define, or measure? You’re likely not alone.

Like any business subject that gets discussed at length, “company culture” must walk a fine line to remain a priority without becoming a buzz word. But its potential to get lost in translation doesn’t make it any less important.

Especially in an era of fierce competition for talent, which spans across almost all regions and industries in Canada, a focus on deliberately designing and nurturing culture can be one of the most valuable and cost-effective investments you make.

Defining culture strategy and purpose, and the relationship between all three

For any conversation about culture to be productive, you need to define it and differentiate it from terms that often go hand-in-hand. What is culture, and how is it different from strategy or purpose?


 Strategy brings together the “what” of your business, your ambitions for the future, and the “how” you plan to get there. It’s about taking your larger purpose and goals, and breaking them down into the things you and your team will spend your time doing. It consists of these key pillars:

  • Your longer-term vision for the company and goals
  • Your unique or competitive value proposition
  • Your target market(s) and customer segments and alignment with your product/service
  • Your core activities
  • Your understanding of what needs to be done to accomplish your goals

Once you have defined these elements, whether you know it or not, you have a strategy.


 When you think about culture, you should automatically link it with “how”. How you execute your strategy, how you get things accomplished, how your people feel and react when they’re at work. Culture is the culmination of the values, attitudes, and ways of working that determine how much your business will succeed or struggle.

It’s also one of the first things employees will notice, is asked about in job interviews, and is the main driver that motivates them to leave or stay. Whether or not your people actually enjoy being at work, have good relationships with their coworkers, and accomplish more by being unified — all are measures of culture.

There is more than one right way to execute your strategy; you need to proceed in a way that fosters the most engagement, wellness, and productivity for you and your team. You can think of your strategy as your charted path towards your goals, while your culture is the gas you put into your vehicle you take.


Purpose serves as the link between your culture and strategy by defining your organization’s reason for existence. It’s your “true north”.

Gone are the days that your business can thrive if its purpose is solely to make money — building strong teams, creating opportunity for people, and retaining talent means you need to define your purpose as something greater, or more inclusive, than shareholder and investor returns. Your team members want to know their work matters, that they’re making positive contributions beyond their own bank account or employer. Thus, your purpose helps define your strategy and maintain a positive culture, but it’s not the same thing.

How to move your culture beyond the generic

Even if you have a good grasp of what “culture” means, moving beyond generic ideas when you implement it is seldom easy.

Make it yours

Let me know if you’ve heard a business leader or owner use any of the following to describe their culture:

  • We work hard and play hard
  • We don’t take ourselves too seriously
  • We put our clients first
  • We operate with integrity

None of these things are inherently bad, but they should be treated as table stakes. A starting point that leads you to think deeper about how you can make it truly your own. You should resist the temptation to be satisfied with a culture that is indistinguishable from your competitors; even if your competitors are doing well, their culture may not work for your team.

One way to differentiate your culture is through management practices. For example, everyone holds meetings, but management practices can determine how they’re held. Do you hold regular meetings to foster camaraderie and communication? Do you steer away from meetings that “could have been an email” so your team can focus on other tasks? Do you have an agenda for each meeting, or do you let the conversation be open to where participants want to take it?

You can gauge your team’s and leaders’ preferences and make it your own.

Make it measurable

It’s good to have lofty ambitions for what your culture should be, but how can you tell if you’re actually pulling it off? This is often the main barrier as you seek to build and retain your team around a strong culture — measuring your success is rarely intuitive.

Consider the above example of “We put our clients first”. Unless you come up with ways to measure what that looks like, it will always be perceived as just words. What is a happy, satisfied client? Is it one that gives you referrals, comes back to your establishment again? While key performance indicators (KPIs) sometimes get a bad rap in conversations about culture, there’s no shame in measuring how your culture performs.

For example, it’s a commonly held view that passing behaviour on the soccer pitch can yield to more possession and ultimately more goals. So it would bear fruit to measure the quantity, quality, and opportunity of passing behaviours to drive both the productive and inclusive culture you want. By the way, it is also way more effective to reward and reinforce those behaviours as they happen, not just when a goal is scored.

Some tools exist, such as the Barrett Values Assessment, that can quantify whether your culture is performing and keeping all stakeholders engaged, learning, and growing. Some can even connect the strength of your culture back to a dollar value you’re gaining or leaving on the table.

Make it a collective responsibility and individual accountability

Building consensus is a crucial part of ensuring your culture helps you attract and retain the right people. All it takes is one or two of your team members to not embody the culture, for the rest of your team to question whether the culture you’ve built is legitimate or just talk.

Take your team’s opinions and insights into consideration and maintain humility. You may not be able to build a workplace culture that’s just how every team member envisioned it, but just letting them feel heard genuinely has value on its own.

Your team makes all the difference

To thrive in difficult economic circumstances is only possible you have the right team behind you. Build your team around a positive culture that’s uniquely your own, and that’s measurable. Retain talent by making sure they have a say in how work gets done. It’s one of the best investments you can make in your future prosperity.


  • Performance

    April 17, 2024

    Conflict in the workplace: the ripple effect on small businesses

    Conflict in the workplace can impact small businesses, affecting team dynamics, productivity, and company culture.

  • Confidence

    April 17, 2024

    Following these steps will protect your practice value if emergency strikes

    You can’t predict the future, but building a plan helps to keep your business protected.

  • April 16, 2024

    How to gain control of your Microsoft Power Platform environment: Tools and governance

    How can you identify the tools you need to support the governance and enablement of your organization’s Microsoft Power Platform solutions?