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How To Create a Company Culture That’s Not Cringeworthy

‘I challenge you to think in a manner of: am I creating and contributing to a culture that I crave or culture that makes me cringe? Everything starts with you,’ says Katie Kunker, founder and CEO of The Art Of Hustle and Heart, at WOTC West 2022.

Creating a healthy company-wide culture starts at the individual level and branches out from there. That means that the smallest changes you make can impact the larger company culture. At the same time, making no changes at all and maintaining the status quo can feed into an unsatisfactory culture, according to Katie Kunker, founder and CEO of The Art Of Hustle and Heart.

The Art Of Hustle and Heart, a mentorship and coaching firm for professional and personal development, has been working with men and women for the last two years since the company was founded. Kunker, a former channel executive herself, knows that a lack of passion, performance challenges, disengaged employees or high turnover rates are all telltale signs of a “cringeworthy” company culture.

The good news, Kunker told an audience of more than 400 attendees at The Channel Company’s Women of the Channel West 2022 event, is that even making “micro” changes on an individual level can add up and help even the most toxic cultures evolve.

Kunker shared her own story of not feeling supported at her past companies and how she realized that small shifts could spread throughout an entire company. She outlined how individuals can start the process, and then with their teams, work through improving company culture through a focus on shared goals, accountability, and gut checks along the way.

Here‘s what Kunker shared.

Bringing The Balance

Most companies large and small know that they have great people on staff and as a result, believe that their culture is amazing because they hire great people. But the truth is, Konker said, is that the company shapes the culture, but individuals can change it. For example, are you booking meetings at 5pm for your employees, are employees taking lunch at their desks, or are employees asked to fly for an event on a Sunday? These are little changes that managers can make (or quit doing) that will make all the difference for their teams, she said.

To start, individuals should ask themselves how they need to be supported, what keeps them going, what their stressors are, and what they prioritize.

“What is culture to you?” she asked. “I challenge you to think in a manner of: Am I creating and contributing to a culture that I crave or culture that makes me cringe? Everything starts with you.”

Vision And Alignment

Once individuals work out their priorities and what culture means to them, they can bring it to their teams and work collectively on a vision, Kunker said. This step is important because if people don‘t know where they’re going, they won‘t get there, she said.

Teams should discuss what makes them comfortable so they can understand each other. These factors will vary person to person, she said. Some people have boundaries around working outside of typical office hours, while others may take time out of their workday to pick up children from school and then return to their work later, as an example, Konker said.

Teams can then move forward with those plans to stay aligned with one another. And staying aligned also sometimes means just connecting with one another on a personal level. Teams can leave a few minutes at the beginning or end of a meeting for chatter, or simply call one another for a few minutes to discuss non-work-related topics, Konker said. It makes employees feel more appreciated and connected.

“That emotional perspective -- aligning with what it looks like people need is really important,” she said.

Communication And Accountability

The only way that people can start becoming aware of their responsibilities and cultivating a culture that they want to be a part of is bringing awareness to what they say and do and how it affects the larger workplace culture. A big part of that is communication and holding people accountable to the things that the team prioritized during its vision conversations, Konker said.

“It matters a lot. You can have three people say things in three different tones and it‘s taken in three different ways,” she said. “Mean what you say, clearly say it, and understand that delivery does matter.”

Pulse Checks Along The Way

Individuals have the power to create the culture that makes them the most effective and productive. Along the way, they have to check in with themselves to make sure nothing changed priority-wise and to make sure that they and their teams are reaching their intended goals.

The biggest message that Konker likes to leave with people is that they are “badasses” and it all starts with every single individual deciding to understand what they need to be more successful and bringing those attributes to their team. Everyone deserves to work somewhere they love, she added.

Every day, we‘re shaping culture. We do the individual work first and then when we bring our most valuable attributes to a team -- and we know what those are -- we are teaming, and we are winning.“

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