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Investing in your company culture is just good business. Organizations that make their talent feel valued are more likely to experience better retention, a superior employee brand and more engaged employees.

However, just 60 percent of today’s employees feel they have a voice at work. Only 50 percent feel they have more influence than they did five years ago.

Nearly everyone can benefit from culture hacking, whether you’re a startup, well-established firm or considering a cultural initiative as part of change management. Read on to learn what culture hacking is, why it matters and five facts to know about real-world firms with winning cultures.

What in the (Business) World Is Culture Hacking?

The idea of cultural hacking was introduced by Seb Paquet in 2010. Inspired by the tools and methodologies used to hack technology, Paquet proposed the idea of a new way to inspire disruptive change for the better within a business. His methodology involves the following steps:

  • Observe: Keep your eyes open to find opportunities to solve problems and inspire change.
  • Make Art: Try things that have never been done before and look for new opportunities to collaborate.
  • Create Community: Empower employees to start interest-based groups and meet up.
  • Create Your Own Jargon: Identify the words that describe your company’s “world” to define your values and grassroots movement.

While these ideas may seem radical and not especially technical, they’re effective. Robert Richman, the former Cultural Executive at Zappos, writes that change and culture are inherently emotional and nonlinear and they can’t be forced.

Taking a collaborative grassroots approach to inspiring change for the better may seem like an odd concept, but it works for many organizations. Here are five fascinating facts to know about hacking your culture:

1. It’s Not as Much of a Commitment as You Think

Radical stories of company culture hit the news. You’ve likely heard of companies that offer thousand-dollar bonuses for people to quit, as a tool to weed out employees who aren’t committed or the right fit.

However, culture hacking is inherently iterative, which means your company isn’t committing to anything massive or expensive if you implement this approach. One prominent example of iterative hacking is pulse surveys; regular check-ins with employees to get the “tone” of your culture and learn how your efforts are trending.

At Ephraim McDowell Health (EMH), pulse surveys were one tactic implemented to try and fight high turnover rates, specifically employees who were quitting before their one-year anniversary. By listening to their talent more, EMH ultimately unlocked 0.5-percent lower monthly turnover and nearly a million dollars in annual cost savings.

2. Culture Hacking Makes People Heroes

When culture hacking is done right, everyone within an organization has an opportunity to inspire change through groups, do their jobs differently and make art.

At Convergent Technology, “beating impossible odds” is the jargon that’s used to celebrate “heroes” or employees who go above and beyond. The organization has developed “rituals and celebrations” to make sure these heroes feel appreciated, with the CEO even spray-painting some congratulatory graffiti in the hallway.

3. Culture Isn’t Quantitative, But Your Methods Might Be

While the most successful culture hacking initiatives are largely grassroots and people-driven, you may unlock amazing results if you manage to mobilize your people and gain data-driven insight into the “why” of how your company works.

At Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, Inc. (BWSC), the discovery that their people were unhappy because of benefits offerings inspired some quantitative inquiry.

By surveying with “probing ‘why’ questions,” the organization managed to reduce unhappy employees to just 8 percent of the total population.

4. Jargon Is No Joke

From an outsider’s perspective, the culture hacking directive to go develop your own language may seem a little odd. However, it turns out there’s some actual neuroscience behind this principle.

“A well-placed buzzword is a great way to claim membership in a certain tribe,” writes Emma Green, an expert on the role of jargon in business culture. By using the terms that define who you are, your employees feel they belong.

Back in 2013, software startup HubSpot published their “culture code,” 160 slides filled with the language and characteristics that made their company a great place to work.

The firm has since become a publicly traded organization and many of their unique marketing-related terms are used industry-wide, which may illustrate the power of internal jargon.

5. Employee Groups Matter

Does an employee-led interest group on indoor gardening really have the potential to transform the way your firm engages its talent?

As it turns out, it just might. Google has doubled-down on their longstanding commitment to supporting employee groups as their company has grown from hundreds to tens of thousands of employees and describes them as the “secret” to their cultural success.

Not only may employee resource groups for females or minorities lend critical support, employee interest groups can inspire the kinds of relationships that make work meaningful and lead to creative collaboration.

Corporate Essentials for Culture Hacking

Culture is the groundwork for creative, engaged people who do great work. While culture-hacking principles can revolutionize the right change for your business, investing in amenities and great break rooms for the workplace can also let your people know they really matter.

Corporate Essentials is more than just an office coffee service. For more than 20 years, we’ve been your secret agent for culture hacking. We help companies attract and retain great people through broad services that matter, including:

  • Full-service office refreshments, including healthy snacks and premier office cold brew coffee;
  • Break room supplies, including paper goods, commercial cleaning products, and utensils;
  • Cultural consultation, including professional break room design and redesign projects.

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Judson Kleinman

As the founder and CEO of Corporate Essentials, Judson set out with every intention of bringing a new meaning to the words "office culture". As leaders in the industry, his company constantly sets the bar by investing in, and improving their product offerings, technology, people and training. 20 years and 1500 clients later, Judson can proudly say that Corporate Essentials continues to positively fuel culture and allow over 150,000 employees to work happy.