By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager
Whether they’re performed in a group or in solitude, rituals are woven into almost all aspects of life.
They’re built into every institution, including education, sports, religion, and the military, to emphasize the meaning behind specific ideas and actions. Individual rituals like a personal warm-up exercise for music or sport help us concentrate on the activity we’re about to begin.
Why are rituals so pervasive? Because they work. They sharpen awareness and engagement in the things we do.
In the business world, leaders can use rituals to highlight things important to their company and encourage people to focus on them. When it comes to corporate culture, rituals are invaluable in helping people remember and prioritize best practices.
Rituals and Routines Aren’t the Same
While rituals and routines may seem alike on the surface, they aren’t synonymous. Anne-Laure Le Cunff explains why:
“The difference between a routine and a ritual is the attitude behind the action. While routines can be actions that just need to be done—such as making your bed or taking a shower—rituals are viewed as more meaningful practices which have a real sense of purpose.”
In a work environment, routines can be boring, skipped over, or even resented if employees perform them without understanding their importance. But when people participate in rituals, they’re engaged with the experience of the task rather than just completing it. A ritual carries more weight because it feels relevant; it’s not just an action to cross off a list.
For business leaders who want to improve their company culture, that’s a critical point to understand. Corporate culture can be defined as the behavioral norms within an organization. To engineer a culture shift, developing purposeful rituals to change behaviors will have much more impact than asking people to follow stagnant routines.
5 Important Ways that Rituals Can Transform Corporate Culture
Rituals have a powerful effect on people. When they’re integrated into an organization’s culture initiative, they help motivate employees to achieve the program’s goals. Here are five ways rituals spark cultural change:
- Rituals create connection
- Rituals provide continuity
- Rituals elevate employee engagement
- Rituals facilitate onboarding and training
- Rituals create strong habits
When company rituals are performed in groups, they’re a shared meaningful experience. Even if practiced separately or by individuals in different locations, following the same rituals creates a feeling of affiliation and establishes a layer of trust among participants.
Rituals can help forge connections among departments or work teams that tend to isolate in silos. They can also build bridges between different generations within a workforce or veteran staff and newly hired employees. Rituals can even help people who don’t agree to stand shoulder to shoulder.
In their research paper “Ritual Design: crafting team rituals for meaningful organizational change,” F. Kurzat Ozenc and Margaret Hagan found that “rituals have a special power to bring people together and give them a sense of purpose, values, and meaning.”
They continued by noting that “among the goals of rituals, cohesion was the dominant theme. Teams found rituals to have promise for creating bonds, a sense of identity, and strengthening superficial relationships.”
People who feel connected work more effectively together. Shared rituals help pull together a diverse workforce and tighten its culture.
A culture initiative is a long-term project—meanwhile, the business world keeps on spinning. While taking steps to improve its culture, an organization can undergo any number of changes brought on by a shifting economy, new regulations, supply chain disruptions, and even natural disasters.
For a company to be successful, it’s imperative to maintain continuity regardless of ups and downs in the market or the world. Continuity is a big enough priority that many companies create Business Continuity Management Programs. Systems backup strategies are often the focus of those plans, but many programs also emphasize maintaining a strong organizational culture.
Rituals can be a grounding force within a company’s culture regardless of external turmoil. They help people keep perspective and hold on to a sense of normalcy. For example, when the pandemic hit, everyone was jolted out of standard routines. But employees at many businesses found comfort in consciously following old rituals or creating new virtual rituals as they endured months of the unknown.
Rituals help ensure stability and resilience regardless of other factors that may impact a business.
3. Employee Engagement
Businesses that proudly display organizational values attract people who want to work in a place representing principles that line up with their own. But companies with a formal set of values often don’t provide a way for employees to connect with them—a gulf that significantly impacts employee engagement.
Studies on engagement show that people lose interest in jobs they don’t find personally fulfilling, regardless of their benefits or pay level. According to Gallop, just 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day.
Business leaders can strengthen engagement by creating an environment where people feel like they’re making a meaningful contribution. One of the most effective ways to do that is to introduce a culture program that uses rituals to reinforce value-driven behavior.
Rituals encourage people to mindfully apply company values to everything they do. They help people establish that critical sense of purpose in their jobs and alignment with their employer.
4. Onboarding & Training
Companies that prioritize culture should use it as a recruitment tool to attract people who’ll be the right fit for the organization. When candidates are hired, it’s equally important to begin coaching them about the culture during the onboarding process.
Using rituals to teach culture is an ideal method for management to exemplify “the way things are done around here” right off the bat.
One of the easiest ways for new hires to start to fit in and embody the culture is to practice the rituals the team uses to reinforce optimal behaviors. Company rituals help new employees learn from their peers and see the impact the process has on the team. Rituals empower trainees to feel like they are on an equal footing with everyone else, so they get up to speed faster.
Just like rituals and routines aren’t the same thing, neither are routines and habits. Le Cunff makes this distinction:
“Both habits and routines are regular and repeated actions, but habits happen with little or no conscious thought, whereas routines require a higher degree of intention and effort.”
When a corporate culture initiative includes rituals to highlight optimal behaviors, employees don’t just get into routines; they develop great habits.
Rituals inspire people to act and think in ways that will make the organization succeed. Over time, their behavior becomes ingrained. They don’t have to stop and think about how and why they should do things. It just becomes the way they are.
As CultureWise Founder and CEO David Friedman explains,
“Rituals are what help us to stick to things when we wouldn’t normally have the motivation or discipline to do them ourselves. It’s the ritual that keeps something going, not us.”
Practice Makes Perfect—Add Rituals to Your Company Culture
Most companies hold meaningful rituals that commemorate events like hitting a goal, someone’s retirement, or opening a new location. These rites signify important milestones and are unifying experiences.
Leaders who also incorporate behavior-driven rituals into their organizational culture are taking their companies to the next level. If they want to maximize their impact, they will devise a way for the rituals to be reintroduced on a loop so that their impact isn’t forgotten.
If rituals aren’t already a component of your company’s training, consider adding them to reap lasting dividends. Companies with rituals already in place should assess whether teaching them more efficiently would help improve and sustain their culture.
One of the best resources to learn how to do this is David Friedman’s book, Culture by Design. In it, he offers a step-by-step method to elevate company culture, including an explanation about how to create cyclical rituals that drive success—even with a remote workforce.
Learn more with a free, two-chapter download of this insightful book. One of those two chapters is specifically devoted to the topic of rituals.
The CultureWise system makes it even easier to reinforce rituals in your culture training. This turn-key operating system for culture uses powerful tools like the CultureWise app that provide multiple ways for employees to engage in rituals.
The important thing to remember is that rituals support and help build a strong corporate culture. And an exceptional culture is the most significant way a company can differentiate itself from the competition.