Rituals & Culture

WRITTEN BY Fatma Ghedira & Amy stewart


When I travel the country as a facilitator for ThinkHuman, I get to hear some of the brightest leaders discuss how they’re creating thriving values-centered cultures, but when I’m down in the trenches with companies trying to create, scale, or fix their culture, they still feel a lot of confusion

A core question is: how do we embed conceptual values and behavior in a culture?

One answer: rituals.

How Rituals Contribute to Culture

What does the word “ritual” invoke in you? Maybe a religious holiday? Or a voodoo doll? Rituals are what connect people to a bigger purpose. They create patterns and interactions, creating a structural and organizing force in society.

Susan Lee, the Head of People at Warby Parker, gave a bubbly and inspiring talk at the Culture Summit about rituals at work. She spoke fondly of enjoying family dinners when she was young and how these dinners created connection in her family on a nightly basis. At Warby Parker, Lee made use of this idea of rituals as a way to cement culture.

Lee’s ritual recipe:

  1. Start with intention: the idea, purpose, value or hope
  2. Manifest that intention in a ritual: a process or a tradition
  3. Produce a cultural impact: instills core values, cements purpose

Here’s an example from Warby Parker:

Intention: Engaging their people around the intention of doing good in the world

Ritual: On every teammate’s three-year anniversary, they visit countries where the company’s “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” charity program is at work

Impact: Purpose-driven work, increased retention, job satisfaction

Rituals Create an Environment of Support

Mary Miller, the CEO of Jancoa, a leading cleaning business in Cincinnati, knew that turnover was a problem in the janitorial industry. Instead of offering simple job perks to stem the tide, Miller started asking her people about their dreams for their lives. She started helping her staff reach those life goals, and Jancoa’s Dream Manager program was born. Jancoa has helped their people reach the goal of graduating from college, buying a home, and launching their own small businesses.

Intention: Help her staff live passionate, meaningful lives

Ritual: The company hires a “dream manager” to listen to employees’ dreams and desires and then develops a plan to help them achieve those goals

Impact: Reduced turnover from 300% to 40% and helped their people

Rituals Can Be Simple

It’s important to note that instituting rituals doesn’t require spending a lot of money or time. It can simply be a behavioral change in your everyday communication or a shift in how or where you conduct your meetings. The key is being purposeful with your intention and creating a ritual that matches that intention.

At ThinkHuman, we start our weekly meetings with a personal touch-base, where people do a brief check-in about what has their attention in their personal lives before we do the professional catch-up.

Intention: Create a connected, inclusive environment

Ritual: Devote a few minutes in the the Monday meeting to check-in with teammates

Impact: Feeling of belonging, increased engagement, increased efficiency

GAME ON: How can you put rituals into practice in your own culture?

Simple embedded rituals like how lunch happens or how meetings are conducted can drastically shape a culture. Harness that power by creating rituals that speak to your values and intentions, and watch people bring concepts into reality.

Start by answering these questions:

  • Which routines does your organization make time for?
  • What values do they reflect?
  • Do your routines reflect your core and aspirational values? And if not, what adjustments are you ready to make?