Employers Enhancing Culture With Listening, Purpose in 2019

By Pamela DeLoatch, HR Drive

The balance of power between employer and employee has changed. In today’s world, the employee is holding some of the cards.

A confluence of events has created this shift: a tight job market resulting in a war for talent; a drive for innovation that requires the best and brightest; and new generations of employees with their own expectations about the world of work.

And as companies respond with new and improved efforts to woo potential employees and retain current ones, we’ve seen a shift in culture. Not just a culture trend, but more of an evolution — one that is changing companies’ beliefs, processes, relationships, systems and interactions.

Beyond Diversity

A decade ago, employers focused on diversity because it was the socially responsible thing to do, Jim Barnett, CEO, Glint, told HR Dive in an interview.

But now we also know that it’s important from a business perspective, he said, noting that diverse teams perform better than less diverse teams. The same goes for teams in more inclusive environments, and both diversity and inclusion are necessary, he said. “Diversity without inclusion leads to a low sense of belonging,” hurting results attrition rates, he said. “So you’ve got to get the whole equation right on your culture. You’ve got to create an inclusive culture where people feel like they belong at your company.”

That sense of inclusion retention, said Scott Conklin, vice president of human resources for Paycor. Employees, whether baby boomers or millennials, aren’t staying in jobs long, he told HR Dive. One way to keep those hard-won employees is through good onboarding. “It’s really about getting people sticky to the company and doing that through your belonging efforts,” he said. Help new employees quickly create a social network, he said; have managers identify the people the new employee should connect with to become imbedded in the company. “The more quickly you can get them in the fabric of the company, the less opportunity you have to lose them.”

Another way to increase inclusivity is to create spaces for discussions, both on a grassroots level and through formal communications channels, Gina Lau, head of people for Scoop told HR Dive in an email. “These spaces include a combination of traditional ERGs, panel discussions, brown bag lunches, modern communication behaviors like Slack channels, and founder/leadership listening sessions that move the company towards flat hierarchies and transparency,” she said.

The Importance of Listening

Many employers have figured out that regular listening programs ensure high engagement levels, according to Barnett. The annual survey is dead, he said; short, pulse surveys allow employers to get more immediate feedback.

It is essential to get the voice of the customer — the employee — whose perspectives may differ from those in upper management who make policy, Conklin said. For example, if you have an HR department run by an older demographic, you may not be as attuned to the types of benefits in which a new college grad might be interested. Surveys can help fill that gap, he said.

But a survey is just the beginning of listening, Barnett added. “The survey leads to interesting data and insights, but the goal isn’t survey results. The goal is to stimulate conversations, so managers are sitting with their teams, working with their teams to discuss how’s the team doing, what’s going on with the engagement level, how are we performing.”

Leading With Culture

Beyond introducing a foosball table or beer keg to the office, employers will likely continue to focus on how their culture differentiates them from competitors, Conklin said. And it’s not just how their culture differentiates, but how employees tell the story of that difference that’s important, he said.

Embrace your culture, and don’t pretend it’s something it’s not, the experts cautioned. “There’s a culture for everybody and there’s people for every culture, so don’t apologize for your culture. The worst thing you can do is misrepresent your culture in the interview process,” he said.

But feel free to sell that authentic culture. When applicants are interviewing, give them a true understanding of who your company is, Conklin said. Have applicants interview with several employees in different departments, and have them share why they came to work for the company.

At the same time, Conklin cautioned, don’t ignore your culture just to make a hire. “Be courageous enough if the person’s not really a value fit, to be able to pass on that individual even if they have the skills because more than likely if you don’t, they might just leave in six months.”

Connecting Jobs To Mission

Purpose and mission are important to building strong cultures, Barnett said; “It’s hard to have a strong culture if people don’t feel a sense of purpose and don’t know what the mission is.”

Second to a poor relationship with their managers, good employees leave their jobs “because they lose that ‘love what you do’ factor,” Brad Goldoor, chief people officer at Phenom People, told HR Dive via email. “With a third of our lives dedicated to work, it’s vital that employees have a purpose.”

But that doesn’t mean an organization has to be charity-based to establish a sense of purpose, Barnett said. Company culture programs are working to clarify what the employers does and why it matters. Although younger companies may be more attuned to tying jobs to purpose, older companies successfully do it too. In working with some of the largest mining companies in the world, Barnett said he found the correlation between purpose and engagement scores still held. Not only that, the more invested employees were, the better their safety scores.

“Most successful companies are able to help their people connect their daily role to a bigger mission,” Barnett said. “[Employees] are not just putting a wheel on a car. They’re building an amazing car that helps people navigate their lives.”

Technology may help in this effort. More companies will invest in AI and business intelligence tools to identify a disengaged employee early on and find a more meaningful position for him or her, Goldoor added.

These shifts are all intertwined. Being inclusive involves listening. Leading with culture helps employees understand how their jobs fit in with the company’s mission. Listening to employees helps employers understand how their culture is perceived. And these changes are here for the long-term, according to Conklin. While some new aspects of culture may seem like a flash in the pan — demands for pet insurance, for example — those concrete changes reflect a changing society, he said. Companies that embrace cultural trends will find it’s a way to compete and get the right talent, he added.

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