Culture permeates every workplace, but it's invisible if you don't pay attention to it. How would you describe yours? Would employees say the same? Becoming a "best" company, "cool" company, or whatever you want to be, will not happen by default. You have to make it happen based on your particular mix of values, beliefs, and standards. This is important because understanding who you are and why enables you to leverage your culture into an employment brand that gives you a talent advantage. The tight job market isn’t about to change, but your culture may need an upgrade in order for you to compete.
Here’s the latest research from the Wilson HCG 2018 Fortune 500 Top 100 Employment Brands Report: It found that employment branding has reached a “fever pitch” among leading companies; the year’s top ten employment brands earn a combined 157 percent more in revenue than the bottom ten. There’s more: In looking at recruitment marketing alone, the top 100 companies scored 462 percent better than the bottom 100 by getting their stories out.
The conclusion? “Employment branding isn't about shiny bells and whistles, or simply catching the eyes of intrigued candidates. It's a <em>business</em> differentiator.” And yet the research shows that many companies are still challenged in trying to capitalize on talent acquisition and the bottom-line opportunities innovative employment branding brings. I think that’s because many leaders don’t really understand what an effective culture feels like, or whether they have one, much less how to build their brand around it. It’s not because they don’t think it’s important.
So how do you know whether you have a culture problem? Here are some clues: high turnover; difficulty attracting top people with the skills you need; a smaller-than-desired pool of qualified candidates; and an excessive number of illnesses and absences. These are some of the symptoms; now you need to look at the causes. When you aren’t paying close attention to your culture it’s easy to stay status quo and not keep up with changing times. Today, keeping up means meeting the needs of six generations in the workplace, and especially the needs of a large influx of Millennials and Gen Zs whose expectations are entirely different from those of the past.
Try to find your culture in the pairs of statements below. The 1s are more typical of effective cultures in today’s workplaces. If you have more 1s than 2s, you have much you can build your employment brand around. If more 2s, you have some work to do around culture.
- Our CEO leads the charge and representatives from throughout our organization take part in designing and overseeing our company culture.
- We don’t think much about culture; it seems to work by default.
- Our mission/vision/values reflect both our beliefs and our everyday workplace reality.
- Our executive team developed our mission/vision/values statements and they appear on walls prominently with the expectation they will be followed.
- Managers are trained in coaching, mentoring and effective feedback and are committed to developing employees.
- Managers often feel threatened by talented people and avoid hiring or promoting them.
- Leadership communicates frequently and transparently.
- Leadership is too busy getting work done to communicate regularly with employees.
- Employees are happy to come to work and think working here is fun.
- Employees compete with one another to earn recognition, creating a tense atmosphere.
- Failures are considered temporary setbacks that help you learn and improve.
- Failures define you and risk is frowned upon.
- We understand our purpose and find meaning in our work here.
- We find purpose and meaning outside of work hours.
- We value diversity of all kinds and it’s embedded in our hiring practices and culture.
- Diversity is not a priority for us and our culture has little flexibility in accommodating specific preferences or needs.
- We are flexible and generous with time off for the unexpected, from the school play to caring for an elderly parent.
- We’re expected to be at work every day and make arrangements for anything that comes up on a personal level.
- We grow increasingly flat in reporting structure and work more on project teams with various levels of experience and skills.
- Our structure has worked on a hierarchical basis for decades and people earn their way to the top over time.
- We are trusted to work from home or wherever we are most productive, as long as we get the job done without impeding anyone else from getting theirs done.
- We need to work in the office so that managers can be sure we are actually working.
- We are encouraged to take vacations and to unplug when we’re away from work; no one is considered indispensable.
- We can choose to take the pay instead of vacation time and are expected to stay connected to work when we’re away in case we’re needed.
- We don’t put up with toxic or underperforming people; they are replaced with people who share our values and fit into our culture.
- If people’s skills are difficult to find or if a particular position requires a lot of training, they still have job security with us.
- We believe everyone is paid fairly and see opportunity and support for our growth and advancement.
- We believe some people are disproportionately rewarded at the expense of others.
- We recognize people often for achievements and value-based behaviors, and we have grand and frequent celebrations.
- We work hard and are mainly rewarded by the satisfaction of doing a good job, with an annual presentation of awards for the top performers.
Culture reflects the character and personality of your organization. It’s the sum of your purpose, values, traditions, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes. The combination makes you unique, and it should make you proud. However, there’s another critical element to consider. If that sum doesn’t add up to a place where people want to work, you will lose any competitive advantage you ever had in recruiting and retaining great talent. I’ve said this many times, but it’s worth saying again: Create a culture by design, not by default. It’s your ticket to success—and it’s well worth the effort.