The value of culture


Sara Duxbury gets on her favourite topic and perhaps the one businesses find toughest to get right

I have had many conversations with business leaders recently about how can they solve their staff attraction and retention challenges. Often, it seems they are hoping for a quick and simple answer, or strategy, or something pretty and techy – but as one old CEO of mine used to say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!”

It used to be that companies could rely on their reputation alone to attract and keep staff; as long as they were making money and were successful, their reputation would precede them. They could use the charisma and media presence of their CEO and the power of their mission statements – think Richard Branson at Virgin and Steve Jobs at Apple.

I spoke to one law firm recently who was looking to assess its culture and the relevance of its values. One of the values was ‘respect’. I asked if that meant when I joined the firm, I was automatically respected and would be treated in such a way; or did it mean that I had to earn the respect and would therefore be told when I was respected and what I had done to earn that respect. The HR director couldn’t answer the question. This ambiguity is also reflected in employee reviews online.

Because the world has changed dramatically, access to information about the companies we might want to work for has become easier to access. The rise of Watchdog, Panorama and Dispatches TV revelations shone a spotlight behind the glossy marketing façade and has made us doubt reputation on face-value.

Think Trip Advisor over your travel agent. We have become more interested in what is really happening behind closed company doors and we have got more visibility of that thanks to Twitter and Facebook. We can see how companies treat and interact with their customers and whether it matches what they say on their website. Glassdoor now has over 35 million reviews on its site of more than 700,000 companies, and there are more job review sites cropping up online all the time; prospective and current staff now have more access to your business than ever before.

It’s not enough to curate your social media brand and have a snazzy careers site, your current employees need to be talking about you and saying good things; and if they aren’t you need to be engaging with them and opening lines of communication. Your house needs to be in order because your customers and your staff care about it and they feel they have a right to know.

So, what counts when seeking to create an authentic company culture for your employees?

  1. The leader must go first. Sorry CEOs, the buck starts and stops with you and how you role-model those values and behaviours to your employees. If you have a wobble, be humble enough to call it out.
  2. Make sure your company values are right in the first place, and then take them off a poster and turn them into real behaviour – what would you tangibly see people doing?
  3. Do your policies and processes track back to your values and how you do things? For example, can you have a company value of ‘trust’, but then treat your employees like children when it comes to your expenses policy?
  4. How do your staff hold each other accountable for their behaviour against your company values? Both in recognising and challenging those behaviours.
  5. How do you communicate with both your future and current employees? And is it consistently two-way channels?

I don’t believe there is a war for talent, I believe most organisations are in an authenticity war with themselves and now is the time to bite the bullet to spend time on getting culture right.

If you would like to talk to me more about culture and values – and how you can get it right – drop me an email or get in touch via Twitter @sarajdux