Company culture lessons from Better™ – the Great Place to Work® podcast
We sifted through their real workplace examples and found some unexpected truths for improving employee experience.
1. OK, boomer: perks aren’t just for young talent
Raise your hand if your organization’s strategy for attracting and retaining talent is hyper-focused (perhaps solely focused?) on targeting Gen Z and Gen Y employees. There’s no shame in that, of course. After all, millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce.
But workplace culture and perks aren’t just for the young. “A lot of the things that the people who are younger want are very similar to what the people who are older want,” says Aron Ain, CEO of UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group).
“Who doesn’t want flexibility with time off? Who doesn’t want to be trusted? Who doesn’t want to have a full-time job and flexibility in their lives? People who are older want to go spend time with their grandchildren. People who are younger want to go spend time with their friends.”
For example, UKG’s open vacation policy wasn’t created for its Gen Z staff; it was created for its forty-plus employees, Gen X and younger baby boomers, a demographic they had struggled to attract.
“Those were the ones we were having trouble hiring, because they had maybe previously been at a place with up to six weeks’ vacation. If we said, ‘Come here and start at three weeks again,’ they’d say, ‘I’m not going backwards.’”
2. The law is a low bar: creating a safe space at work
For too long, organizations have used the law as guidance in building anti-harassment policies. But just using the law as your baseline for acceptable workplace behavior doesn’t say much for your company values.
“Lots of times we let the lawyers draw the line. That’s a really low bar and what we have to do as organizations is set a high bar,” says Carolyn Slaski, Americas vice chair at EY. “This is our culture. These are our values. Just because some microaggression may not break a law, it’s still not acceptable.”
To create a truly safe space, companies need to recognize that company culture is an employee’s total experience. From onboarding to annual reviews to HR, workers experience their workplace culture in totality.
“Too often we treat them as silos. There’s a diversity and inclusion coordinator in one place, and the legal team does something else around sexual harassment and compliance, and then the operations unit does evaluations,” says Tina Tchen, president and CEO of TIME’S UP.
“That siloed effect means we aren’t paying attention to the full range of culture and how each of those things interact with one another and how our employees are experiencing it holistically.”
3. Everyone is racist: having uncomfortable conversations
How do you create a comfortable space for people to have uncomfortable conversations?
Answer: Through vulnerability.
“We all have stories and our stories involve hurt, pain, feeling excluded,” says Tony Bond, SVP, chief innovation & diversity officer at Great Place to Work.
“And just by hearing people’s stories, there’s an instant connection. We often have conversations about how we’re different and honoring the differences, but I think it needs to be a balance. If we can have more storytelling, it creates connection, and connection enables us to have difficult conversations.”
There’s a growing push for companies to publicly disclose their D&I numbers – and for businesses that haven’t made big changes in that space, doing so can be daunting, opening them up to criticism.
To encourage such conversations, rather than cut them off from shame, Ellen McGirt, senior editor with Fortune magazine, warns against the snarky call-outs.
“When you talk about racism as a set of ideas that we don’t examine, a culture that we walk through every day, that affects all of us from different perspectives, it becomes a conversation that we can all have, as opposed to a group that is being singled out for doing it wrong,” she says.
“Ibram X. Kendi did such a service framing these issues as a set of ideas that we accept without thinking, because we haven’t examined them.”
4. Book-of-the-month leadership: inconsistency breeds confusion
There is no shortage of advice out there on how to build a company culture (including right here on our own blog). But Jim Kavanaugh, CEO and co-founder of World Wide Technology, warns that trying to do it all will backfire, even with the best of intentions.
“One of the traps that organizations fall into around culture and values and leadership is they fall into the book-of-the-month club,” says Jim.
“As new books and new ideas come out, they keep shifting and promoting these different leadership styles. And they can be entertaining, but it can also be extremely confusing for an organization that’s just starting to learn how to execute those leadership behaviours and concepts.”
Jim points to the basics, inspired by his own history of growing up in a blue-collar community and playing team sports, as the steady building blocks of World Wide’s culture.
“Values, work ethic and trust are foundational. … We’ve been very rigorous and disciplined about sticking to our key business concepts and the values that we have as an organization.”
5. Chase customers, not targets: giving your employees purpose
Ken Allen, global CEO of DHL Express, wants to warn companies about pursuing the wrong kind of chase. Namely, growth at all costs.
“One of the problems I’ve seen is people chasing a revenue growth figure. And to do that they go outside of their core business and what they’re good at. They start chasing it down just to keep the top line growing,” he says. “People get the wrong kind of growth mentality. I think from focus comes growth.”
At DHL, that focus for everyone, from the C-suite to frontline workers, is the customer. Every employee at DHL is considered a salesperson—they should understand the core business, the value it brings to customers, and how they, as an employee, contribute to it.
“Loyal customers are the bedrock of everything. One of the things we did so successfully is to galvanize [our employees] around customers,” says Ken.
“The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer. If there’s no customers, there’s no growth, there’s no salary increase, there’s no development. Get everybody to really understand that everything they’re doing is about fulfilling that customer’s needs so they continue to give us business.”
For more tips, strategies, and advice on workplace culture, subscribe to our Better™ by Great Place to Work podcast series, available on Apple Podcasts.