Talent Tip #83: Culture Matters: Cultivating a Culture That Attracts and Retains Talent
The following was written by a friend in the liberty movement. This description of why culture matters is better than anything I could have written; so, this month I’m giving my friend the floor.
In the U.S., studies have shown the most depressing time of the week is early afternoon on Sunday. Can you guess why?
For some, maybe it’s conviction after a Sunday morning sermon. Maybe it’s the buzz from Saturday night wearing off (take that however you want). During football season, it may be due to our favorite team not doing very well. The rest of the year it may be because there isn’t any football to watch.
It’s actually none of these. Sunday afternoon, around 1 or 2 pm, is when most of us feel like the weekend is winding down. As a result, we start to think about our upcoming week at work. We get ready to slog through another 40 hours, gearing up to deal with those TPS reports and a boss who exemplifies the Peter principle.
Unfortunately, the reason a movie like Office Space is so funny is because many of us can relate to it. A good friend who was working in a dysfunctional environment hated going to work. He took another job where the expectations were more reasonable, and where he felt he would be more appreciated—for 60% of his former salary. Not all of us are in a position to make such a drastic move, but the point is a significant amount of money wasn’t worth the headache. Culture matters.
There is a flip side to this culture coin. Another friend of mine was approached by an outside organization three separate times and politely declined each time because she was happy where she was.
How can we create an environment where wild horses can’t drag our best employees away? First, for leadership:
- Figure out what culture includes. If you haven’t already, the leadership team needs to decide how you want employees to interact with each other…and maybe what behaviors you want to avoid. Aim for a handful of general guidelines that apply to a variety of situations but are clear enough to be understood. Maybe you have set expectations but it’s time for a culture audit. Either way, proceed with caution: when you ask employees to be candid about culture, you’ll find out quickly what level of trust they have in you, for good or bad. You may hear something you don’t like or haven’t noticed. Remember not to shoot the messenger or you’ll end up shooting yourself in the foot.
- Then work to set culture intentionally. When two or more people work together, in person or remotely, there is a working culture. Are you leading the charge to create a great working environment? How will you recognize those who are adding to your culture? How will you hold people (including—especially—leadership) accountable? If there are cultural problems (lack of urgency, lack of trust, lack of teamwork, just to name a few), first stop the bleeding. Then work to reverse the damage. It takes time, patience, tough decisions, and resolve. The efforts are well worth it. Your best people will stick with you and you’ll be able to attract great talent that fits into your organization.
- Watch for mission creep. Why is this part of culture? Because internally motivated employees are a great asset to a working culture. If Jane signed on to help stop regulatory overreach, and now the main focus of the organization is education reform, is Jane still passionate about her work? Maybe, maybe not. The important thing is to have the discussion. Employees should be encouraged to raise questions if they don’t see how new initiatives fit the mission. Likewise, supervisors should have a conversation if an employee is constantly veering toward work that doesn’t align with the mission.
You may be saying, these are great, but they are pretty broad. Are there any specifics I can look into when assessing culture?
- When’s the last time your board of directors heard about turnover rate, morale, working environment, etc.? They’re your advisors for a reason.
- Who is leaving and who is staying? If your best talent is heading for the exits, you’ve got a problem.
- Are expectations clear for everyone, both for quality of work and workplace behavior?
- Take care of bad hiring decisions (which do happen, even to the best of us). Your great performers will thank you, and wonder why it took you so long.
- What gets rewarded gets replicated. What are you rewarding?
- Are you thanking people for the good work they do? The first time I had a manager tell me I was one of the best employees in my position meant a lot. But, the timing was bad…since it was at my exit interview.
There are no quick fixes to building a great culture. Roll up those sleeves, take a hard look at what needs improvement, and create a better office space for yourself and all those who work with you. You’ll be glad you did.