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To the Core

tothecoreMaking company values a foundation of business decisions can breed success—and attract talent to boot.

By Pete Davis

It’s no secret that the job landscape is shifting in favor of the job seeker. With businesses climbing back onto even ground after the recession, more and more jobs are opening up. Once-desperate job seekers now have the luxury of taking a step back to carefully evaluate the bevy of employment options that previously did not exist. Even workers who are gainfully employed can once again afford to change jobs more easily. A 2014 JobVite study found that 71 percent of the United States workforce, including both employed and unemployed workers, are actively searching for jobs. And a January 2014 CareerBuilder survey found 58 percent of workers plan to change jobs this year. Think about that: This equates to more than half of your workforce being ready and willing to walk out the door. How do you stop it? How do you keep your team engaged and productive?

Obvious incentives like competitive salary and benefits are no longer enough. Organizations need something to set themselves apart—but what? The answer is simpler than one may think. It comes down to building and maintaining a powerful, engaging culture that truly captures and promotes company’s goals and objectives.

Back to Basics

Enter “building company culture” into a Google search and you’ll get at least 280,000,000 results, with various organizations offering step-by-step plans for researching and building an effective and engaging company culture. The truth is, building your company culture does not have to be a painful, time-consuming task—but it does require leaders to look inward.

At its heart, culture is the driving force behind everything you do- all of your decisions and actions are filtered through an intrinsic set of core values and beliefs. These beliefs are not something you construct out of thin air— they are part of who you are, and they guide your decisions and actions. This fundamental framework is the foundation upon which the strongest and most dynamic and impressive cultures are based. It is up to you to identify these driving forces and highlight them within your company.

Not all core values are created equal. Don’t fall into the trap of picking rudimentary, “permission to play” values such as honesty and integrity. Slapping basic virtues on office walls is taking the easy way out, and will not set you apart from competition or explain who your company is. Instead, drill deeper and identify characteristics and beliefs that are more specific. Whether that is passion for the craft, thirst for learning, teamwork, or something else, ensure organizational values are unique enough to paint an accurate picture of who the company is deep down.

Zappos is the perfect example of a company who executes this well. They clearly state on their website that:  “as we grow as a company, it has become more and more important to explicitly define the core values from which we develop our culture, our brand, and our business strategies.” Their core values are specific and unique, including values such as “Deliver WOW Through Service,” “Embrace and Drive Change,” “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness,” “Pursue Growth and Learning,” and “Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication.” These values are concretely defined and communicated in everything Zappos does, from internal outreach to the brand of service they offer to customers. On their website, for example, they have a video that presents their culture, a “Zappos Family Library” that includes recommended reading for team members that drive home core values, and a “Zappos Family Culture Blog” that showcases the company’s fun personality.

Once the leadership team has identified core values, it’s time to present them to the entire staff. Whether you host an all-company meeting or explain them in the next company newsletter, you need to clearly and authentically communicate the process you went through to identify the values, the criteria you used to filter out extraneous values, and ultimately, why you chose the ones you did. Explain how you think the company is already living and breathing these values, and the ways in which you think the team will succeed further by using these as decision-making filters and driving motivators. The key is that your team understands why you chose the values, and how they match (or don’t match) their own. Only then can everyone begin rowing in the right direction.

After you’ve identified and communicated company core values, be sure leadership lives them. Now don’t let culture fall down the list of priorities in the face of day-to-day business realities. In order to be effective, culture needs to be part of every decision. The key here is to make a conscious effort to thread your core values into everything you do so that everyone is on the same page.

There are several ways to weave core values into business culture. For example:

  • It is critical to make sure core values match measurement tactics and reward structures. For example, if teamwork is a core value, make sure the teamwork initiatives are recognized and rewarded. If not, employees will have no incentive to work together as a team, or to prioritize teamwork over their individual accomplishments.
  • Core values should also connect with your benefits. For example, if thirst for learning is a large part of your company cultural, be sure to offer tuition reimbursement or pay for continuing education opportunities. And promote it so potential candidates understand the motivation and connection. Demonstrating that deeper meaning enables employees to connect on a deeper level, and it sets your organization apart from a competitor who offers the same program but does not explain why they think it is important. Lacing your company culture into these programs demonstrates the reasoning and portrays it as more than just a company perk.

Leveraging Fit for Talent Gaps
Beyond using culture to maintain and strengthen your team, you should use it in your hiring—your bottom line will reap the benefits. Incorporate your core values into your hiring process by integrating them into questions during initial interviews. If a core value is accountability, see how candidates respond to questions about taking responsibility for projects. Look for the motivation behind their answers, and note any common themes that run throughout. If their explanation is not aligned with how your team views accountability, then keep moving—it is not worth wasting time on someone who is not a cultural match.

Every successful company does much more than just provide a valuable product or service—they also do a superb job of articulating and committing to a shared vision and shared values. In today’s marketplace, the ability to establish, maintain, and sustain a strong company culture can not only save your company tremendous amounts of money in the near term, it can also lay a foundation for prosperity and performance that positions you for impressive long- term success.

Pete Davis is founder and CEO of Southfield, Mich.-based Impact Management Services. 

Tags: Engaged Workforce, RPO & Staffing, Talent Acquisition

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