The importance of corporate culture in the workplace, particularly as millennials and younger generations take on increasingly influential roles, has never been more crucial than it is today. The polls show it.
According to a recently released Glassdoor survey, which in June polled more than 5,000 workers from the U.S., U.K., France and Germany, 77% of respondents said they would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job. Another 89% of respondents told researchers for the Mission & Culture 2019 survey, conducted by the Harris Poll, that it was important for employers to have a clear mission and purpose. Sixty-five percent of American millennials in the Glassdoor survey responded that they were more likely to care about work culture than salary.
The corresponding realities in the workplace have sparked changes and introspection among employers across the globe. A panel discussion at From Day One’s conference in Dallas, moderated by Brandon Call, managing editor of D CEO magazine, focused on the shifts in ideas about corporate culture and future trends–particularly about how to craft a corporate culture that truly means something.
“The culture matters so much to so many people coming into the workplace,” said Ashley Oster, vice president of business development and marketing at E4E Relief. “It’s not really an option to be blasé.”
She continued: “I think you have to connect it to what the work is that you do, why that matters and how you’re going to integrate that … it’s about space, it’s about attire, it’s about lingo. It’s much broader than people think. But I do think that it matters. It’s something you’re being thoughtful about, because the lack of intentionality is also a culture.”
The absence of an “intentional” culture can easily lead to an “accidental” culture very different from what employers might prefer, said panelist Ollie Malone, Jr., vice president of human resources at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. He recalled when he worked with the Secret Service earlier in his career, lauding the organization for its utter commitment to “the mission.” Corporations should also be “mission-minded,” he said.
“I think it’s a matter of finding common ground. Every organization has divisions that tend to take on a life of their own,” Malone said, later adding: “I think that’s what organizations need to find: the bedrock of the culture. What is our mission? What are we here to do?”
He emphasized that the “fundamental piece has to be clear, and it has to be consistent.”
E4E Relief’s Oster added: “The attunement of the leaders is really significant, whether you’re the leader of the whole organization or you are a manager of the whole particular group.”
She recommended “being attuned to those who you can tell in your organization are influencers … seeing what ideas they have and noticing their influence and then drawing them in and taking in their ideas.”
“We are all so much more interconnected than we used to be,” Oster said, adding: “You have your home life and you have your work life, and now everybody’s life is so much more interconnected. How do you honor a whole person coming into work?”
The celebration of diversity and the simple of act of listening are two ways to embrace the “whole person” in a workplace. Catherine Olivieri, senior vice president of human resources at the Susan G. Komen organization, said she has been at the breast-cancer nonprofit for about four years and attitudes already were starting to change.
“When I started, there were so many people that just looked up to leadership to say: What should I do? What do you want me to do?” she said, adding: “What we’re doing is really trying to shift that dynamic, because the reality is, the people who are doing the work–hands-on, kind of boots-on-the-ground–they know it better than we do. So how do we make sure we get that feedback?”
Steps towards better feedback and communication include giving employees “the tools, the resources, the vernacular, to be able to use in a safe way, to give feedback, share feedback and make the organization stronger,” she said.
Olivieri added: “Part of it is our engagement culture surveys we do [in order] to see: Are we moving the needle in the areas we want to move? Then to make sure we continue to get better.”
But being honest, as always, plays a crucial part in creating and maintaining corporate culture, all panelists said. Malone pointed to the example of when Johnson & Johnson recalled Tylenol in 1982 after seven people died from ingesting poisoned products. (Today the company faces new challenges to its reputation.)
“The way they responded was very much in keeping with their culture. The question they were asking [was]: What does the credo suggest as our response?” said Malone, who was working with the company at the time.
He added: “The usual tendency is: How do we protect our reputation? How do we forget that noise, and how do we focus on the thing that we say is most important to us?”
Yvonne Freeman, vice president of global total rewards and HR operations at Sabre, the travel-tech giant, said: “Not everything goes according to plan and perfectly a lot of the time.”
“I think how companies act when they misstep or they don’t get it right … to see how the company then acts or behaves after that, it’s really about the fix that really establishes trust.”
She compared intentional corporate culture to “a compass and a true north in how you interact and the things you offer your team members.” That kind of culture helps ensure that, even when mistakes are made, employees can still be kept loyal and productive, and new hires will be attracted, because workers will feel included in the corporate effort to live up to the cultural aspirations.
“It’s just easier to be honest about who you are,” Freeman said. “Just tell them about where you aspire to go–that’s why you should come here, so you can help us get there.”
Sheila Flynn is a New York-based journalist who has written for DailyMail.com, the Irish Daily Mail, and the Associated Press. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame