Why culture matters—and how to help yours thrive

With unemployment at a 43-year low, it’s a seller’s market for talent. Money goes just so far, especially among younger superstars. Here’s how to be a magnet for top performers.

Employee retention is rising as employers grow increasingly reluctant to lay off workers in a strong labor market.

We seem, at long last, to have recovered from the 2008 economic crash that pushed unemployment rates above Great Depression-era levels.

The U.S. Labor Department recently reported that unemployment claims hit a 43-year low.

It’s a job seeker’s market, and companies have to adapt quickly to keep the talent they have, not to mention work harder to recruit new talent at a time when applicants are spoiled for choice.

It’s the main reason that the tenor of the employee engagement conversation has evolved from emphasizing retention to emphasizing company culture.

Culture basics

The conversation shift is not surprising; in an employee’s market, culture is all any organization can rely on to differentiate itself from its competitors. Every employee expects a competitive salary and benefits. Those are easy to get right.

Developing and adapting your culture to create a truly inviting workplace is harder, but here are some basics:

Document your “culture code.” In a recent webinar on employee happiness we asked attendees how many of them have their culture requirements or “code” written down. Around two-thirds (63 percent) said they didn’t. Do that before anything else; it should be clear, accessible and understandable by everyone. We recommend taking a look at Netflix’s “culture deck” for an example of doing it right. Employees can’t be empowered to make a culture change until the ultimate vision is firmly established by the organization’s leaders.

Give employees avenues to reinforce the desired culture. This is where reward and recognition schemes can help. Design your incentives to reflect, reinforce and refer employees to cultural values, rewarding them repeatedly until the culture-positive behaviors become habit. Great opportunity for communicating and building culture lies in the moment when you are presenting an award or praising an employee for a relevant accomplishment.

Hold everyone accountable to the culture. Words are meaningless without action. You must respond with action when something is undermining your culture. That means holding everyone accountable—even upper managers-for the way they affect the culture daily. If your managers are telling employees about how much the CEO values a positive workplace, then that CEO must consistently embody that desired culture in his attitude and policies. If an employee’s negative behavior has grown to be accepted, that employee no longer gets a free pass. These types of conversations are difficult but ultimately necessary if you are serious about your culture.

This article originally appeared on the Michael C. Fina blog.

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