Culture chameleons

How to change workplace culture to attract new recruits
by Bethan Rees

The culture, or working environment, of a business can set it apart from competitors, making it an attractive prospect for new recruits and affecting employee engagement. Susan M Heathfield, a management and organisation development consultant, defines what workplace culture means in an article for The Balance Careers and explains that “employees are motivated and most satisfied when their needs and values are consistent with those manifested in workplace culture”. In a Harvard Business Review article, Bryan Walker and Sarah A Soule describe the characteristics of company culture. “Culture is like the wind. It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficult.”

A blog by Rob Steffens for marketing agency Bluleadz gives examples of good company cultures. HubSpot, a developer and marketer for inbound marketing software, has a culture of “team members [having] their voices heard” and a focus “on the best fit for both talent and clients”, whereas Argentinian online marketplace operator MercadoLibre prides itself on employee autonomy. 

ERC, a US-based firm that helps organisations with HR resources, training for employees and managers and consulting services, explains why workplace culture is so important on its HR insights blog. It lists reasons such as attracting talent, stating that “job candidates evaluate your organisation and its climate” and that a “strong, positive, clearly defined and well-communicated culture attracts talent that fits”. The blog also describes how culture can drive engagement and retention and can impact happiness and satisfaction. “It affects performance,” it reports. “Organisations with stronger cultures outperform their competitors financially and are generally more successful.”

In a blog for HR People + Strategy, a network for HR executives, Don Rust, former plant manager at General Motors, and Alan Weinstein, an organisational psychologist, who co-authored a book titled Unleashing human energy through culture change, argue that there is a “compelling need for change”. They write: “It has become a buyers’ market for job seekers, and the cost of recruiting and retaining talented people has gone up. This poses a dilemma for companies that have traditional cultures built on the values and policies that fail to offer job applicants and talented but highly sought-after employees the kind of work environment they desire.

“We believe any company that seeks job applicants from the available pool of talented job seekers will need to change its culture if it is to have any chance of filling its jobs. And we believe that talented employees will be attracted to companies that have cultures that they want to work in, thus making employee retention a major issue. In sum, an organisation’s culture is becoming a competitive advantage for both recruiting and retaining talent.”
Making the changeIf a business is considering changing its culture, the first move to implement this should involve taking a step back and understanding what the current culture is and why it is such. 

In another article for The Balance Careers, Heathfield suggests becoming an impartial observer. She writes: “Look at the employees and their interaction in your organisation with the eye of an outsider. Pretend you are an anthropologist observing a group that you have never seen before … Ask yourself questions such as: How do people interact with each other? How are conflicts resolved (and are there conflicts)? How do senior leaders interact with middle managers and employees? How do middle managers interact with reporting employees?” Observing and noting such behaviours will help you figure out what the current culture is, and will help inform how you envision it changing for the better. 
Where does the business want to go?A company should decide the direction it wants to take its culture in and then devise a strategy of how to get there. A business should ask itself: What values are important to be represented in the culture? For example, is respect high on the agenda, or are accountability and personal responsibility key? Once the values have been decided, a company needs to commit to them.

Elizabeth Doty, founder of Leadership Momentum, a consultancy that focuses on the practical challenges of maintaining organisational commitment, recommends focusing on the practical changes by employees to help with implementing the changes, in a blog for strategy+business. “People don’t commit to words on a wall. To be truly committed, your employees need to know: How do these guidelines translate into everyday behaviour? What do these values mean we will do … or won’t do? What will the priority be when we have to choose?” she writes. 

To add to this, writer Jennn Fusion suggests getting employees on your side, in an article for the Houston Chronicle’s website. She references a book by W Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, Blue ocean strategy. The book explains that people have difficulty understanding why change is necessary, so in order to address this, the dangers of inaction should be explained to them. 
Sustainable changeChanging the culture of an entire business is a big task, so it’s better to start small, reports Anna Johansson in an article for “It’s important to start with the individuals in the company and move from there. After all, if the people within an organisation don’t change, the company itself can never change,” she writes. She quotes Dr Jonathan Kirschner, CEO of AIIR Consulting, an executive coaching firm, who says that sustaining the change is more difficult than the change itself. “Anyone who has tried to eliminate a bad habit or modify an unwanted behaviour is aware of this truth,” he says. In order to sustain the change, Johansson suggests setting short-term goals to see “steady, consistent change. Gather your leadership team and develop a list of specific, tangible changes you want to see in the workplace culture. Examples include showing up on time, having lower-level employees seek out more responsibilities, [and] fostering creativity”. By taking it one step at a time, you’ll see the short-term goals building on each other and you can then push your company for more long-term sustainable change. 

To encourage the change, it’s also important that its supported by senior or executive staff “beyond verbal assent” writes Heathfield in a third article on the topic. “They must show support for culture change by changing their own behaviour,” she says. For example, if one of the short-term goals for change is punctuality, simply make sure the senior staff are also abiding by this. 
Finally, be patient A culture transformation doesn’t happen overnight. A culture may have been embedded for decades and it will take people time to adjust to change. Making sure all employees are aware and involved in the culture change will help it remain at the forefront of their minds.

What is a desirable workplace culture to you? Leave your comments below. 
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Published: 04 Oct 2019
  • Soft Skills
  • The Review
  • Career Development
  • company values
  • workplace culture
  • Career advice

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