Company Culture and People Engagement

Creating a positive and engaging company culture can sometimes be tricky, but is well worth the focus as it is becoming an increasingly important factor at work – especially for Millennials.

Red paper cut out in the shape of men, holding hands in a lineDeloitte’s recent Global Human Capital Trends 2015 says that engagement, retention and company culture is the highest priority HR issue for firms. Being able to connect positively is more important than things like strategy and performance to Millennials.

Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s onwards. They are a fascinating group, radically different from my generation.

  • I am 48 and started my career with a clear focus on working hard for one organisation over an extended period, gaining a professional qualification and progressing in my career. 27 years later I have worked for 3 firms, qualified as an accountant, and now chair the group I founded
  • We recently placed a 28 year old with a professional service firm. He has been there 18 months, has had a great experience, but now wants a new challenge. This is his fourth job; each has been very different (all stimulating).

This generational shift is fundamental to the way firms need to interact with this new generation. Millennials (from my perspective) are a quixotic mix of drive, determination and energy balanced by a desire for many experiences, a balanced life and a desire to do good. This means that Millennials are less easy to manage than Generation X, because they do not fit into convenient pigeon holes. Conversely, the wide range of experience and attitudes make them more valuable to organisations.

This means that company culture is well worth focus. The benefits of getting it right are huge and have a major positive impact on how you work, how your people work and on engagement. Culture changes can directly influence productivity, customer satisfaction, employee turnover and can increase revenue.

But, culture is a really tough thing to focus on and make changes to. It is pervasive and organic, which means it can be very difficult to influence. The definition used by Deloitte is “Culture is a system of values, beliefs and behaviours that influence how work gets done within the organisation.” This definition is a good start as it helps suggest where change should start.

Engagement starts from the top. Leaders set the tone, and start to impact the culture of an organisation by:

  • Acting as role models
  • Setting out policies; what needs to be complied with and what are your procedures
  • Establish compensation structures and how performance is measured
  • Implementing recruitment and retention policies
  • On-boarding and induction
  • Structure and reporting.

This is clearly not intended as an exhaustive list, merely a start.

But, establishing company culture then re-enforcing it, developing it and sustaining it is a two way process. The tone may be set from the top (often by Generation X) but it is received by all of the people in your organisation, and it is these people (often Millennials) who carry the message forward.

This carrying of the message means that one of the most impactful things in setting and explaining culture, are the stories that people in an organisation tell about the behaviour and beliefs of the top team. Stories of great things and sometimes of bad behaviours.

Some examples are negative, for example the executive toilets on the top floor of one HQ, were purported to have individual pegs, with name-tags, on which hung every executive’s towel. This kind of excess can quickly disengage more humble staff.

But some examples are really positive! A friend worked for the CEO of a large supermarket chain. He spent 4 days a week visiting stores, talking to staff and customers. He took meticulous care of store presentation, for example he would turn cans of beans around so all the labels faced the front, after all Retail is Detail. His attention to detail and care about the customer experience were known by every team member and they followed his example.

Culture may be a hard thing to grasp, but it is vital to success. For Millennials it is as important as career progression and status.

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