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Annette Alexander

WP Engine

Chief People Officer

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Company culture: how to create a more engaged, diverse and better equipped workforce


Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace are sounding the alarm, according to Deloitte’s seventh annual Millennial Survey. Their confidence in businesses’ motivations and ethics, as well as their sense of loyalty to their employers is deteriorating.

Furthermore, younger generations are not yet optimistic about their readiness for industry 4.0.

It’s clear that something needs to change if these employees are to remain engaged, but how can business leaders start to turn things around?

Here are five ways that organisations can retain these new swathes of employees, improve workplace culture and prepare their workforce for tomorrow’s challenges.

1. Encourage lifelong learners

Despite the need for training being widely acknowledged, there remains a huge disconnect between the need to keep ahead of new technologies and skills requirements and the actual investment organisations are making to support their employees.

In a recent survey by Open University Business School, only 20% of learning and development decision makers said their businesses deliver consistent learning programmes across geographies, and 40% of international organisations don’t even have a global strategy for learning.

On the positive side, for these same L&D decision-makers:

  • 62% see global/international learning programmes as the future
  • 94% said they would be increasing their investment in international learning programmes over the next year – they see this as impacting people, profit and performance
  • Over 50% believe that in-depth global learning programmes attract talent from across the world

So is a ‘sink or swim’ culture better than one that sets employees up for success? Businesses can’t truly create an environment of innovation if they aren’t investing in their employees to better themselves.

Creating a performance feedback culture starts with putting in place measures to encourage dialogue between employees.

Continuous learning and development builds careers and creates pathways for new skill sets and promotions. It opens doors for individuals’ futures. For those capable of taking on larger roles, it’s important they’re recognised and promoted.

There are many areas of training, ranging from technical to soft skills, in order to make your employees more well rounded and equipped for new challenges.

When bringing new members into the team, consider taking several days out so they can be familiarised with your company’s story and values and have had a chance to meet your executive team.

Thorough training can take many weeks, as employees will often need technical onboarding where they work side-by-side with the technologists, but they’ll also need soft skills training to understand the right tone and style – after all, they’ll need to know how to make customers feel engaged, supported and heard.

Meanwhile, manager training will help guide employees as they move into more senior roles and learn what it means to be a leader in your organisation.

2. Create a feedback culture

Just receiving training alone isn’t enough – a critical part of learning and growing is through feedback. Everyone needs to know how they are performing in their role and what expectations they are or aren’t meeting.

Despite this, many employees can feel unsure where they stand amongst their teams and how they can continue to grow their roles. In many cases, an annual performance review just isn’t good enough.

Creating a performance feedback culture starts with putting in place measures to encourage dialogue between employees.

These could include weekly manager check-ins to address any short-term concerns, frequent career growth conversations which map out the different paths an employee can take within the company, and 360 feedback which gathers input from managers, peers and direct reports to give a holistic view of an employee.

If you’re already doing all of these, perhaps consider increasing the frequency or length of these meetings to really dig deep into the employee’s story and build better transparency.

3. Improve transparency

It’s equally important to ensure that employees and managers have simple, easy ways to catalogue their discussions, their accomplishments and their goals. There are a number of continuous performance management software providers with excellent solutions in this regard.

More extensive feedback points to a larger need to have high levels of transparency across your organisation.

A transparent culture connects employees to the ‘why’ when decisions are made and they can better understand your established processes. This could impact everything including net churn and net promoter scores.

The respondents of Deloitte’s survey are clear in their demands: business leaders must be proactive in solving the world’s problems. 

When you commit to transparency and open communication, having everyone aligned around the brand ensures that all employees hear what’s really going on and leads to organisational consistency around goals.

With the same messages resonating across the entire employee base, employees are motivated to respond in tandem.

Transparency leads to faster, more efficient execution. Imagine total alignment in all areas of your company, from marketing, sales, product, HR, finance, customer support and others, all understanding exactly what’s required and acting in a coordinated and collaborative fashion.

4. Grow diversity with diversity

The benefits of diversity speak for themselves: according to a McKinsey report Delivering Through Diversity, companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.

Essentially the same goes for gender diversity, with companies in the top quartile for gender diversity being 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.

From diversity of ideas, to beliefs, and people – diversity comes in many forms and it’s important to embrace them all.

There are some practical things you can do to help open your doors wider, starting by rethinking your hiring process to remove stigma internally.

Consider omitting applicants’ names from the CV, their submissions and any technical exercises to ensure there is no bias.

Decision-makers can avoid groupthink by gathering feedback via email first before meeting to discuss candidates.

Organisations can also broaden their job descriptions. Too often companies can be overly specific about who they want to hire (an X person with Y number of years in the Z industry).

It’s been said that women only apply for a role if they meet 100% of requirements, while men will apply if they meet 60%. As you slice and dice, you get only a sliver of the talent pool. Pilot different methods and find what works for you.

5. Integrate cultures

One of the motivating factors for any employee is being part of a growing global business. As companies grow internationally, they must work out the best way of scaling the culture.

This is sometimes the case with US technology companies that are creating smaller European offices. There’s too-often the mentality that ‘if it works at corporate, it should work here too’.

Organisations need to integrate new locations rather than making the location an afterthought and neglecting local laws, customs and business practices.

Consider exchange programmes that send employees from the headquarters and from your other offices on short-term assignments. Investing in face-to-face time across locations and building broader understanding globally can make a huge difference to your organisational culture.

Take the time to get to know your employees and value the importance of building relationships.

Be proactive, purposeful, diverse, and caring

The respondents of Deloitte’s survey are clear in their demands: business leaders must be proactive in solving the world’s problems. They must rethink organisations’ motives and move from just focusing on profits to balancing social concerns. They must be more diverse, flexible and caring with their employees.

If people and relationships are the bedrock of a successful workplace culture, one in which employees want to stay and thrive, business leaders must leverage the best of employee engagement practices to guide their organisation through these new challenges.

Interested in reading more about cultivating a positive company culture? Check out the HRZone company culture hub, with all the latest thinking, advice and expert opinion on this topic. 

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Annette Alexander

Chief People Officer

Read more from Annette Alexander

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