Building a Workplace Culture That Inspires Greatness

Monday, October 2, 2017
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"The HR function is the biggest influencer of culture outside the CEO." When SHRM Conference keynote speaker Kat Cole spoke those words, she'd been seeing what we're all seeing. The business world is hungry for workplace cultures that bring out the very best in people -- and the responsibility to shape and create those cultures rests clearly on the shoulders of HR. Not only that, but all of today's biggest HR problems and opportunities, from recruiting great talent, to inspiring and engaging employees, to keeping top performers in the fold, depend on getting culture right.

Forbes reports that 92 percent of C-suite leaders believe improving culture will improve company value. But where to begin? There are books, training, software, conferences, seminars, perks and more, each promising to help you improve culture. But let's start with a question instead: What exactly is culture?

Let's Define Culture

Culture is a company's soul. It encompasses your organization's purpose, values, stories, behaviors, symbols, leaders, interactions and brand personality. Culture is powerful. As Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, said: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." If it's done right, culture can define your organization and catapult it to greatness and success. If done poorly, culture can ruin your organization, creating disengaged employees who lack passion and drive, and send your best talent running out the door. But what does an engaging workplace culture look like? Hint: It's all about aligning what the company cares about most with what people care about most.

Companies everywhere want innovation, differentiation and success. Ironically, employees want those things too. In fact, people leave companies because they don't feel enabled to innovate, make a difference or experience success. An engaging culture is one that invites people to do meaningful things, provides them with support, encouragement and resources to do them, and tops it all off by celebrating when goals are achieved and victories are won. A good question to ask is, does your workplace culture enable or inhibit greatness?

What Does a Great Company Culture Look Like?

To help your workplace enable greatness, it's important to focus time and resources on those things that will impact the desirability of your culture the most. The O.C. Tanner Institute just completed a groundbreaking study of more than 10,000 employees across the globe that discovered six key things a company needs to excel at to have a great corporate culture: purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well-being and leadership. We call them talent magnets, because they are the attributes employees look for in a great place to work.

  1. Purpose. Purpose is the journey your company is on. It's why you exist.

Unfortunately, only 54 percent of respondents say their organization's purpose motivates them.

  2. Opportunity. Opportunity means to learn, to grow, to feel challenged. Nearly 50 percent of employees believe their skills are underutilized in their current role.

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  3. Success. Success means doing meaningful, impactful work that makes a difference.

Sadly, 42 percent of employees say goals and accomplishments go unnoticed.

  4. Appreciation. Appreciation is acknowledgement for doing great work.

 Only 43 percent say their organization rewards high performing employees.

  5. Well-being. Well-being is the feeling that the company cares about its employees.

Thirty-six percent of employees believe their situation at work is hurting their ability to be happy in other aspects of their life.

  6. Leadership. Leadership is mentorship and guidance. More than one in four employees do not trust their direct manager. Thirty-five percent do not trust senior leaders. The numbers show there is room for improvement in all six talent magnets in organizations around the globe. A good place to start is by measuring where your organization is in each aspect of a great workplace culture.

Culture will happen at your workplace whether you want it to or not. So you might as well create a workplace people love; a place where ideas flow freely, progress comes easily and people wake up excited to come to work each morning.

Everything you do in HR -- how you recruit, onboard, engage, develop and keep your talent -- is a reflection of culture. As an HR leader, you can influence greatness in your organization by making sure your workplace culture excels in the areas of purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well-being and leadership.

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