What is culture, anyway?

Stephen Quinn, CEO and co-founder of Jobbio discusses the issue of culture – an oft used term that means different things to different people, and which five things he believes really make a difference to employment, engagement and retention.

Culture, Culture, Culture. A word that’s being bandied about by companies big and small. It has come to light in recent years, that ‘culture’ is a key element of organisational success. You need advertise your company ’culture’ to attract talent, find the right ‘cultural’ fit when recruiting employees and you need to embed the right ‘cultural’ norms into how you operate in order to retain them. As a result, all manner of jobs are opening up for experts in employee engagement as companies (tech ones especially)  to attract top talent and keep them happy in the job.


Culture and superficial perks are not the same thing!

What is ‘culture’? Many companies, and especially rapidly growing startups, make the somewhat false assumption that cultural wins come from superficial perks – games rooms, zen gardens and branded loot (from skateboards to iPads) are all dangled enticingly at candidates, subconsciously suggesting ‘We’re a fun place to work’. But, as with all materialistic gains, the novelty of Things wears off rapidly, and these are a mere marketing ploy. Once the gloss is gone, reality sets in. A job is a job, is a job. Just because there’s an entire floor dedicated to ‘sleeping pods’ doesn’t mean anyone has the balls to hop in one and take a nap!

No, creating excellent company culture is no mean feat. It gets harder as a company grows and is easily thwarted if early hires become managers due to their tenure and not their technical or people skills. Being honest and authentic is what makes your company unique, what challenges you face and what the ‘not so fun side’ looks like is just as important as showcasing the office Christmas party.

So what are the cultural efforts you can embrace in order to tick the box as a great place to work? Here’s my top 5 ‘cultural’ wins that an organisation can use to attract and keep top talent today:


Freedom of Expression:

Most people do not respond well to ‘keeping it to themselves’. We’re creative thinkers who like to problem solve and invent and need to feel supported in ‘thinking outside the box’. An organisation that invites contribution, encourages creative thinking and allows its employees to take risks and make mistakes without fear of retribution is a big win for graduate hires… (How many of Facebook ‘Fail Better’ quotes are framed and placed precariously on office desks today?!).


Flat Structure:

Ambitious people fancy themselves as CEO’s-to-be – many consider themselves to be on a par with their boss from day one. Therefore, ‘top down’ management styles aren’t appealing – people want regular, direct and mostly informal access to everyone in the organisation, regardless of title. Weekly catch ups with long term management, whole team open forum meetings and lunch with the founder, or CEO on a work anniversary or birthday – these efforts go a long way to helping employees feels valued. They need to feel a sense of camaraderie with those at the top of the food chain and the chance to feel part of decision process.


Implementation of Feedback:

If someone isn’t happy, or feels as though an improvement could be made to a product, service or office policy they want to be encouraged to voice their concern, they want it taken seriously and they want to see change implemented, quickly. Too much red tape is frustrating and unless you can offer a solid counter argument as to why their idea isn’t an excellent one, they expect to see results. Regular surveys and ‘town hall’ meetings are an excellent way to demonstrate that you’re open to feedback and operate with transparency – all of which matter to graduates today.


‘Never Stop Learning’ Mentality

People should be encouraged to constantly grow and develop. Humans have high levels of curiosity and like to explore, experiment and learn continuously. A company that shows dedication to furthering the education and skill development of its employees is as important as paying them well, and they want to avail of regular courses – not only to help them do their job better, but to develop as people as well. Leadership, Public Speaking, Managing Stress and Presentation Skills are some of the non-technical programmes that graduates will appreciate being offered. Another great initiative is to develop a mentoring programme, enlisting senior staff who will buddy-up with new recruits, show them the ropes and be a listening ear to bounce ideas off.


Manager Development

Often thrust into positions of power because they’ve been around the longest, but with little or no people management skills, a team leader or manager who doesn’t understand how their underlings tick is the most common reason for rapid turnover. It’s key that organisations encourage soft skill development of those in leadership roles. Technical experience doesn’t automatically equate to leadership ability. The chances are, the longer someone has been in the company, the more they’re going to need the help.


What about the rest of the ‘new perks’?

Munificent operational norms such as flexible working schedules, unlimited time off policies, pet friendly offices, generous (and gender neutral) parental leave and competitive salaries are also marks of excellence when it comes to creating a culture of trust, respect and acknowledgment for work-life balance.

As for the rest?  Pack up your ping pong table and tone down your primary colours. Nurturing people from the inside out is the true recipe for company cultural success.

Author: Editorial Team

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