Gone are the days of start-ups in Silicon Valley with Michelin starred chefs cooking lunch for the employees. Gone are the days of offices without desks and chairs, but beanbags and foosball tables. Gone are the days of PlayStations connected to 65-inch TV screens with a cluster of employees huddled around.
These perks were never sustainable perks in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong, they can contribute momentarily to a good atmosphere and a nice working environment.
However, the problem is, their impact doesn’t last; as people become accustomed to them their value wanes, and people want and demand more from the employer.
Moreover, these types of perks were not what employees really demanded from their employer in the first place when it came to corporate culture.
These types of perks have been seen to be superficial, and were often put in place to compensate for other more critical cultural deficiencies which really should be addressed by management teams.
Research indicates very clearly that employees want to work in companies with great corporate cultures, but that foosball tables and private chefs don’t make the culture. Rather, positive and sustainable workplace cultures are created by having four key perks:
- A sense of meaning and purpose in the work
- Opportunities for personal and professional development
- Great senior leadership
- The ability to speak up and share views
A sense of meaning and purpose in the work
We can see that 64% of millennials won’t take a job if their employer doesn’t have a strong sense of corporate social responsibility, and Gen Z is the first generation to prioritize purpose over salary.
People need to know that their role and their work is contributing to something more powerful and impactful than just what they are delivering as an individual.
If we think about Nike, for example, which has a purpose to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (that is to say everyone with a body)” or Patagonia which has a purpose to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”, you can see two companies here very clear on purpose, and powerful purposes at that.
But the best companies don’t just have a great purpose, they also spend time and commit to having their people understand the company strategy, the structure, the organization, and help them understand how their personal goals are linked to the team and companies.
These are the companies who are attracting the best talent, talent that is motivated to contribute to something great.
Opportunities for personal and professional development
People are the only appreciating asset that a company has; the other assets like plant and machinery will depreciate with time. So, companies need to take good care of their people, build skills, and offer opportunities for career growth.
Employees cite, time and time again, that they want to work in environments which promote continuous learning and have well defined career paths for them.
Companies which are winning in this space are typically offering i) training programs linked to the specific needs of well-defined cohorts with opportunities for job movements or promotions upon completion, ii) providing mentoring and coaching for employees so they develop new skills or gain fresh perspectives, iii) encouraging job rotations and job swaps across business units, divisions or countries, and, iv) are promoting a culture of continuous learning: explaining the importance of regular learning, and offering digital methods for employees to gain new skills.
Great senior leadership
The role of a leader when it comes to work, and company culture cannot be underestimated.
The typical mentality of a leader in decades gone by was to push for business performance, productivity, and output at all costs. But now, employees and leaders themselves are changing, with expectations rising.
A leaders’ role is now much more about how they create a place where people can go to work every day, and make a contribution to something bigger than themselves, they feel safe, and they have a chance for growth.
Culture cannot be outsourced to someone else; people need to see leaders walking the talk and those who live the culture are the ones who are being followed.
Satya Nadella at Microsoft is one such example of a CEO who really lived the culture of the company, he turned Microsoft from a “know it all” company, to a “learn it all” company – where leaders changed their mentality from having all the answers and being right all the time, to leaders who admitted mistakes, learnt from them and explored new boundaries. Those are the environments, and the types of leaders people want to work for.
The ability to speak up and share views
Leaders don’t have all the answers – the people do. So, listening is a critical skill for a company but first you need to be able to have people speak up and share their views.
Great companies are fostering environments where there is psychological safety: that is to say there is an environment where people can speak up without fear of being ridiculed, failure, or punishment.
There are five top tips for ensuring psychological safety in companies:
- Hold, and celebrate courageous conversations – to build a culture of openness.
- Remove ambiguity, mismatches, and threats – to make it explicit and clear about your expectations in the workplace.
- Be empathetic and curious – to make it safe to listen, learn and care about differing views.
- Don’t rush to give advice – to give people a chance to solve their problems first, empower them.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities – so people know what they are responsible for, so they protect, guard and deliver successful results.
Once you have built safety, and people are willing to speak up it becomes a question of how to capture and act upon all the feedback.
I suggest the top companies are implementing what I call “continuous response and action” strategies. They listen continuously, and act upon the feedback.
And typically they are using a number of offline (conversational) methods to capture feedback and views, and also online methods such as i) pulse surveys – a short set of questions on a rotating basis sent to employees, ii) crowdsourcing – a highly interactive way to gain feedback on a specific topic, iii) 360 feedback – to capture multi-directional feedback, and, iv) exit interviews – to understand motivations for people’s change in career path.
If you consistently focus on these four perks you will begin to unleash a company culture to be proud of, and one that your employees will too.