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How are individuals the soul of your company?

Attracting and retaining top talent with core cultural values


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According to Deloitte/Bersin’s 2018 report “The Rise of the Individual in the Future of Work,” companies with a strong mission and purpose outperformed the S&P 500 by eight times over a 20-year period. These companies, they say, have “soul.” What does that mean? I would venture to say that in these companies, every employee matters in a culture that values purpose, passion, character, collaboration and respect for the individual. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what employees say they want.

A company is, after all, a collection of individuals. We just haven’t recognized it before. Historically, mandates came down from above along with rules about even the smallest of things, like the notorious example of IBM prohibiting men wearing anything but white shirts. Today’s young workers demand something entirely different. They want their individual needs, growth and interests addressed and they’ll use their power in the marketplace to force change. Older employees are jumping on this bandwagon, too. Companies that want to attract and retain the best people need to become more like the best companies.

The road to becoming one of the best begins with a deep look inside the walls of your company as well as into the wider world to understand what engages your employees and what concerns them. Making the necessary changes to meet today’s workplace expectations will increase your financial outcomes. Ignoring them could mean a hit to your reputation on social media by a single unhappy individual, whether it be a job candidate, employee or customer.

What to look for in the soul of your company

With the individual becoming paramount, companies need to navigate a range of employee needs and expectations to identify ways they can offer employees customized experiences.

Following is a list of the major things today’s multi-generational workforce says they pay attention to when deciding where to work or whether they’ll stay. As you look into your company’s soul, rate your culture on these factors to better understand where you are now and where you need to be:

  • Purpose and mission
  • Recognition-rich culture and strong values
  • Meaningful work and the autonomy to do it
  • A flexible, healthy and humane work environment that’s diverse, inclusive and collaborative
  • Trusted and inspirational leadership developed through transparency, communication and investment in people
  • Hands-on management committed to goal setting; coaching and frequent feedback; and professional and leadership development
  • Reskilling and upskilling opportunities and a say in defining their own development plans
  • Freedom and space to explore and innovate
  • Project/team orientation rather than hierarchy
  • Work assigned based on expertise rather than job descriptions and titles
  • Respect as an individual rather than treated as a resource
  • Regular check-ins and feedback in all directions
  • Frequent review of compensation
  • Use of data to measure performance
  • Work-life balance

It’s a lot to consider, but if you figure all of this out and apply it in your own unique way, you can transform your company into an irresistible organization and crush your competition.

Employees used to climb the corporate ladder, usually over decades of employment with the same company before retiring with a pension and gold watch. Today, the median tenure is 4.2 years (or less for younger generations), as people swing from job to job looking for a better work environment — or just because they can in this fierce talent market.

As Bersin puts it: “Individuals are telling employers, ‘I’m not going to take it anymore.’” What they can’t take may be what you offer. Take an honest look at your culture and values; listen to your employees; and shift your thinking to our new reality, individualism. Repeat this process annually and all boats will rise.

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle; How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards, including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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