Employees expect more from their employers than ever before. Expectations were heightened long before the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 global uprising against racial injustice. But these historical events dramatically accelerated employee expectations and left lasting changes to organizational culture.
Organizations must look at factors deeper than salary if they hope to attract and retain today’s top talent. High salaries can attract some employees. But if organizations lack the culture employees seek, they’ll struggle to keep employees long-term. Savvy organizations are exploring how to cultivate human-centric cultures that are healthy, values-driven, inclusive, and grounded in trust and appreciation.
6 Elements of Organizational Culture
Companies don’t “own” organizational culture, but they can influence it with strategic investments. Investments in the following six elements of organizational culture can shape strong cultures capable of attracting and retaining today’s purpose-driven talent.
Cultivating a healthier culture starts with leaders doing an honest assessment of the current culture at their organization. They must identify where the culture fails to meet employee and marketplace expectations and uncover strengths they can continue to build upon.
This honest reflection requires empathetic and relatable leaders. These attributes help leaders more effectively assess the culture and build trust and credibility across the organization. Strong organizational culture relies heavily on trust: trust in leaders, managers, and colleagues and trust that the company will do as it says.
Leaders must also:
- Be accessible, authentic, open and transparent
- Have strong communication and listening skills
- Prioritize two-way communication by listening to employees and opening the door for an honest back-and-forth dialogue
- Consistently reinforce the organization’s purpose, mission and values through both words and actions
2. Purpose and values
Sixty-five percent of employees surveyed by Gartner said the COVID-19 pandemic made them reassess work’s place in their life. People aren’t willing to stay in unfulfilling roles. They want their work to mean something.
Purpose, mission and values should authentically reflect how the organization operates and what it aims to achieve. Employees will quickly call out an employer who says one thing but acts another way. However, when employees believe in the organization’s purpose, they’re more likely to be engaged, motivated and retained — and more capable of helping the organization achieve its purpose or mission.
Shaping a purpose-driven culture that more deeply connects employees to their work requires organizations to:
- Get clear about their reason for being (purpose/mission)
- Adopt a framework for bringing their purpose or mission to life through actions and behaviors (values)
- Clearly communicate the purpose, mission, and values and act accordingly
- Regularly share tangible examples of employees’ roles in the organization’s success
3. Employee empowerment
Employees want to contribute and make an impact. They want their employers to trust and appreciate them and give them the space they need to work when, where and how it works best for them. Organizations empower employees when they provide them with flexibility, autonomy and respect. Empowered employees are more creative and innovative. The organizational culture is stronger as a result.
Organizations can build a culture of empowerment by:
- Providing flexible work arrangements, including location flexibility (e.g., remote, hybrid and work from anywhere) and schedule flexibility (e.g., flextime, compressed work week, shifted start-stop times, part-time schedules, job sharing and more)
- Demonstrating appreciation for employee contributions through rewards, recognition, compensation and benefits
- Encouraging managers and peers to provide employees with frequent and meaningful feedback
4. Holistic and inclusive well-being
Employees are burnt out, and employers play a significant role in helping them return to a stronger state of well-being. Employers must invest in employees’ holistic well-being—particularly the well-being of diverse employee groups who too often face discrimination and experience a disproportionate amount of workplace stress.
Organizations can make holistic and inclusive well-being foundational and authentic to their culture by:
- Investing in resources and tools that support employees’ physical, emotional and mental health
- Reinforcing business norms that promote healthy culture, including regular business hours, meeting-free days, recommended daily breaks, PTO usage and ideas for connecting informally with colleagues
- Evaluating diversity, equity and inclusion programs to assess whether all employees feel supported to be their authentic selves at work regardless of whether they work on-site, remotely or a combination of the two
- Ensuring equity and inclusion is not just touted in hiring practices, but is also ingrained throughout all business practices and reflected in the culture
5. Professional development & growth opportunities
Employees are often leaving jobs if they don’t see professional growth and advancement opportunities in an organization. Employers that provide clarity on advancement paths and support professional development and growth are more likely to retain their employees. Growth cultures also contribute to higher rates of innovation because employees feel encouraged to learn new things, take risks and explore new ways to solve problems.
Organizations can shape a growth culture by:
- Activating professional development frameworks that include financial support and time allocations
- Offering coaching and internal advancement programs
- Intentionally developing young talent by encouraging mentorship connections and strong onboarding programs
- Rethinking how they create growth and connection opportunities in today’s hybrid and remote work environments, especially for young talent who may need more hands-on mentorship
Communication is foundational to a strong organizational culture. Communication is how organizations engage employees, keep a pulse on the employee experience, and activate new programs and offerings that ultimately influence the culture (including the five other elements of organizational culture listed in this article). Communication also helps employers build trust with employees. When employers communicate well, employees have the clarity necessary to be informed, confident and engaged.
Organizations can build a trusting and healthy culture with communication by:
- Having an internal communication strategy aligned to the organization’s purpose and values
- Investing in communication training for leaders and managers and identifying employee influencers capable of championing the culture and values
- Listening to employees by asking them questions, providing space for employee input, and taking time to reflect on what they have to say
- Adopting the tools and channels necessary to frequently reach out, listen to and engage all employees, regardless of when, where and how they work
Businesses today face complex challenges. Amid constant change, one thing prevails: The ability to attract and retain top talent is the most critical factor influencing an organization’s success or failure. Businesses that invest in these six elements of organizational culture will thrive.