Many companies, in fact, focus on the needs of their Millennial and Gen Z workers when making culture investment decisions. But Grant Thornton’s Smith suggests leaders should pivot their thinking and instead invest to support top talent across all generational levels. “The status quo of culture is investing in common activities or elements that impact the most number of employees,” he explained. “But if you are actually trying to cater and invest to the lowest common denominator what’s happening to those who are your top performers, those who actually set the pace and tone for your culture of the future?”
He added, “One of the slippery slopes of culture investments is actually putting too much investment in some of the activities that actually keep the lower performers and not the high performers.” As an example, a company may invest in renovating an entire office space to increase overall employee satisfaction but a consequence of that investment may impact the bonuses of the top five percent high performers who may opt to leave the organization.
To make sure culture investments are the right ones, Smith suggests that companies get back to basics. “Companies that are out of touch authentically with who they are tend to invest in areas that might not actually drive the needle. It’s really important for companies to pause before spending or investing in culture and asking that fundamental question: ‘Do we really understand who we are and is that driven by what our customers think of us, what our employees think of us and what executives think of the company they’re leading?’”
Companies with healthy cultures invest in those areas that reinforce their core values and drive bottom-line performance. Google has perhaps one of the most successful and unique cultures. One of the things Google does best is invest in culture elements based on data to make the most accurate decisions it can. From retention algorithms that predict which employees are most likely to leave the company to studies revealing the optimal size and shape of cafeteria tables, Google knows how to gauge its personnel’s efficiency with hard numbers.
Consider the way in which they solved a retention problem with female employees. When they found that women were leaving the company at twice the rate of everyone else, it was discovered that a main issue was with the maternity leave plan for new mothers. When they changed the plan so new mothers could get five months’ paid time off instead of 12 weeks, Google’s attrition rate for women dropped by 50 percent.
Other companies are also investing in culture elements that align clearly with their mission and business strategy. For example, LinkedIn hosts HR hackathons, where employees help break down and rebuild the people and HR functions to reflect both the work they actually do and need to do. Adobe invests in real-time employee feedback programs, strengthens its diversity and inclusion efforts and provides employees access to consumer-grade technologies.
At VMware, tuition reimbursement programs have been revamped to better suit the needs of the company’s employees. Betsy Sutter, Chief People Officer for VMware, explained that a complete overhaul of the employee benefit was needed. “The utilization rate of the program was low. Feedback from employees was that they needed not only our help removing any barriers to participate, but also wanted us to expand the learning choices made available to them.”
Following the redesign of the program, VMware employees can now access allocated dollars and apply it to whatever learning pursuit they want. “It was just a different approach to the program,” Sutter said. “We said, ’Look, we want you to learn. We want you to grow. We want you to determine what works for you and give you the choice and flexibility.”
Five culture investments
that matterEvery company culture is unique. It should map to the organization’s defined vision and goals. Investing in the right culture elements will help ensure the organization can generate true ROI from its culture initiatives. Based on Grant Thornton’s research, here are five key culture elements that matter most to employees. Once you’ve designed your culture strategy, consider how these elements can contribute to a healthy culture that drives business results.
- Cultivate better collaboration
Today’s employees value collaboration across the company and across their teams. Less than half rate collaboration across the company effective and fewer than a third are satisfied with collaboration with their team. Find ways to provide opportunities for deeper collaboration, idea sharing and feedback from management.
- Training and development
Compensation isn’t the only thing that matters to current generations of workers. They also hunger for increased opportunities to learn and advance in their careers. Focus on creating defined career paths or opportunities for advancement that will allow employees to remain fully engaged.
- Communicate and reinforce company vision
Employees today value a sense of purpose, something that can be supported tied to a company’s core vision. While 76% of executives believe they frequently communicate their value system, only 31% of employees agree. Without a clear purpose, people get distracted and disengaged. Make sure your company vision is authentic and addresses who you are and intend to be. Reinforce the vision message frequently and consistently.
- Work life fit
The ability to disconnect after hours and work flexible hours is at the top of the wish list for nearly half of employees surveyed. Work at incorporating more flexibility in your organization’s structure to provide employees the opportunity to achieve better work life fit.
- Benefits that matter
Review the benefits and perks your company provides to determine which ones have very low participation rates and identify any significant gaps in employee needs.
Investing in those culture elements that matter will help ensure your organization is building a healthy culture needed to thwart inevitable disruptions, attract top talent and differentiate in the marketplace. Ultimately, the best measure of any healthy culture is the competitive advantage it provides.
Is your company investing wisely in culture?
Take Grant Thornton’s culture benchmarking survey to determine your company’s current areas of strengths and weaknesses. Designed to accommodate any given company’s unique profile, the benchmarking tool tests current performance against five key drivers that lead to healthier cultures including: workplace environment; direct investment in employees, diversity, sense of community and value systems.