Closing the Culture Gap: What Your Employees Want May Not Be What You Deliver

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There is plenty of water cooler chat about organizational culture these days, but this important topic still finds itself at the bottom of the boardroom agenda. This is a risky oversight, as cultural time bombs are ticking away in many organizations.

A recent survey from PwC assessing worker attitudes in 50 countries found that “employees feel less positive about their workplace cultures than their employers.” Moreover, 80 percent of respondents said their organizational cultures would have to evolve in the next five years if their companies were to continue growing, succeeding, and retaining top talent.

To prevent your organization from being blindsided by a cultural crisis, take some time now to asses your culture and address any brewing issues before it is too late.

Revealing Your Ideal Culture Gap

If you want to build an organizational culture that attracts and retains talent, you must first understand where you’re currently at and where you need to be. In other words, you need to measure the gap between your current culture and your ideal culture — a.k.a., your ideal culture gap.

To assess this gap, start by establishing what your employees want. The simplest way to do this is to survey existing employees about the working conditions, benefits, and other items they value most. It’s a good idea to survey candidates in your talent pipeline to get a handle on what job seekers want from your company as well. Consider bringing the subject up informally during the interview, sending out a job-seeker survey, or gathering insight from a third-party study. For example, Renaix’s recent survey  of 5,000 job seekers found flexible work (cited by 40 percent of respondents), career development (19 percent), and generous annual leave (12 percent) to be among the most desired workplace benefits.

By conducting pulse surveys, exit interviews, and engagement surveys, you can find out how employees feel about important engagement and retention factors like pay, benefits, ways of working, etc. The difference between what your employees and job seekers want and what the company delivers constitutes your ideal culture gap. Narrowing that gap is not simply about acquiescing to the demands of employees and candidates. It needs to be win-win, which means your cultural interventions should simultaneously improve performance, recruiting, and retention.

Establish a Baseline

You’ll need to demonstrate to decision-makers how your new culture initiatives will actually benefit the business. This will secure stakeholder buy-in, which you’ll need if you want the budget to actually make cultural improvements.

The simplest way to make your case is to take a snapshot of some key metrics at the outset. This will establish a baseline to work from. Some key metrics on jobs data to consider tracking:

  1. Staff turnover/retention rate
  2. Offer-to-acceptance ratio
  3. Cost per hire
  4. Time to hire
  5. Quality of hire
  6. Engagement levels
  7. Positive mentions on social media
  8. Time to productivity for new hires

Benchmark these baseline metrics against external competition or industry norms. If you can demonstrate below-market metrics in these critical areas, you’ll have a strong business case for investment in cultural improvement initiatives that promise to bring your organization up to industry standard.

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Bridging the Gap

When you analyze the data from your culture and engagement surveys, you should be able to develop a report showing your company’s strengths and weakness. This report will enable you to understand the size and specifics of your culture gap. Using this information, you can then develop a list of targeted areas to improve.

Brace yourself. The results may be overwhelming at first, and you might not be able to fix everything in one go. Prioritize areas that promise to have the biggest, most immediate, and most visible impacts on organizational culture. That way, you’ll generate momentum and build support for further initiatives. Perpetually hot topics like flexible work and career development are good candidates for initial interventions.

The Timeline Is Crucial

Many of the changes you need to make may not be quick fixes. Bridging the ideal culture gap often takes time.

For example, introducing flexible work arrangements would require the support of multiple stakeholders from diverse areas like customer fulfillment, IT, finance, and production. It may also require changing or introducing new underlying administrative and technological architecture. Implementing flexible work is a whole project unto itself, which is likely to be the case for many of your cultural interventions.

At the outset, develop and communicate a positive timeline for change to all key stakeholders and those who stand to benefit. This could be an exciting launch schedule outlining the key dates when new initiatives will mature, a lot like a product’s new feature release schedule. Even though you haven’t yet bridged the culture gap, you can still motivate and excite your staff and job applicants based on what is to come.

How Do You Know If It All Worked?

By comparing your relevant metrics at periodic points throughout the process to your baselines, you’ll be able to demonstrate how your improvement strategies have concretely contributed to organizational success.

If your key metrics aren’t improving, you’ll need a post-mortem analysis to ascertain why. Culture-building is an inexact science, and things don’t always work out the first time. Perhaps you focused on initiatives your employees didn’t value, or your employees did value them but the execution fell short in some way. With a few modifications, you may be able to produce better results the next time around. Persistence will pay off in the end.

Paul Jarrett is founder of Renaix.

By Paul Jarrett