Four Strategies to Turn Your Culture Around


March 14, 2019

In 2015, 23% of people reported that they would leave their jobs for a 10% pay increase. The researchers asked the same question in 2019 and found the number had nearly doubled: 43%. The reason for rapid decrease in loyalty? The study pointed to poor culture.

We are in a new era, where employees are looking for more from their work experience—one that is optimized for meaning and personal fulfillment and encourages development and generosity. A new report, a collaborative effort of CECP, Imperative, and PwC, explores the implications of these evolving expectations for business leaders and how a better understanding of neuroscience can help shape a more human employee experience with relationships, impact, and growth at its heart.

Connecting Culture to Experience

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It’s no secret that culture plays a critical role in supporting an organization’s strategy and purpose as well as shaping the employee experience. Evolving an organization’s culture—defined as “the way we do things around here”—can provide ongoing reinforcement and support for employees seeking greater meaning in their work.

While culture is much more a matter of doing rather than saying, organizations that want to evolve their culture to be more purpose-led need to focus on a vital few elements:

1. Target specific behaviors that promote relationships, impact, and growth

Formal employee programs or initiatives—such as rotational opportunities, innovation labs, stretch assignments, reverse mentorship, and milestone experiences—help employees build deeper and more diverse relationships while also promoting growth. For employees to make an impact that is meaningful to them, there needs to be room for them to interpret the impact they can make. Some employees do their best work when they see how their work is impacting another individual; others may need to ladder up their impact to a grander scale.

When teeing up new opportunities, be clear on the desired outcomes and leave room for people to internalize the kind of impact that is most meaningful to them. For personalization to scale, there needs to be just enough of a framework within which employees can craft work that is meaningful to them.

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2. Embolden leaders to live the company’s purpose

Leaders are critical in signaling and modeling the behaviors that enable a fulfilling employee experience. Senior leaders and authentic, informal leaders alike can be powerful allies in influencing these behaviors and providing concrete examples of what fulfillment looks like. While each organization will need to determine the right mix of top-down, cross-organization, and peer-to-peer efforts to elevate meaningful experiences, our research emphasized the need for role modeling at the executive leadership level, with nearly one-third of respondents naming senior leaders as a barrier to finding fulfillment at work.

We’ve seen organizations work with senior leaders to safeguard and champion an environment rooted in a fulfilling employee experience. In 2018, apparel and footwear company VF Corporation launched an executive team effort to share with employees how they personally connected to the organization’s newly created purpose statement.

“To get people to come along with you in a big leadership change, you have to be really clear on the vision, but you also have to show them that you’re willing to get in and work with them on it. It’s around empowering them and helping them understand their specific role. And then, from empowerment, comes accountability.” – Steve Rendle, CEO , VF Corp

This executive storytelling started to de-stigmatize the notion of individual meaning in the workplace. Beyond that, it signaled to the entire global leadership team that VF is committed to creating a safe space for people to share their stories, placing purpose at the center of the new VF employee value proposition (EVP).

3. Measure fulfillment and use it to guide talent development

Peter Drucker, founder of modern management, famously said, “what gets measured, gets managed.” As we progress in this new economy and focus on tapping into employees’ sense of purpose, a set of new metrics for measuring employee sentiment are sure to emerge.

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While methods for capturing a fulfilling employee experience will vary by organization, they should aim to evaluate how well employees feel their work provides the three foundational elements of fulfillment: a sense of belonging, creating value beyond oneself, and personal growth. Considering how well your current survey addresses these items is the first crucial step to capturing data that will enable your organization to take action toward a more meaningful experience for employees.

As engagement surveys have, for many, evolved from an annual questionnaire to more frequent pulse surveys, check-ins on employee fulfillment will be most effective if they recur often to capture and manage the natural fluctuation of these sentiments. Fortunately, technology makes this easier than ever, enabling short and intuitive surveys that are even mobile-accessible.

The standard battery of engagement questions does address certain elements of meaning and fulfillment— either directly or indirectly—so you may be capturing some useful information already. Recognizing that an overhaul of enterprise-wide engagement surveys is not likely in the short-term, consider starting your organization’s journey to a culture of purpose by including three simple questions—or doubling down on existing similar ones—on your next employee survey:

First – Do you have meaningful relationships at work?

Second – Are you growing personally and professionally at work?

Third – Is your work making an impact that is meaningful to you?

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Zillow Group has taken a first step toward aligning people analytics with their culture. “We are a purpose-driven company,” says Corina Kolbe, Senior Director of Learning and Development. “But that’s not enough. We also want purpose-driven individuals. So we’ve added a question to our employee survey about whether people are doing work that’s meaningful to them.” Gauging employee fulfillment is a strong first step, and finding ways to formally incorporate goals for these metrics into broader organizational objectives will ensure accountability for managing toward a more purpose-driven workforce.

4. Curate shared experiences

While our research reflected that individuals recognized their responsibility for finding fulfilling experiences at work, getting employees to come together for ongoing, shared experiences can accelerate this process while building stronger teams. Shared experiences can be formative and fulfilling when they bring employees together in a way that builds meaningful connections, makes a collective impact, and offers opportunities to learn something new. Experiences that are new or challenging can encourage employees to show bursts of vulnerability that build trust and develop an emotional commitment to those around them.

For example, part of PwC’s experience consulting team, The Difference, uses play and improvisational exercises that are engineered to create meaning, such as challenging a team that is tackling a post-merger integration to design a restaurant and perform a skit on their vision in a very condensed amount of time. Parallels between the design of the restaurant and the post-merger challenges become evident, and by taking off their professional hats through a playful activity, participants reveal a more personal, vulnerable side of themselves. This increases emotional intelligence and individuals learn more from one another. This closeness creates and deepens relationships, a key source of fulfillment.

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Campbell Soup recently launched “Community Gigs,” a new skills-based volunteer program for employees. The goal, says Amanda Bauman, Senior Manager, Community Affairs, is to “make it easy for employees to activate their purpose while promoting connections and shared experiences in their local community.” In other words, it’s designed to enable people to make a personally meaningful impact while helping them grow professionally and personally.

A Process of Continuous Improvement

As with products, services and customer experience, organizations should be continuing to innovate a better employee experience. Understanding how to create meaning in the workplace and providing a culture where these opportunities are abundant not only helps to attract and keep top talent, but it will also bring out the best in your people.

Download Building A Meaningful Employee Experience

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More than ever, people want to know they’re more valuable than machines and are seeking out uniquely human elements of their work experience. If we want to tap into what helps people find meaning at work, how do we do it? When we explored this question, we uncovered scientific support, employee perspective, and bright spots to show how to move the needle in building a more fulfilling employee experience.

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