Workplace culture and how to sell it

The days of choosing a new employee based on the candidate with the most experience is long gone.

Recruiters now pay a lot of attention to an individual’s strengths, personality and values to ensure the person they hire can not only do the job well, but is a good cultural fit for the business.

SEEK’s research manager Caroline North says there is now a much broader awareness of the influence good company culture can have on performance and profitability.

In a market where competition for talent is high, and candidates are increasingly looking for organisations that align with their own personal ideals, how you communicate messages about culture can be critical to the quality of your talent pool.

An in-depth survey of almost 6,000 people across 20 different industries, conducted by SEEK, identified what workers want in a culture, and how it differs according to things such as industry, level of seniority and generation.

The Laws of Attraction study measured culture not only at an organisational level, but also looked at what workers want from their management, and from their colleagues. The three are not necessarily the same.

North says looking at the detail within the data can help businesses pinpoint what they want their cultural attributes to be, and how to target that in their recruitment strategies.

“Culture can be a difficult element to ‘sell’ because it lives and breathes in a company and is experienced and demonstrated in many different ways,” says North. “At times it can seem intangible”.

“Anchoring the culture into messages that are relevant to the candidates you are trying to attract is critical.”

The role of the gatekeepers

The data identified culture as being in the top three priorities for people working in HR and marketing.

However, for people in almost every other industry, workplace culture was much less likely to be seen as a ‘must have’, ranking at 7th – or lower – out of the 13 drivers named.

Good salary, career development, job security or work-life balance were more highly sought after.

North says people working in HR and recruitment are often the custodians of an organisation’s culture.

Attracting people with the right fit can be challenging when potential candidates aren’t always openly listening for messages about culture.

She says the data can help recruiters frame their message in a way that is relevant to their target audience.

“The layman experiences culture through a different lens,” says North.

“They need to have the evidence base behind the culture.”

Cultural wants

The survey data identified ‘collaborative’, ‘supportive’ and ‘respectful’ as the three universal traits employees want from their company, their management and their co-workers.

More polarising characteristics were ‘high-performing’, ‘empowered’ and ‘structure’.

Similarly, while many people want fun and positivity from their colleagues, they want their management to have strong leadership and show recognition when it is deserved, so the timing of key messages can be important.

North says by seeing culture through the three different lenses of the organisation – colleagues, management and company – recruiters can better weave it into their messages.

By using the data to find their key anchor words, hirers can then find the proof and evidence points to be incorporated into their communication strategies.

For example:

  • Describe how the company culture supports collaboration – is it through team work, through open forum feedback or through mentoring?
  • Explain how the values of the workplace encourage career development. Or, how you demonstrate transparency in the leadership.
  • And, while you may have instilled a culture of fun, be conscious of the fact candidates still want professionalism and the space to fulfill their job. Consider whether the company’s brand suits the ‘fun’ message early on, or if there might be a more appropriate stage in the recruitment process for that to be showcased.

The inside story

For the past four years managed cloud company Rackspace Australia has been ranked in the Top 15 Best Places to Work in Australia list for companies with less than 100 employees, including the number one spot last year.

Like many IT companies it offers great benefits, but there are a couple of initiatives that has taken Rackspace to the next level.

One of those is fostering curiosity.

In 2016 the company had a belief its people were naturally more curious than others so it measured its employees curiosity and compared it to other organisations – it found their instinct was right.

Rackspace Australia’s HR business partner Sam Lawrence says there is a distinct connection between curiosity, innovation and business performance and curious organisations are shown to score far higher in employee satisfaction and loyalty than those that are non-curious.

“The technology business we work in is a constantly changing industry,” says Lawrence.

“It is not surprising we did rate highly on curiosity because our people are required to not just keep up with the industry, but to be ahead of it.”

She says one of Rackspace’s brand pillars is about delivering consistent ‘Fanatical Support’ to their customers, meaning its people are at the heart of the customer experience. Therefore hiring for culture is critical.

In the final stage of recruitment, candidates are invited in to meet the team they will work with, to ask the questions they need and get a genuine feel for the workplace.

“The market for talent is competitive,” says Lawrence.

“The interview is not about an employer assessing if you are suitable, it is a two-way process where both parties are seeking to understand if they are right for the company.”

She says the meet the team strategy creates a connection before they begin in the role.

Strength-based methodology

Medical technology company Stryker invests heavily in its people because it recognises the correlation of its people and its success.

Stryker South Pacific’s Senior Director, HR, Erin Cramlet says culture is very difficult to shape, but essential to get right.

“You can’t turn your back on the ocean because every single hire and new manager will affect it,” says Cramlet.

She says you know a culture has taken hold when it is driven from the ground up and it is HR’s role to empower its employees, and help managers, to bring out the best in their teams.

A company with 550 employees in Australia and New Zealand, it was the 2017 winner on the Best Places to Work In Australia list for its size.

Stryker’s strategy of electing people based on their strengths and diversity of skill sets means employees are not restricted to a linear career path and are encouraged to move between departments.

In a market where Millennials are seeking constant movement and challenge, Stryker positions itself as a place where its people can grow and climb the corporate ladder, not just as a stop-off in their career.

It is tactics like this, defining your culture through a career development message, that can broaden your potential candidate reach.

“One of the most important things a company can do is invest in HR because when you hire the right people it flows through the organisation and makes each team stronger,” says Cramlet.

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Belinda Parkes

Belinda Parkes is a freelance journalist and sub-editor with more than 20 years’ media experience across newspapers, magazines and digital media. Belinda has had a love affair with words from a young age, having written a song at age five, a...

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