This article originally appeared in HR Tech Outlook.
The core drivers of company culture are changing.
Traditionally, HR professionals have been viewed as stewards of company culture, prescribing initiatives and perks to lift the spirits of employees. In this framework, culture is dictated from the top down. Employees are told what’s good for them, and have few channels to communicate back whether they actually benefit from what they’re receiving. We’d all do better to realize that the best way to increase buy-in to company culture is by letting employees have a say in its creation.
Employees want to see value and purpose in what they do at work, and giving them a sense of ownership through a collaborative culture-building process showcases this. Technology plays a critical role in making this possible. In the past, the tools at the disposal of HR were bulky but capable employee resource planning (ERP) programs. These tools met our needs when it came to things like budgeting, payroll and talent management, but never quite connected to the human side of culture.
Now, however, we’re seeing the emergence of platforms developed specifically to shape and promote workplace culture. New communication, data collection and feedback capabilities are boosting culture buy-in by positioning employees as its builders. Through technology, HR becomes less prescriptive and more consultative. HR suggests a blueprint for what culture could be, but fills out the framework with contributions from the whole organization. By letting employees build culture with us, involvement and engagement improve because buy-in is there from the start.
Culture informed by data
Data has always been a pain point for HR. For decades, our field has been synonymous with “soft savings.” Executives know there’s value in things like culture initiatives, but it’s less obvious than the hard dollar figures a department like sales brings in. Data collection and measurement, however, has progressed to the point where HR’s value is more apparent. Metrics like employee lifetime value, employee engagement, and retention are becoming easier to quantify and correlate back to the bottom line.
The technology that gathers this data also provides a window into the employee workplace perception. We no longer have to wait for the annual survey to hear what employees think. Technology provides tools like pulse surveys and data intelligence that gather employee sentiment. HR professionals can now gauge how employees respond to culture initiatives in real-time, identifying issues and making informed decisions that lead to better programs. While HR managers may be the ones making the decisions, these decisions are only possible through the information employees provide.
Building relationships and improving communication
Companies have always struggled with trying to stay closely connected to each employee. Company culture serves as the point solution to this problem. Culture is supposed to unify us, connecting us to the company mission but also to each other. As such, you can measure the health of company culture by the strength of relationships between employees.
At the heart of every high-performing work culture is a foundation of strong human relationships. When employees feel the workplace is an environment where they can bond with their colleagues, they’re happier with their jobs, more likely to engage in their work, and less likely to leave the company.
Every human relationship forms because of two primary factors: interaction and relatedness. We build strong relationships with others by sharing what we have in common, but we need opportunities to interact in order to discover those commonalities. The classic scenario of a chat at the company water cooler is powerful for this very reason; in the past it was the place to gather around and connect with colleagues across departments. Sadly, that just isn’t as feasible now as large organizations become more scattered and remote work rises (Gallup says 43% of the labor force now performs work remotely).
Drinking from the digital water cooler
While our work environment is more physically disconnected than ever, technology is creating new connection points to nourish our need for work relationships. Platforms designed to foster workplace culture are providing employees with expressive social spaces where they can connect and share outside of the productivity tools they use to get their jobs done faster. The physical water cooler may be a relic of the past but the digital water cooler is here to stay.
Last year, Golden Corral, the American family-style restaurant chain, embraced the new water cooler. Through an employee survey, the organization discovered many members of its operations division wanted a tool that would facilitate communication across teams. Instead of providing a program to broadcast corporate news, Golden Corral opted for a culture-specific platform. Beyond improved communication capabilities, Golden Corral gained the ability to quickly gather feedback from employees, foster a culture of employee recognition across its dispersed operations division and spread the influence of its culture initiatives in a new way.
Over seven months, Golden Corral district and restaurant managers flooded the chat feed, sharing more than 3,500 pieces of content all around relationship formation, knowledge sharing and employee recognition. Through the data and conversations generated, Golden Corral receives a steady stream of feedback and information, which informs decisions on new products and food flavors.
The need for employee buy-in of company culture will only grow more acute in time. As the ability to collect and analyze employee data becomes more robust, the hard dollar contributions HR makes to the company will come into sharper focus. HR leaders will be expected to take even more ownership over statistics like employee engagement and lifetime value to prove the ROI of culture. Culture won’t have the returns required if there’s no interest in the first place, and the best way to generate interest is to ask employees what they actually want out of the company culture.