Workplace Culture

How often have you heard that organizational culture is critical? Probably too often to count! Some mainstream assertions include “culture is king” and “culture eats strategy”. However, in a tight labour market, culture may be one of your strongest tools in attracting and retaining top talent.

The cultures of companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple have been placed on a pedestal high above more traditional organizations, including well established organizations like Ford, GE, and RBC. High-tech titans are exalted above other, less trendy organizations and are assumed to have superior cultures – often unjustly.

When it comes to culture, companies that are thought of as cool or at least trendy can have weak ones and the otherwise less trendy companies can enjoy the very best.  I believe that culture is independent of industry and is set and maintained by leadership. The most progressive boards and CEOs know that a positive culture is at the heart of organizational performance and sustainability. They also know that an organization’s ability to attract and retain top talent is critical to its success and, in large part, depends on its culture.

According to a Gallup study on workplace culture, the relationship between company culture and attracting top talent exists for two reasons; strong cultures create more engaged employees and talented people want to work for organizations with positive cultures. Ensuring your organization has a strong culture has never been more critical than it is now. In Canada, the job vacancy rate continues to climb and in the first three months of 2019, more than 500,000 jobs went unfilled, with permanent positions accounting for nearly 80 percent of those openings. Experts predict that labour shortages will continue to disrupt our markets for the next decade.

KBRS and Meridia Recruitment Solutions work with hundreds of organizations of every size and description. When we partner with a client on a recruitment project, that client’s internal culture is often the most critical factor in our success. Independent of size, sector, or location, our job is much easier when we represent organizations who enjoy positive cultures. When leaders place importance on employee engagement and overall satisfaction, it allows us to tell a more compelling story about their organization. When prospective candidates do their own research (and they will), the story they hear is a positive one which helps draw them to the organization.

Of course, there are many other factors in play when recruiting top talent such as potential career progression, professional development opportunities, and compensation. However, with little doubt, culture will be a key determinant in a candidate’s final decision to join your company. These other benefits might offset an inferior culture initially, but in the long run weaker cultures will struggle with retention. In fact, organizations that pay above market warrant greater scrutiny by candidates. Candidates need to ask themselves why the employer feels they need to pay above market. It might be that they want top talent and are willing to pay for it, but often they are compensating for other missing elements of the employee experience, most notably culture.

We’ve all heard the expression, “people don’t quit companies, they quit bosses”. This is an example of culture, just on a one-to-one basis. It’s reported that the number one determinant of job satisfaction is the relationship one has with their boss. So clearly relationships matter, be it with one’s direct supervisor or the organization overall. Relationships are individual examples of culture.  In fact, it’s in these relationships where culture is put to the test on a daily basis.

Building a strong organizational culture cannot be accomplished through a “one-size fits all” approach. Culture must be rooted in your company’s mission, vision, values, and strategic goals and embraced by leadership. As a leader, the process of building the culture you wish to achieve begins with honest reflection on your culture as it stands today, then clarifying and communicating the changes you want to create, and inspiring and empowering your employees to help make the change. Culture is never static, rather it ebbs and flows daily. People in positions of greater responsibility need to be deliberate both in setting the right tone and living up to it. Leaders at all levels within an organization need to exemplify the organizational culture and lead by example. But the tone is set from the top and CEOs and boards need to set the right one. Otherwise employee experience, financial performance, sustainability, and ultimately the ability to attract and retain top talent will suffer.

Kevin Stoddart , MBA, CMC
Managing Partner
As a Managing Partner of KBRS Kevin leads executive search projects while also providing direct oversight for Meridia, the firm’s full service recruitment company. In addition to his roles with Meridia and executive search, Kevin is involved in firm-wide management and leads business development and marketing initiatives for KBRS under four practice areas: executive search, contingent recruitment, career transition and human resource consulting.