Culture ‑ When appearing is easier than being

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Culture has become a core pillar of every company’s employer brand, particularly when actively recruiting, and this is still the case in a COVID-19 environment. Yes, businesses are taking action in response to the outbreak and some industries are suffering; however, there are still some areas where hiring efforts have actually increased. Supply chain, distribution, logistics, healthcare, health and safety, food retail etc. have all needed to pivot and recruit to meet new and varying demands as society evolves to cope with the damage Covid has made to our everyday lives. In delivery and shipping, for example, the sector has exploded, and should remain the same for the foreseeable future.

Companies that can survive and even thrive in this ‘new normal’ are those that will no longer be defined by physical boundaries. So how does a company ‘sell’ its workplace culture to potential new employees right now? As the rush towards digital transformation takes place and in as much as is possible we virtually collaborate, engage, and brainstorm with colleagues, how do we market what it’s like to work in a company, to potential new employees? More importantly, how can we be authentic about the workplace culture, ensuring there’s a strong sense of shared values, ownership and belonging, all while operating remotely?

Companies that can survive and even thrive in this ‘new normal’ are those that will no longer be defined by physical boundaries
Edel Fitzgerald

Culture as a talent magnet

At ReputationInc, we always maintain a company’s reputation is shaped by what it does. Therefore, a company’s culture can be both an incredibly positive driver of reputation, or a risk if it doesn’t keep up with the business strategy.

Indeed, in this Glassdoor world, where any employee can share their perspective on their employer’s culture to all stakeholders including future talent, it is more important than ever for organisations to take an active role in shaping the conversation around their own culture.

Therefore, culture should be communicated externally not only because of the rising expectations of stakeholders – including regulators and investors - but also because it ultimately contributes to building the company’s brand and reputation and can help to attract top talent.

Unlike business strategy however, it can be very difficult to plan culture: it’s a word that’s on everyone’s lips, but culture can be intangible and elusive. Culture encompasses a common sense of purpose and belonging, yet there is little point in relying on a detailed culture plan or roadmap with a clear set of targets and objectives although it might seem like an appealing idea. And for potential new employees, highlighting the culture of an organisation can be daunting since we may not meet new employees face-to-face but more ‘screen-to-screen’. They want to know if a company has a culture of openness and collaboration, where employees are empowered to make decisions, and the organisation not only takes account of an employee’s financial well-being but also their health and emotional wellbeing, particularly as we increasingly recognise the important things in life throughout the pandemic.

Reputation, from the inside out

Despite being intangible, some workplace cultures are very clear: Google, Accenture, Vodafone all have strong employer brands and cultures.  How do we know about these cultures if we have never worked there? Simple, by the stories we have read and heard about these organisations. It is how things get done or don’t get done in an organisation. Culture manifests every day in every transaction or activity that takes place within an organisation.

When an organisation has a great culture, people will naturally talk about it and become its ambassadors. An organisation with leadership that is in tune with the culture it is curating will be aware of the multiple cultures as they exist and evolve and will recognise the elements they want to amplify. Cultivating the best elements of your culture and amplifying them internally and externally can help to build organisations that succeed against the odds and earn the reputation needed to fulfil strategic objectives. 

And the best way to bring an organisation’s culture to life, particularly for future talent, is through stories told by employees themselves. This means organisations should encourage employees to talk about culture inside and outside the organisation, and curate the stories that it wants to share. Virtual events led by employee ambassadors, virtual meet and greets with potential new colleagues and the team they will be working with, 360 views of the office environment and physical space once the company is up-and running again, etc. could all be considered as opportunities to impress new talent as we continue to operate remotely.

Beware of culture washing

A word of caution though - a culture designed for the sole purpose of selling your brand to potential new employees represents, at best, a misguided decision, at worst, a waste of money and time. Indeed, since having a strong organisational culture is trendy, it makes many companies want to have one as soon as possible. It is tempting to take shortcuts to “beat the competition” to attract talent. In the past when hiring, that would usually mean companies referring to their in-house ping-pong tables, foosball tables and free beers on Friday. Now, companies that depend on their physical surroundings rather than their culture are struggling as we face the unforeseeable future of working more remotely.

In fact, now, more than ever, a focus on true social connections with employees and genuinely caring for their holistic wellbeing is a business imperative. In the Covid-19 environment, it is also about sincere and meaningful support for community stakeholder groups linked to the operating environment of the organisation. Taking the right steps to ensure that a company’s reputation is shaped from within and magnified positively externally, is ever important as we navigate this unprecedented crisis, and can help to create a culture that retains the best talent and attracts new ambassadors for the business.

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