Talent in tech part II: How to create great company culture

In part one of our series on creating culture in tech companies, we shared three challenges that HR leaders face when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent.

High costs of attrition, fierce hiring competition, and the call for work that aligns with employees’ personal values have made the human side of human resources a lot more challenging.

So how can hiring leaders ensure that their company attracts and keeps the right people?

In this post, we’ll introduce strategies for HR leaders facing these obstacles—outlining a few simple tactics that can make a big impact. On your perception as an employer. And on your employees’ happiness.


Tell a story

For organizations, the story you tell *as an employer* is just as important as the one you tell *as a brand*. Your employer story stakes a claim about who you are, what makes you different, and why current and future employees should care. It articulates what makes you unique as an employer—beyond the pay and benefits you offer. This employer story is called an Employer Value Proposition, or EVP.

Creating an EVP helps your HR team align around the story they tell in hiring situations by creating consistency in your messages. It gives them story threads they can easily recall and share. It also empowers every employee—from interns to members of senior leadership—to become advocates and “spokespeople” for your brand. By putting your unique perspective in writing, an EVP tells the world what kind of employer you are and solidifies your commitment to fostering an amazing environment for your workforce.

EVPs can also help elevate your customers’ overall perception of your brand. Research has shown that customers tend to trust—and thus work with—brands whose ethical views are in alignment with their own. So showing that you treat your employees well can go a long way towards improving how your customers view you. Good for morale and good for business.

A solid EVP helps align your employees’ values and behaviors to those of your brand. When the people who represent your organization truly reflect what your brand stands for, your customers enjoy a clearer, more consistent understanding of who you are and what you’re all about. A good EVP should be something your employees can see themselves in. So that they feel heard and represented—and can adopt your company story as their own.

Easier said than done? We get it. When we’re so focused on working for our company, it can be hard to stop and take time to work *on our company*. Here at New Kind, we love helping our clients discover and elevate their employer stories. Our process combines our outside perspective with the client’s internal expertise to unlock our best ideas, together. If it sounds like you could use some fresh eyes to better articulate your employer story, give us a shout.

 

Seek out ambassadors

Inside every (okay, *almost* every) organization are at least a handful of employees who truly love where they work and what they do. These enthusiastic employees are influential advocates for your organization who can help bolster your reputation as an employer. They exemplify and help drive the adoption of behaviors that are core to your culture. And they serve as shining examples of what *your people brand* is all about—particularly when it comes to attracting new talent.

Tap into the reach and influence these folks have with their peers—both within and outside of your organization. They’re able to keep a pulse on employee sentiment and influence behaviors from the bottom up. They’re able to “sell” your organization to potential employees and are probably the ones you’d trust to represent your company at a recruiting event. Unlike the all-too-common trickle down of information from the “higher ups,” these employee ambassadors are likely to hold more sway with their peers—because they experience the same challenges every day.

Identify employees who (knowingly or not) serve as exemplars of your brand. Be sure to include them in future culture and outreach initiatives. Have honest conversations with them about what’s working or what could be better. And ask them to help encourage their peers to participate in important company-wide projects—like collecting feedback for EVP surveys or promoting open positions on LinkedIn.

 

Love thy community

Today’s employees want to know their company is driven by more than merely a desire for profit. Because while money is at the core of most business, people—particularly Millennials—want to know that the organization they work for stands for something bigger than themselves. And for tech companies, which employ millions of Millennials each year, showing how your products or services better the world is simply expected.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and volunteer programs give your employees an opportunity to feel they are contributing to their communities and making a difference. They’re also good for your brand. Win. Win.

Show the world your organization is a good steward of resources, a responsible corporate citizen, and that you value and encourage positive behaviors outside of the office as much as you do from 9–5.

Company-sponsored community service activities can also improve camaraderie, teamwork, and job satisfaction. CSR programs become a point of pride for employees—making them feel good about their company, as well as the work they do as an individual contributor. Same goes for your customers.

In a world of choice and product-focused messaging, having a strong CSR program can help your brand stand out and resonate with your customers—who often base purchasing decisions on emotional and values-driven factors.

Encouraging passion projects during working hours can also help improve company culture and bolster how prospective and current employees see you as an employer. And while it may seem counterintuitive to ask your people to dedicate time to tasks you can’t directly attribute to company revenue, the long-term benefits far outweigh the costs.

  • Creative exploration often leads to outcomes and discoveries that could positively impact other areas of your business.
  • Giving employees autonomy and freedom to work the way that makes sense for them builds trust and respect.
  • Aligning personal interests to professional goals helps your employees build useful skills—and gets them excited for work every day.
  • Encouraging employees to nurture outside interests (and then asking them to share their work with their colleagues) improves leadership skills and confidence.

 

Engage your core

 Anyone can buy vinyl stickers and plaster their company mission, vision, or values all over their walls. But if these foundational pieces of your brand are not internalized or fully adopted by your employees (or if they were created without your employees’ input and feedback in mind), they’re just empty words.

There’s a reason that we use the Brand Layers framework to build brands. That base layer—comprised of your mission, vision, values, and story—is your core. It’s the summation of what you care about and why you do what you do. You need to have that foundation solid before you can authentically articulate your brand through how you look, sound, and act.

As important as it is for customers to see that your brand’s values, beliefs, and behaviors align with their own, this reality is amplified tenfold when it comes to your employees. After all, they’re the ones spending 40+ hours a week living and breathing your brand promise. That’s why it’s so important to bring your people along on the journey. And to stand behind a mission you truly believe in.

Reinforce your mission, vision, and values often, so they become an intrinsic part of your company’s identity—giving your employees a clear sense of purpose and direction while improving culture and morale. Be sure that company leadership works to practice what they preach, leading by example every day. And always opt to over-communicate.

Finally, take these concepts out of the clouds and integrate them with real business practices. Your mission, vision, and values can help you anchor new employee onboarding, frame performance reviews, and make reward or promotion decisions.

 

Listen up

The importance of keeping communication open between company leaders and employees cannot be overstated. Communication = transparency = trust. If you don’t listen to your employees (or if they don’t feel heard), why should they trust you? How could they possibly feel valued? Why should they stay?

Particularly in tech companies, where the world is constantly changing, balancing transparency with stability can be tricky. But leveling with your employees and communicating transparently helps them feel more empowered, improves their sense of autonomy, and creates trust between employer and employee.

Communication = transparency = trust

Where to start? Put a few simple measures in place to create regular feedback loops with your employees. This can go a long way towards showing them you’re invested in their happiness—and that you value their opinions.

  • Take a culture pulse on a weekly or biweekly basis. Something as simple as integrating a short, one- or two-question poll into your team’s preferred communication platform.
  • Adopt a tool like 15Five (we use it, we love it!) to gather regular, private feedback from your employees.
  • Create an EVP (we can help!), being sure to “show the math” and bring your employees along on the journey.
  • Celebrate employee achievements—work and non-work alike—through weekly “victory” ceremonies or shout-outs.
  • Encourage managers to schedule regular check-ins with their direct reports—and create systems that make it easy for them to follow up and act on employee feedback.

Creating a company culture to be proud of—especially in the tech industry—might seem overwhelming at first. It doesn’t have to be. When you understand the challenges facing HR leaders today, you can begin to know where to focus your efforts where they’ll have the most impact.

To sum it up:

  • Shine a light on your unique employer story
  • Put your most passionate people to work on behalf of your brand
  • Extend your company’s impact within your community
  • Reinforce your foundational mission, vision, and values
  • Create transparency. Invite conversation. Listen to your team.

These methods and strategies can help you transform HR into a true business advantage, empowering your organization with a team of engaged, aligned, and inspired employees.

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