Tom Miller is co-founder and CEO of ClearForce, a cyber and employee risk management company based in Vienna, Virginia. Miller has more than 25 years of analytic and risk management experience. Here he discusses culture as it relates to talent management.
Companies and leaders across the board are struggling with recruiting, hiring and retaining talent. What are the top factors contributing to this Great Resignation?
Poor responses to COVID-19, failure to appropriately recognize employee performances and the presence of a toxic company culture have all contributed to the Great Resignation. Right now, company culture is the most important aspect of job satisfaction as employees decide whether to stay or leave. Studies show that a toxic culture in the workplace is 10 times more meaningful than compensation when an employee decides to leave their job. If members of your staff do not feel comfortable in the environment within the organization—chances are they will not be staying for long.
How can executives evaluate their culture? Why is it difficult for leaders to see the culture from the employee viewpoint?
Executives need to be proactive in evaluating and driving cultural change. It's important to provide a voice to the members of your organization. Investing in your people is a strong way to elevate the culture in your building. For example, using a web-based reporting portal would allow employees to report workplace concerns as well as self-reporting of wellness and financial challenges. This will help employers direct those in need to assistance programs that are in place.
Obtaining information related to culture or toxic leadership needs to be an ongoing, real-time activity—not a point-in-time assessment, survey or annual review. Recognizing indicators of trouble or employee discontent can be difficult when you are not actively looking for them.
Codes of conduct and policies should be in place for all to follow. The same standard of accountability towards workplace behaviors has to be consistent across the board. Oversight in structure is what prevents most leaders from being able to relate to what employees might see as problematic.
Do organizations need a strong culture, a positive culture, a conscious culture, a purpose-driven culture? The options are endless but how should leaders discern what works best for what they need?
To define an organization's culture, management needs to first listen—to their customers, to their employees and to their stakeholders. Why are your customers still buying from you? What has made tenured employees stay with the company? What do your investors think you're doing well, and what would they like to see done differently? The answers to these questions will help form the basis for an organization's culture. Then it is up to management to observe this culture through action.
Leaders and their management teams should decide together on what will work best for their business. Input from those who will be involved in the process is a great way to get the buy-in required in order to achieve real change.
If the culture is detrimental, what are levers to get the culture moving in the right direction?
The first step should always be to identify bad actors. After that, accountability and true change need to follow. Employees who are aware of the problem will be watching to see if fair, equitable and appropriate actions are taken. It's not enough to just figure out what was going wrong within the organization. You have to then execute a plan to fix the issue(s) and implement preventative measures to avoid recurrence of the same types of detrimental activity.
Looking away from unethical behaviors and ignoring workers who feel disrespected will result in losing a lot of your talent pool. Attempting to hide or put off these types of things will only make matters worse, and it sends out a dangerous message to employees. Upholding integrity and consistency in terms of behavioral matters is something people remember when it's time to assess how happy they are within your organization.
What other factors may be contributing to high levels of turnover?
Today's employees want a work environment they can feel comfortable and safe in, along with caring and transparent leadership they can be proud of. A lot of organizations are failing to realize the cultural stakes in this competitive labor market. It's critical to cultivate a supportive and reassuring environment for workers.
Employees do not want to work for an organization that makes them feel like they are on thin ice or doesn't allow for a proper work-life balance. Creating a space where all parts of the organization can feel both seen and heard is priceless. When people know they are genuinely cared about, loyalty comes naturally.
Cultures are unique to each organization but are there patterns of what works best in different industries or geographies?
Unfortunately, there isn't a one-size fits all approach to adapt for certain industries or geographies. Organizations in highly regulated industries don't always have the freedoms that some of their less-regulated counterparts have, but will often lead the way in technology-driven cultural change.
A company with a culture that can evolve without alienating its workers and while still complying with its industry's regulations will surely be well regarded in its market. Map out what is best suited for your leadership and employees, and stay committed to providing the best possible culture for the company.
The American workforce continues to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation. At the end of 2021, U.S. job openings stood at nearly 11 million, and over 4 million people quit their jobs in December alone.