by Mike Pongon — May 17, 2017

Even with economic uncertainty on the horizon, the most talented workers are still in the enviable position of having plenty of choices about where they deploy their talent. And they’re not just selecting employers based on salary and a list of perks (“Foosball!” “Bring your dog to work!”).

Instead, we’ve seen a profound shift toward a purpose-driven workforce that is looking for meaning in their lives and their jobs. This search for purpose is not confined to the so-called Millennials. We see candidates across the age spectrum who all want the same thing: to apply their talents in pursuit of a larger purpose; to work for a company that genuinely cares for them; and to surround themselves with people who share their values and who they enjoy being with. One thing is certain: employees are seeing through “happy talk” about perks or values.  They want to see culture in action—in their lives.

As the CEO of a firm that competes each day for the allegiance of highly talented people, I’ve found that valued workplace flexibility means not so much “where” your employees are working (i.e., at home or in the office) but “how” and “why” they are working.  In my experience, being real about culture is key to attracting today’s best talent.

Be genuine. We all know that actually caring about people is different from appearing to care. Beware of mechanical cultural offerings, such as “work from home” days. Yes, they give your employees flexibility, and you may score a few short-term points.  But if you’re looking to drive outcomes, employees are most interested in having someone truly care about them: their voice, their needs, their ability to have a choice. This leads to the next point.

Focus on the individual. Genuinely caring about each person in your company means understanding what makes him or her unique.  One-size-fits-all programs may have a noble intent, but they actually de-personalize your culture. Sometimes treating everyone differently is the most empowering strategy. 

Be willing to sacrifice “business as usual.” At times, building a healthy culture in the long term may lead to decisions that some people will question in the here and now. For example, our associates have the choice to decline an engagement that doesn’t appeal to them. When they exercise this choice, the firm sometimes loses money. 

Why would we do this? When we tell our people that “choice” is one of our values, we walk the talk. We believe we’re doing what’s right, not just what’s expected. We want people to be doing the work they’re passionate about, and that shows up in their productivity and the client outcomes they deliver. It’s a sacrifice worth making in order to have the company we want. And by the way, we’ve seen these types of short-term sacrifices often result in long-term gains.

Stay connected, and get comfortable with mass communication. If you want people to own and care about the culture, keep them informed. They need to understand not just  “what” you’re doing, but also “why” it’s important. As you grow, you can’t count on one-to-one communication to keep people in the know. Becoming a mass communicator takes different skills such as understanding cause and effect relationships within your organization, content analysis and a keen understanding of your communication tools. That’s a challenge for communicators like me, who are naturally good at one-to-ones but need to master new skills to stay in touch with everyone.

Don’t worry about what culture is “supposed to be.” It doesn’t matter what “everyone else” does. In fact, healthy cultures may inspire decisions and actions that challenge the status quo and leave some people scratching their heads. In staying true to your authentic culture, your company probably won’t look and behave just like everyone else. And that makes it easier for the truly great people in your industry to find you.

Think long-term. Employee longevity is vital to keeping the culture alive. It’s difficult to retain precious tribal knowledge if people are leaving all the time.  The good news is that keeping people and having cultural integrity are parts of a virtuous circle; one good thing leads to another.