Creating a Standout Startup Culture

on September 14, 2017

We are in the midst of a talent war. Unemployment is at 4.3%, the lowest level since 2001. Finding great talent that fits the organizational culture and will stay loyal to an organization is one of a CEO’s greatest worries. 72% of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills, which is no surprise since the average job opening sat unfilled for 28.1 days in 2016, up from 19.3 days in 2001-2003.

What can CEOs do to attract great talent, successfully recruit them, and also retain them? Harvard Business Review identified 5 specific steps that CEOs can take to build engaging and sustainable cultures.

Develop Total Clarity Around Your Differentiators and Make it Known.

If you want to attract the ideal talent, know your story. What makes your company unique? That story will attract candidates that are specifically drawn to who your are. This is known as a “Lighthouse Identity.” “That’s why building a great culture starts with intellectual clarity about what your organization stands for. There can be no talent strategy without a compelling business strategy,” says Bill Taylor, an HBR writer, cofounder of Fast Company and the author, most recently, of Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways.

Create a Unique Environment that Caters to Your People.

Technology has concurrently connected us and disconnected us to others more than ever before. We can be “on” 24/7 through many different platforms using many different connections, but at the same time, we are sacrificing human engagement. How is your company protecting the human side of business?

How are you staying attuned to what your employees need regarding human engagement? Only 32% of employees are actively engaged in their work today. Low engagement yields high attrition.

Define What it Means to Belong.

At the heart of organizational culture is a sense of belonging. A culture is a community, defined by rituals, traditions, standards, expectations, a shared language, and behavioral norms. What do you do on a daily basis to reinforce your culture? How have you engaged others to be cultural ambassadors? If a prospective employee interviewed your employees, what are the common messages they would hear?

Prioritize Learning as Much as Performance (they are intertwined).

In a cut-throat business environment, we tend to want to push as hard as we can, as often as we can, without breaking for a pause or a reset. We also allow learning to pass us by. While that may have been OK in past environments, companies today can’t sacrifice continuous learning. The world is changing at the fastest pace in history. To compete effectively, organizations must consistently out-think their competition. This can only happen through continuous learning, where personal & professional growth is as valued as profitability.

Create a Resilient Culture That Can Pivot Quickly.

When I ran my first company Information Experts from 1995 – 2012, one of the first lessons I learned was the importance of pivoting. Your services are meaningless if they aren’t relevant to the market.

Shortly after we launched, Cisco CEO John Chambers announced that “e-learning would be the killer application of the internet.” Overnight, our business model changed. We had to shift from being a provider of classroom-based training services to a provider of web-based training services. This required a new business model, and a new team of talent. The faster we could shift, the greater the likelihood we would retain our clients and secure new work under the new way of doing business.

Today’s speed of business leaves no room for hesitation. If something isn’t working, fail quickly. Release emotional detachment to what no longer works, or to what never worked in the first place, so that you can move forward with what the market needs.

It is true that culture eats strategy for breakfast. It is your culture that will attract and retain your people. The best strategy in the world will never compensate for an environment that leaves employees feeling uninspired, disconnected, unappreciated, and stagnant.

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