By Jared Wade
Today’s younger workers are not looking for the same things that their grandfathers wanted. Job security is universally desired, but nobody in their 20s still looks at a position as one they will have for the next three decades. Pensions are also largely a thing of the past, so millennials want a place where they can make a difference — both doing meaningful work and boosting their own skill sets. If you can’t provide engaging, challenging, high-level work with a purpose, you are going to have an increasingly difficult time finding talented workers.
To attract the best, you need a culture that is appealing and gives people a reason to come to work. If you can hone this, you can get better employees. Here are a few ways to improve and modernize your company culture.
1. Have Clear Values
Decide which things are most important to you as a leader. Adopt a few core principles and clear organizational priorities. Companies can suffer from mission creep over time as their industries and operations change. That can leave them drifting rudderless and leave employees wondering where their eight hours of hard work are going everyday. So by having clearly demarcated values that everyone can learn — and, more importantly, can actually see displayed throughout the office — you will show everyone that there is a solid, unmoving foundation on which all their work is built.
L.L. Bean’s “golden rule” statement may be the best example of this: “Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they will always come back for more.” Build-A-Bear Workshop has fun with its value statement, showing both mission and character: “Reach, Learn, Di-bear-sity, Colla-bear-ate, Give, Cele-bear-ate.” Ultimately, the words are less important that making sure it works for you — and that it’s something you will always stick with.
2. Learn to Inspire
Getting employees through the door is just the start. Now you need to train, retain and — most importantly — inspire them to put their talent to work for you. For example, Amway is one large company that has done wonders in making its brand synonymous with its culture. The messaging on its jobs page — one of the first things any potential employee will see — is key. It is aligned completely with the firm’s desire to push people further than they believed capable and inspire them to thrive.
It uses aspirational phrases like “we believe,” “we inspire” and “we value.” Talk is cheap, of course, but in this case the company makes good on its words. The inspirational culture at Amway is renowned and workers report that it really does cultivate this feeling even among its wide network of contractors.
This cultural benefit can’t be overstated. Self-motivation from employees will only get you so far. To lead a company that is truly hitting its full potential, you need to make people excited to come to work.
3. Employee Development
An employee wants to feel like a respected member of a team that is contributing their valuable skills to a collective goal. Money might motivate in the short term, but only engendering that feeling can really make an employee want to give it his all. Employee development is critical to maintaining this. So training and encouragement to learn more are an absolute must in a modern company. Workers want to grow and become smarter over time. If you simply take, take, take what they give and never offer a way to give any knowledge back, then the young people who work for you won’t want to work for you much longer.
Online retailer Bonobos has done this well. It has an array of learning programs — called “Managing for Success,” “Fit for Success” and “Know Your Customer” — that teach today’s cutting-edge management and customer service knowledge. There is no downside. Employees who take advantage are not only happier but also do better work.
4. Corporate Social Responsibility
Focusing on the bottom line first and foremost is what separates a company from a charity. It’s not just good to value profitability — it’s essential. Nobody wants to work for a company that isn’t currently successful (or at least has a good business plan to get there). But profitability can’t be the only thing you value. Not in 2016. And not if you want to attract today’s best and brightest and keep them for the long haul.
You need to take corporate social responsibility seriously. This famously became core to the identity of the TOMS shoe company, which has been giving away shoes — and much more since its inception. Salesforce is another CSR leader, adopting a 1-1-1 model in which it donates 1 percent of its time, 1 percent of its profits and 1 percent of its equity to good causes.
Valuing CSR doesn’t mean you have to achieve world peace. But you need to make people understand that the company cares about more than profits. Show them that you really do care about people, community and giving something back.
Jared Wade is a journalist who has been covering business, sports, Latin America, and more for nearly 15 years. He is currently living in Colombia, concentrating on economics, the financial sector, and the nation’s ongoing peace process.