The American workforce is always in a state of change, as it responds to values, timing, employer demands, the economy, and more. Although there has been the consistent presence of a skills gap in most arenas of American business, the demands, needs, and requirements of individual employees today shifts on a myriad of variables specific to the niche. What may be a common demand of a C-level executive in the grocery business, of course may not be a common demand for the same type of executive in the medical profession. While this is a simple and obvious statement outlining differences, the intention is to further delineate the recognition of the individual, even when they are joined in a common market or the same company.
As much pressure is put on HR professionals today to recruit, hire, and bring a new hire to full productivity, they are also more frequently being depended on to shape the overall culture of their respective companies. Dax Dasilva of Lightspeed says, “Company culture is not an HR function it comes from the top.” This is a welcome thought for HR, but the setting of a company’s culture takes a collaborative effort that runs through the entire organization. Over the last several years, the term culture has been widely used in industries and businesses of all sizes. And more than just a buzzword, the effects of culture on any given business are undeniably monumental.
The reality is that culture has always been a part of business, and it always will be. The difference in culture building of today, vs. many years ago, is that today there is the recognition that leadership can be proactive in actually creating and building culture, instead of just letting it happen.
One of the great distinctions in today’s culture building process, from years past, is recognizing the uniqueness of a business (who it is and what it stands for), as well as recognizing the individuality of each employee. There are generations past that dealt with a different time in history, and they held to certain values that shaped their life and work experience at the time. There was a time when a man (and sometimes a woman) would go to work for a company, and stay with them their entire working life. They trusted the company to “take care” of them into retirement. The culture of those times brought about an understanding that you just did what you were asked to do, and out of respect for authority, you didn’t question what you were being asked to do. Authority and leadership sat in a different space for that generation than it does today. The culture, therefore, was one of compliance and execution, with much less partnership and collaboration than we see in today’s business.
While some may argue that certain times are better than others, typically pointing to the past as the “good ole days”, the results that we have today are often shaped out of the abuses, or what was wrong from the past, as we strive to make our life experience rich, and our work environment a better place.
Thankfully, today’s workforce is much more diverse than it has ever been, with greater acceptance and “room” for both men AND women alike, along with people of all ethnicities, life styles, and experiences. The landscape that has been shaped by previous generations like the G.I. Generation, followed by the Silent Generation, followed by the Baby Boomers has now evolved with Generation X, and most recently the Millennials.
Today’s great company cultures represent a clear direction and leadership from the top, defining the values that shape a company. But they also recognize the necessity of their employees to maintain their own individuality. In fact, there is currently movement in companies helping their employees to build their (the employee’s) own brand, as a representative of their company. And while there are just the beginnings of this movement (and who knows where it will ultimately lead), it is the recognition that just because people are an employee of a company doesn’t mean they have to forfeit their “voice” in the organization.
Great cultures don’t make employees “tow the company line”, or shut down questions and opinions. Strong and effective leadership opens the doors of communication for their team to express ideas, innovation, and honest feedback that can also include frustration, disagreement, and difference in opinion. These types of cultures that allow their staff to bring all of who they are to the “table”, get the added benefit of receiving everything that person has to add. Although it may be concerning for some in leadership, the value added to a culture from a fully engaged employee can be measured in many ways, including in organization’s bottom line.
Today’s workforce demands a meaningful work experience, that doesn’t require them to be an unquestioning “mouthpiece” for their employer. This demand is reflected in the values that American workers have today. They want to voice their opinions, because they want to be a part of solutions. They want to be a part of something that makes a difference in their life, which is why they want to work for companies that positively influence the world around them. They want better work-life balance, and strong mental health, which is why they want more PTO, health benefits (i.e. exercise options via their job), vacation, and other benefits that improve their overall life experience.
The giants that stand on the forefront of the cultural experience, like Google, recognize that the way to build a great culture is to integrate the full individual into their company values and goals. It’s the idea of unleashing the power of your people, instead of trying to control the power of your people. When you find a balance of leadership-developed ideals for your company, combined with the uniqueness of what each individual brings to the organization, you find a powerful and productive culture…and that changes everything.