Cultural development at traditional companies

April 19, 2018

By Natalie B. Hoffmann, CPA.CITP,

It’s a buyer’s market for today’s talented job seekers. Companies are forced to compete for the industry’s top talent, and the candidates are expecting more from organizations in terms of community service, transparency and authenticity than ever before. Today’s job seekers are not just searching for the best salary or even benefits; younger generations particularly are looking for a company culture they can stand behind and believe in. If they don’t find it, they are apt to move on and quickly.

Cultural development at traditional companies is now at the top of many visioning lists. While there has always been a sense of company culture in every industry and profession, today it is more top-of-mind than ever before. It has become a differentiator in how companies attract and retain their industry’s best talent. Previously, people stayed in jobs longer than they do today, but with a generation that is increasingly transient and mobile, companies are not able to easily lock down their workforce with stability and benefits guarantees alone.

Generational shift

A generational shift is the driving force behind traditional companies embracing culture as essential to their future visioning processes. Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1981) and Millennials (1981-1999) are converging on the workplace and bringing with them a vastly different set of expectations for every aspect of professional practice and development. While Boomers and Gen Xers have historically been happy with personal space at a company and to punch in, work and punch out, Millennials are more likely to desire a more flexible work schedule and environment including working from home or offsite. This flexible attitude has rubbed off some on Boomers and Gen Xers who see the merits of this type of work/life balance when it comes to spending more time with their families and friends.

Furthermore, members of the Boomer and Gen X generations are more apt to stay in a job longer, trusting in the process of time spent and hard work to get them to the top, or at least further up the ladder. Millennials, conversely, are more apt to try and hack the system, in a way. The old way of explaining the process and system for advancing from point A to point B is an unacceptable solution for this generation. They want to make an impact in the organization for which they work now, and they want to be told what they need to do to accomplish that with regular feedback. This shift in thinking can catch traditional companies off guard who are not willing to adapt their human capital management (HCM) practices to accommodate very different expectations from each generation.

Increasingly, an authentic rapport with the executive team, a transparent mission, and proven dedication to community service or other good causes are all expected out of traditional firms from Millennials. Those in financial related industries are more likely to face skepticism from younger generations who have grown up in an era of distrust. If organizations are keeping company secrets close to their chest until it’s too late, or if there is any sense of suspicious activity behind the scenes, Millennials are likely to turn away from a company and seek employment somewhere they feel is more reputable. Organizations that have embraced authenticity, transparency and philanthropy are likely to draw in the younger generations seeking to work for a company that is making a positive difference in the world.

Developing culture

The shift in thinking and cultural expectations across generations is forcing many companies to rethink their core values and go through a visioning process to understand their “why” and where they stand. Truly embracing and understanding your why helps a company better communicate their mission to employees and to the world. When everyone at the organization knows what the why is, what it means and how it applies, it becomes a driving force behind where an organization can go in the future.

When the why is embraced, it helps companies develop a culture surrounding that mission. A clear-cut why will make the process of aligning employee expectations with the company’s goals and vision a much easier endeavor. Those who understand, agree with and embrace the why are likely to stay, and those who cannot or will not will move on. In this way, companies build and aligned culture that melds with their vision and plans for the future. Decisions on additional benefits or flexibility can be made keeping a company’s particular why in mind, and employees can determine whether that aligns with their goals.

Future of workplace culture

It is likely the trend of more flexible work places not just in physical space and time, but also in how employees can move throughout the company, will continue into the future with a few adaptations along the way as technology, and other factors change the way business is conducted. The only significant change one could imagine is if the shift goes back to a much more traditional, structured work environment. Indeed, some companies who have embraced full-on flexibility have reigned some of it back in due to limitations within their organization or industry that were not foreseen. The ability to identify your why and furthermore, the how, will help companies avoid having to reverse any cultural allowances due to undesirable outcomes. Bearing that in mind, anticipate the current trends will continue as Generation Z enters the workplace as well.

Cultural development is crucial at traditional companies who desire to attract, retain and develop top talent that fits with and will embrace their why. Generational influences have made dramatic changes in traditional companies who previously did not have to consider their workplace culture as much as they are required to do today. Taking the time to understand each generation’s expectations, considering that in your visioning processes, and communicating well with employees will advance traditional firms beyond their competition who may be struggling or refusing to adapt.

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