Strong workplace culture key to empowering employees

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Employers must have a market strategy and a vision for their business, but they also need to create and maintain a culture that will support and maximize their employees’ potential, said CEOs at a recent fireside chat at the Great Place to Work Conference that took place in Chicago on Wednesday.

“I thought the role of CEO was [to create a] vision and strategy of company, [but] within a short time I realized that culture is what enables all those aspects,” said John Chambers, CEO of Cisco. “It’s the foundation, the one sustaining thing keeping us together from fading away like our competitors.”

It all begins with the CEOs believe in their culture, he said. “I don’t believe in human resources, but I do I believe in culture leaders,” he added, “and to get great talent is the differentiator in business.”

Chambers said that CEOs must remember that culture is what gets people to stay. With the current transient state of employees, he advised employers to start thinking like a millennial. Start thinking and be realistic about how young people think. It’s exponential, not linear, he said.

“If you don’t take this as one of your top priorities and drive it through, you won’t be around,” said Chambers. “You either disrupt or get disrupted.”

Echoing his thoughts, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ U.S. chairman and senior partner Tim Ryan agreed that embracing the needs of employees is imperative.

“When you put power in the hands of your people, great things will come out of that,” Ryan said in a separate fireside chat.

Investing in talent development at any and all levels is a huge component of the successes at PwC, he noted. “At the end of the day, most problems come down to talent, culture and values.”

Ryan offered three suggestions to employers who might be looking to shake things up.

· Work hard. “Nothing in life that’s worth having is going to come easy,” he said. “You will run into roadblocks, but be persistent.”
· Maintain your integrity. “You only get it once.”
· Be an optimist. “You’re all leaders and nobody wants to follow someone kicking the dirt,” he said. “Leaders have to be optimistic. Be realistic, but be an optimist because people will follow you.”

And Ryan added that it’s important to remember we only go around life once. “Don’t miss your opportunity,” he urged the audience of roughly 1,100 attendees. “Don’t be afraid. Large organizations are built to mitigate risk. But also understand organizations need to take risk.”

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