While not often thought of as a traditional employee benefit, workplace culture can have a big effect on an employer’s efforts to retain talented workers.

“Trust fuels performance,” said Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop, speaking at the 2016 Great Place to Work conference in San Diego, Calif., last week.

Build-A-Bear's CEO, Sharon Price John addresses the audience at the 2016 Great Place to Work conference in San Diego. [Image credit: Great Place to Work]
Build-A-Bear's CEO, Sharon Price John addresses the audience at the 2016 Great Place to Work conference in San Diego. [Image credit: Great Place to Work]

The CEO of the once downward spiraling retailer spoke of what it took for her to rebuild an environment where trust would thrive between employer and employee. Following a multi-year performance decline – culminating with a $49 million loss in 2012 — John turned things around by 2014, ending the year with a $14 million net income.

Turnarounds often have less to do with changing the business itself and more to do with changing the behavior and attitudes of the people running the business, she said.

But to develop a stronger culture, employers need to look inside the organization, beginning with those who greatly influence an employee’s mindset: HR and benefit professionals.

“Companies that focus on HR outperform others,” said Anil Saxena, an executive culture consultant with Great Place to Work.

The HR and benefits role is changing at successful companies, Sexena added. Employers are likely going to start leveraging several HR skills to enhance a business’ bottom line, he said.

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“Companies that focus on HR outperform others."

Some of the skills he notes that will likely play bigger roles in the future include data analytics, organizational engineering and business expertise. Data analytics are going to play a major role in helping drive business results, he said.

“CEOs want a business person first, and an HR leader second,” he added. “They need to be able to decipher and deliver.”

Another key skill for industry professionals to master includes cultural management and being able to steer workplace culture toward higher performance and success. And being able to connect each and every employee to the company’s goals and vision will ultimately help retain customers, he said.

He encourages employees to talk about their impact on the customer. “Gather that folklore that tells your company’s story,” said Saxena.

But Build a Bear’s John adds that when re-strategizing an organization’s culture, it’s not just a box you check off, it’s a constantly evolving process. “Change never ends,” she said.

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