The multi-generational workforce is here to stay. Today’s companies already employ baby boomers, Gen-Xers and millennials — and now, Generation Zers are joining the ranks. In fact, as mature employees extend their careers (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that nearly 20% of Americans older than 65 are still working), this multigenerational “trend” seems to have become the norm.
There’s no doubt that accommodating and integrating workers who span a wider age range can make it more difficult to build a cohesive culture that bridges generational expectations. Interestingly, studies like the Deloitte 2017 Global Human Capital Trends Report show that only 23% of companies believe their multi-generational workers are aligned with their corporate purpose. This gives me pause, because culture and employee purpose not only drive employee behavior, but they also play a crucial role in driving innovation. In fact, the Deloitte 2016 report found that 82% of respondents believe that culture is a potential competitive advantage for employers.
Building a culture takes discipline. Guideposts are necessary to foster a culture that rings true to a company’s mission. On the other hand, a leader needs flexibility to allow employees growth and opportunity within the cultural structure. Those guideposts tend to widen over time, yet too much wiggle room can lead to misalignment.
So what’s the right amount of flexibility? Certainly, it differs from business to business, but here are three tips for creating a strong, yet adaptable, employee culture:
1) Know your mission. As a manager, have you defined what innovation actually means to you? I have. To me, innovation means updating known processes and tools to fit with current or future business needs. It’s OK if each person’s definition is slightly different, but innovating for innovation’s sake is not OK. The word has become a panacea, something that can be universally attached to new ideas, processes and technologies to give them some shine. Don’t fall for shiny objects. With the help of senior leadership, make smart choices about new offerings that can make a real and lasting impact, deciding which fit the culture and mission the business is trying to build.
2) Find leaders in the front lines. As the ancient proverb goes, “A fish rots from the head down.” No matter the business, no matter the industry, support from leadership is crucial when trying to build, proliferate and sustain a culture. By leadership, I mean this in both the “Capital L” way and by its actual definition. It’s obvious that buy-in from “Capital L” Leadership — the executives — is important to help facilitate culture. But also, it’s important to look for natural leaders among the ranks. Who, even at a lower level, is the kind of person who will help to define culture simply through their day-to-day actions? Companies should consider how to seek out, bolster and encourage natural leaders who will strengthen company culture.
3) Constantly gauge employee sentiment. What may seem obvious — checking in with your employees — is not yet a focus for many companies. The Deloitte report found that 79% of companies survey their employees once annually or less, and 14% never at all. If companies don’t check in with their employees, the desired culture could be completely misaligned from the actual culture that employees experience. Changing how you gauge employee sentiment does not require an overhaul of your feedback systems. Just make better use of what you already have. Use candidate interviews, ongoing performance conversations, exit interviews and meetings as ways to build a comprehensive, real-time understanding of employee concerns.
Leaders know that a strong culture can benefit their firms. But they also know that a unified, productive culture can be difficult to achieve. According to the 2017 Deloitte report, nearly 80% of executives rated employee experience as very important or important, but only 22% reported that their companies were excellent at building a differentiated employee experience. The good news is that employees want an environment where they’re engaged. That level of commitment can improve wellness and well-being, and ultimately employees who are more likely to participate in and support a workplace culture that is driving company success.
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