Studies have shown that your company's culture has an impact on everything from employee turnover and engagement to productivity and your bottom line. Recent research from Deloitte discovered that 94 percent of executives and 88 percent of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.
As the co-founder and CEO of YouEarnedIt, Autumn Manning knows quite well the benefits that come from creating a successful company culture. Her HR platform helps improve a company's bottom-line performance metrics by enhancing the employee experience.
Manning is a workplace expert and culture champion who has used her background in behavioral psychology and human capital management to re-examine the way businesses and employees interact and engage. She co-founded YouEarnedIt in 2013 and has the grown the company tremendously in the past five years. Today, more than 400 global brands are using the YouEarnedIt platform to provide real-time recognition to their employees.
We recently had the chance to speak with Manning about the benefits of having a positive company culture, how to assess the current state of culture and how to change your culture if you aren't happy with the one you have. We also asked her some rapid-fire questions about her career and advice she has received over the years.
Q: What are the tangible benefits that come from having a positive culture? What are the downsides of having a more toxic culture?
A: In the current job market, with low unemployment rates, multi-generational workforces and the awareness of what "great" looks like, employees expect and want so much more than just a paycheck. Creating a rewarding and engaging workplace culture goes a long way toward retaining employees (especially your top talent), improving job performance such as revenue, customer experience and profitability, and ultimately creating an organization better aligned to where the company needs to go.
When looking at what matters to today's workforce, employees want a deep sense of connection to others at work, a sense of meaning and purpose, to know they have an impact on the community and lives of others, and appreciation for the hard work and effort put in each day. When you offer these things across your culture to employees, they are happier, healthier, more productive, and the best brand stewards for other recruits and your customers than one could ever ask for.
On the other hand, a big mistake companies make is not having a clear understanding of what culture is, and more importantly, the executive level not owning and prioritizing culture. Culture also changes over time as your business grows. If leadership doesn't have an intense focus on both building and sustaining the right culture for your business and the people you want to attract, an accidental culture creeps in, one that can be toxic and works against what you have worked hard to create.
This plays out in many ways: lack of collaboration, impacting speed to communication and creative problem solving; surprise resignations of your top talent because they don't stand for bad culture long, and missed sales and service opportunities for your customers.
Pay attention to it. Drive it from the top. Make it a regular strategic priority of your business.
Q: What is the best way to assess the type of company culture you currently have?
A: As an executive, you can tune into a few things: how problems are solved, and whether the employees take ownership of not only identifying the problems, but participating in the process of solving them. Asking your various team members what they are working on, and why, will help you see how much alignment and consistency exists across teams, individual contributors and management.
If this is disconnected, the culture isn't supporting a highly engaged, high performing workplace. After all, a good culture is synonymous with strong operations where the workforce is aligned to what matters, why it matters, and there is ownership and belief that they impact the success (or failure) of these things.
Of course, there are the traditional measures of culture that are very valuable and shouldn't go unmentioned: measuring engagement regularly, having periodic meetings to get organic feedback on the employee experience, and feedback sessions with teams at various periods of their employee lifecycle to ensure you hear directly from them. Ask them to describe the culture, how it helps or hinders their experience, and work to solve what needs to be solved.
Q: If you are an established business and want to change your culture, what is the best way to go about it?
A: Focus on the employee first and tap into what truly moves the needle above and beyond everything else. When companies put employees at the top of the pyramid and listen to what's meaningful to them, everything changes.
The end results for companies that prioritize the employee experience are extraordinary – eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) scores go up, turnover of top performance goes down, and sales metrics, profitability and safety metrics are positively impacted. In addition, teams collaborate more and are better aligned to the mission and values of the organization enabling the company to have a stronger foundation for growth.
Q: How do you determine the type of culture that is best for your business?
A: Culture at every organization is different, but at the end of the day leadership has to make culture a strategic priority they talk about and are actively engaged in. Stepping back and asking yourself what behaviors and values you want to be known for, and which ones will get you to a place of success is how I think about starting culture. What people do you want to attract? What behaviors and mindset will serve your customers the best way?
Once you have this, starting to craft your practices around these things is the next step. If quick communication and transparency is important, your organizational practices should enable those things to happen. If serving others is important, your culture should enable the service to others. Determining the best type of culture starts with the end in mind: your mission, your vision and what success looks like for you, your company, and the people.
Q: Whose job is it to drive your company's culture? Is it the top executives? Is it managers? Is it the employees? Or, is it a combination of all three?
A: Business leaders need to make culture a strategic priority, but it is up to everyone in the organization to be a part of it, drive it and reinforce it. For a company to succeed at building a strong, positive culture, I believe it starts with the CEO and the executive team. If there is clear alignment and buy-in there, then it's up to everyone else to drive it and own it. Managers are key because of the influence and authority they have in the organization, but every single hire should be one that is in alignment with the culture you have and want to build upon.
Q: What are some tips on instilling the type of company culture you want in your employees?
A: When it comes to culture, there are three ways executives can lead by example: champion culture from the C-suite, live out your core values, and over-communicate. While every aspect of culture shouldn't fall on leadership, you are the gatekeeper for your culture and the one who will inevitably decide – through your actions and your words – what is acceptable or not in your culture.
It is extremely important to define culture and the values that support. This not only allows people to understand the behaviors, mindsets and practices that support your culture, but it also operationalizes it by enabling others to tie their work to these values. You can do this through real-time recognition and a performance alignment process that reinforces and rewards those who are living out the culture and the values.
Finally, taking inventory of the communication and collaboration channels or mechanisms in place: how often is the CEO and the leadership team communicating to and with the company about what matters and how you get from here to there, including the behaviors that will get you there? What about managers to employees, and employees to other employees. I believe there is a direct correlation between communication and collaboration opportunities and the strength of a culture.
Q: How should your company's culture impact your hiring decisions?
A: Promoting culture to the candidate is a way to ensure you are stacking the deck with people who want to be a part of the culture and not just simply looking for a paycheck. Interviewing for cultural fit is something we do at YouEarnedIt and it has paid off, allowing us to vet candidates who share the values and beliefs we hold in high regard. Finally, somehow giving your candidate a glimpse of your culture throughout the process is key as well. Given the competition for top talent, candidates are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing them.
When a company has a well-established culture, it also frequently plays a significant role in recruiting new talent. In today's job market, many candidates are looking to work for companies that align with their beliefs and vision. In fact, many candidates are willing to put a company's culture over other factors, such as money and benefits, when deciding where they want to build their careers.
One of the best ways to communicate your company's value during the hiring process is by tapping into the people that know your brand best: current employees. These are your brand advocates and giving them an opportunity to interact with potential hires will allow employees to feel like their voice matters and new hires to feel like they are getting a full understanding of what your company stands for and has to offer. And, if you're able to give a candidate the opportunity to spend some time in the office observing or participating, it can really help them understand what a day in the life would be like.
During the interview process, be upfront in your description of roles, responsibilities and desired skills to give potential hires a clear picture of what working at your company would look like. Not only has this been shown to help new hires stay in their job longer, but as a company you are setting them up for success from the start.
Rapid Fire Questions
Q: What piece of technology could you not live without?
A: Google Hangouts, Slack and YouEarnedIt. The use of these three technologies enable us to stay connected, collaborate in real-time, and reinforce our culture day to day.
Q: What is the best piece of career advice you have ever been given?
A: People can learn from anyone, or any situation, if you are willing to listen and apply. My step-dad instilled in me a love for education, a deep sense of discipline and commitment to the pursuit of excellence. And he helped teach me the importance of confidence, which has helped me many times as a female leader in technology.
As a kid, when I would tell him an answer to a question, his response was always, "Are you sure?" After I expressed my assurance the first time, he would nudge again and make sure, "Are you absolutely sure that's right?" When I would waiver after that second prompt, he would offer, "You were right. Don't doubt yourself."
Q; What's the biggest mistake you have made?
A: When we were a younger business, I sometimes justified a hire and told myself that the skillset of the person isn't ideal forever, but is great for right now. Wrong. Any key hire you make has a material impact on your culture, the team dynamics, and the operations. There is no, "good hire for now" scenario. If the person isn't a stellar cultural and functional fit for the long haul, don't hire them. If you find you are having to make any justification in your mind whatsoever, it's a pass.
Q: What's the best book or blog you've read this year?
A: I return to Mark Suster's blog, bothsidesofthetable.com, often. He has honest, direct advice for entrepreneurs and doesn't shy away from the hard realities that come from trying to build a successful culture and business. Of course, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" is like the entrepreneur's bible. I re-read it once a year. On a personal level, "The Ragamuffin Gospel" is one I revisit often as well.
Q: What's the biggest risk you've taken professionally? Did it pay off?
A: When I co-founded YouEarnedIt in 2013, I was hesitant to also become CEO for the first time. Although I ran operations at my last company, I didn't feel that I had "what it takes" to be a CEO while also raising my young children. Thankfully, I was convinced by my co-founder to take on the role and, over the past six years, have built the business and created something that truly makes a difference in the lives of thousands of employees.
Taking money from investors of any kind is a big risk as well. Once you raise money, you are tasked to deliver on some serious promises and commitments to lots of people who bet on you and your company. That's why conviction, purpose, and a relentless pursuit of finding creative solutions to really hard problems is important if you are ever going to raise money for your business.
Q: As a leader, what's the biggest challenge you face?
A: Being self-aware enough to know what type of leader the company needs at any given point in time, and finding a way to align this need with my strengths and passions is critical and oftentimes challenging given all that comes at you when you are running a company (and being a mom). It requires tremendous self-awareness, the ability to look into the future with some data (never all the data you want) and make a call regarding the direction of the company or the future for an employee. It's important to take this seriously while making decisions quickly and with confidence.