In recent years, company culture has become a sticking point for workers and a crucial factor in recruitment and retention. Today’s workforce is looking for companies that share their values, live up to promises, and create healthy work environments. However, values and culture are not simply boxes to check and exercises to complete. They’re representative of who the company is and how it operates. And, if there is a misalignment between what a company says and what it does, today’s workers take note.
In fact, according to a recent survey on LinkedIn, 87% of Gen Z professionals are prepared to quit their jobs to work elsewhere if they feel the new company is better aligned with their values. Here are some key considerations modern companies should be thinking about when it comes to company values and culture.
Company values should be representative of what your organization really believes and how it operates — in prosperous times and challenging ones. Most importantly, your values can’t be hollow. Consider this passage from a 2002 article about business values in Harvard Business Review.
Take a look at this list of corporate values: Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence. They sound pretty good, don’t they? Maybe they even resemble your own company’s values. If so, you should be nervous. These are the corporate values of Enron, as claimed in its 2000 annual report. And they’re absolutely meaningless.
The author goes on to argue that most business value statements are “toothless,” and in some cases, “just plain dishonest.” Worse yet, the damage these empty promises can inflict goes far, deep, and wide, as evidenced by the Enron example, a scandal in which the company filed for the then-largest Chapter 11 bankruptcy in history.
While the decades-old article makes a timeless point, we poetically still have a more recent example. For a more modern lesson, we can look at the largest Chapter 11 bankruptcy to date: Lehman Brothers, Inc., whose mission statement began “We are one firm, defined by our unwavering commitment to our clients, our shareholders, and each other,” — a mission that was not exactly executed when it played a major role in the 2008 financial crisis.
While these are extreme and striking examples of what not to do, there are companies out there doing it right. Florida-based supermarket chain Publix is a perfect one. In 2021, the retailer was recognized among Fortune’s best places to work in retail. Let’s unpack some of the reasons why.
In its mission statement, Publix says it is committed to being “Passionately focused on customer value,” a sentiment that nearly every shopper can attest to. With clean floors, friendly staff, and an excellent selection of products, the retailer makes good on that promise every day in every store.
But the company also recognizes that the employee experience shapes the customer experience. That’s why the mission also promises that Publix is “Dedicated to the dignity, value and employment security of our associates.” And they follow through. The company is heavily invested in career development, providing its own careers site and job match program. For proof, look no further than Publix’s current CEO, Todd Jones, a living example who started his early career with the company as a grocery bagger. After a period of eligibility, Publix employees can also purchase shares of stock in the private company, providing even more financial stability. Most importantly, these actions prove to workers that Publix makes good on its employee-centric promises.
Let’s take a step back for a moment and think about this: Older millennials started their careers in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, many with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Gen Z started theirs with slightly less debt collectively, but it was hardly a silver lining. Their careers got started amid a global pandemic that completely upended the world. Many have never even worked in an office.
As both millennials and Gen Z now face the economic pressures that have followed the pandemic, it’s easy to recognize that this young labor pool has been deeply affected by circumstances well beyond their control. So, when it comes to values and culture, choosing a company that aligns with their own gives workers a little of that control back.
Creating authentic values is no small feat, but the benefits are profound. Start by being hawkishly honest and aggressively authentic. The fallout from creating a false narrative can, at best, create a gap between workers and management, and at worst, be devastating to the entire organization.
Next, involve the people who will be impacted most. You’re not imposing rule of law, you’re establishing beliefs and instilling standards. Often, the best answers will come directly from the workforce. Get input about your company identity and the composition of your values from all levels of employment, from frontline workers to c-suite decision makers.
Finally, integrate your values into everything. This is the true test and the final marker of whether your values will have a positive impact or a toxic one. If your company is committing to work-life balance as one of your top priorities, meetings shouldn’t be running past regular business hours. If you are promising transparency, don’t let workers find out about things like mergers and acquisitions on the news.
Aside from establishing values, today’s organizations must establish a system of living them out and consistently evaluate how well they’re executing them. WorkHound helps manufacturers, trucking companies, retailers and more listen intently to their workforce and engage in meaningful ways that support a positive company culture.
To learn more about WorkHound, contact us for a free demo today.