C-Suite's Responsibility for Building a Strong Corporate Culture
December 28, 2022
By Michael C. Haas
“The Great Resignation.” “Quiet Quitting.” These are trending topics across a wide range of industries struggling to attract, retain, and engage workers. Organizations are facing a leadership crisis that is affecting corporate culture and the employee journey in a big way. The massive shift to remote and hybrid work has created additional challenges — including employee retention — that companies continue to struggle to overcome.
It’s an environment where employees increasingly say they don’t trust management. In fact, Forbes reports that nearly one-third of employees feel this way. Leaders are failing to foster a sense of trust and loyalty in their workforce, and employees are heading out the door because other opportunities abound. They’re looking for more inspirational leadership that is accountable for its actions and committed to a culture that resonates with employees today.
Different times call for different leadership skills. We’ve certainly learned that during the pandemic. The C-suite needs to take responsibility for — and be held accountable for — building a strong corporate culture and a meaningful employee experience. They must be intentional about how they build that culture, show employees that they are valued, and provide them with opportunities to grow and thrive. And they must do this in an environment where they serve an increasingly diverse employee — and customer — base. Employees need a positive employee experience, where they feel included and that they are treated equitably. DEI has become a top-of-mind focus for both employees and employers.
Employers, driven by the C-suite, need to create an environment that employees want to be a part of, long term.
Richard Branson, widely recognized as an inspirational leader says it well: “A company is people…employees want to know…am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel? People really need to feel wanted.”
So, what can you do to ensure that you’re creating and effectively managing a company culture that resonates with, and engages, employees? Here we offer some strategic best practices.
Start With Better Leadership
It all starts with better leadership: leaders set the stage for and drive organizational culture. They must champion the mission, vision, and values they support and then demonstrate through both words and deeds that they do, indeed, support those values.
It starts at the top in other ways, too. Companies can’t expect to support DEI company-wide if its not reflected in the makeup of C-suite members. Farmers Insurance knows this and has embedded DEI in the C-suite as well as companywide in their work environment. Quoted in an HR Executive article, their Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), Mark Welch, says: “I would characterize it as good intent and a lot of good action without a fully formalized strategy. So, now we have the opportunity to take that intent and operationalize it.” It is, he says, “less transformative than it is the incremental, day-to-day work.”
C-suite leaders have a mandate to lead through influence
Great business leaders have integrity, credibility, vision, charisma, and exceptional delegation and decision-making power. But the leaders of today are vastly different than the leaders of yesterday. Leadership in the past has been primarily focused on answering to board members and shareholders. Today’s leaders, perhaps influenced by pandemic experiences, are more focused on the importance of human capital— and rightly so. Technical and functional leadership matters less these days — IQ is not enough; EQ is a must.
Essential leadership qualities in the new normal
The post-pandemic era is ushering in a new definition of leadership that builds upon the previous fundamental leadership qualities. These new qualities include resilience, creativity, collaboration, realism, authenticity, and optimism.
Inc. Magazine says that successful leaders must now also be changemakers.
Personal intangibles have the most impact
It’s their leaders’ personal qualities that make employees want to follow them, innovate, and commit to positive change. These are attributes like character, hustle, heart, passion, and persistence — the kind of attributes that leaders like Richard Branson embody.
Build a Better Culture
Culture is a competitive advantage that drives everything that happens with your organization. Companies with a positive organizational culture and engaged employees have performance data that undeniably demonstrates the positive impact a better culture can have. In fact, Gallup indicates that engaged employees are 18% more productive, and organizations are 23% more profitable and enjoy 43% less turnover.
So, what can the C-suite in your organization do to build a better culture while still delivering positive business outcomes? LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report identifies these top five drivers of a great culture:
1) Opportunities to learn and grow. This actually represents a significant change since 2019, when this ranked as ninth. Opportunities to learn and grow have increasingly been cited by employees as a factor that leads them to decide to work with an organization — and to stay there. These may be both formal educational opportunities, as well as various types of training, and even stretch assignments or opportunities to work with mentors.
2) Belonging. Some organizations, recognizing the importance of belonging, have added this to the traditional DEI acronym to reflect diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). Employees want to feel that they fit in with the organization they work for, that their input is valued, and that they can bring their whole selves to work.
3) Organizational values. Employees want to work for organizations whose values they share. C-suite leaders need to personally reflect the values the company claims in visible ways.
4) Support for wellbeing. Perhaps through their pandemic experiences, employees increasingly expect their employers to support their wellbeing — both physical and mental. This can be exhibited both through providing access to resources and offering flexibility and work/life balance.
5) Collaboration. Regardless of their role in the organization, employees must work together to achieve personal and company-wide goals. Collaboration is a critical element of culture. C-suite leaders have the opportunity to demonstrate through their own actions and interactions, that they are committed to collaboration.
The skills that helped C-Suite executives climb to the top might not to be enough to keep them there. The world has changed — leadership skills need to change as well. The steps above can help leadership move in the right direction to build a strong and supportive culture. When leaders evolve their leadership style, and be the visionary employees want to follow, that will create a culture that will attract and retain top talent and extend the employee lifecycle.
Want more action items that the C-Suite can use to increase employee engagement? Download our latest eBook: Employee Engagement for C-Suite Executives: 9 Transformational Insights that will Generate Positive Business Outcomes