Workplace Culture

What is company culture?

Company Culture: It’s more than free food and bean bags

1000 726 Yvonne Kilonzo

Creating a thriving workplace culture that employees love and are passionate about is every employer’s dream. However, despite the vast array of literature highlighting different aspects of company culture, it’s still difficult for many companies to define what team culture is and what it’s not.

If this sounds like your company, have no fear, Shortlist is here to cast light on all things team culture…read on!

What is company culture and what is it not?

Company culture is a company’s character; it encompasses the company’s values, norms, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits. Culture is what defines employees’ code of conduct, including how employees should behave in meetings, the risks they can take, the unwritten rules that exist and all. In brief, company culture guides teams in their daily work-life and if you are lucky to have a strong culture, it binds the team together.

Companies tend to link defining their company culture with hosting fun activities. Hence, they frequently associate culture with the cool stuff (karaoke nights, free beer on Fridays, Secret Santa traditions) that showcase companies as an enjoyable place to work, rather than communicating what the company actually stands for as well as its values. Don’t get us wrong, free lunch and bean bags are great, however, they do not in themselves set or define company culture.

In order to win talent and set a strong culture, organisations need to ensure that every team member, from top to bottom, lives by the firm’s values.

Why is culture important?

Be it a start-up or a  corporate, a productive company culture helps to drive the company’s mission, goals and objectives in the following ways:

#1 – Attracting talent 

In today’s job market, the best candidates have many options; they are empowered with the ability to choose where they would like to work. This shift calls for companies to come up with initiatives that are a magnet for top talent, particularly because candidates can get a view of the internal work environment of a company through Indeed and Glassdoor reviews or by reaching out to someone within the team through LinkedIn.

It is important to have a workplace culture which nurtures employees who can double up as influential recruitment brand ambassadors. Just as a new customer would trust a referral from an existing one, so do candidates. Companies should strive to win their internal clients over through a culture that inspires cohesion, trust and confidence as well as celebrates individual and team success. You can survey your current team on their view of your corporate culture and values to understand how your team experiences your culture and what they are likely to share with candidates. For example, Twitter employees rated the company highly in corporate culture and values boasting of a supportive and motivational team-oriented environment as well as a great mission statement. This is a good sign of how their employees operate as brand ambassadors.

#2 – Employee engagement

Employee engagement is defined by how individuals feel about the work environment, their workmates and their job, and it is highly driven by culture. Engaged employees display great commitment towards their work and have a genuine motivation to exceed their goals.

Great company culture can help to ensure that every team member knows their role in the organisation and how they fit into the company’s ultimate goals and objectives. When the team connects with the company culture, it gives their day to day tasks broader purpose and they feel like they do meaningful work. It gives them the energy to be at work and infuses a deep sense of ownership and employee loyalty. Teams with a great culture are more likely to come up with new ideas and also inspire the best out of other team members.

On the contrary, employees who do not see how they fit into the company’s goals tend to have a negative attitude towards their work. A poorly defined culture could further instil fear and mistrust among employees and also between employees and leadership. This eventually affects both individual and team motivation and performance.

Although work may be challenging, companies can help reduce individual stress through a strong culture. It is imperative for companies to promote a culture that allows employees to be the best versions of themselves and motivates them to work towards the company’s success. For example, Google strives to keep its employees happy through the freedom to be creative, a flexible work schedule among other intangible benefits. As a result, it was named the tech firm with the best corporate culture.

#3 – Retaining talent

Companies exert a ton of time and energy hiring the best people – thus, it makes sense for them to work just as hard to keep talent in the company. While competitive compensation and great benefits may keep employees hooked to a company, the role that a winning culture plays in retaining great talent cannot be understated.

Individuals are looking to work for organisations whose goals and objectives resonate with theirs, as well as a company that is genuinely interested in their growth. This was evident in our employer brand survey which showed that professionals value learning and promotion opportunities over salary and stability. Job seekers are looking for companies that offer freedom and encourage openness by having an open-door policy. When employees find such employers, they tend to be satisfied and happy, increasing their chances of staying longer at the company.  Safaricom, for example, has emerged as a top employer in Kenya in multiples reports for years now. The telecommunications giant’s employees appreciate its fast-paced yet fun environment that also offers real opportunities for growth.

Overall, an exceptional company culture is a win-win for both employees and employers. Employees get to be the best versions of themselves and perform at their full potential while employers get to attract and retain effective star talent. There is no better time than now for companies to promote a culture that defines them in a way that enables them to win both internally and externally.

How do you ensure a thriving team culture in your workplace? Share with us and watch out for more resources on company culture during our ongoing culture code campaign that will run until February 2020!

Book Recommendations Shortlist

Need a book recommendation? Check out these non-fiction classics

5275 3517 Paul Breloff

I love to read. So when my team asked for book recommendations in a recent Town Hall, I hopped on the opportunity to reflect a little on the books I’ve found helpful on my career journey these last 15+ years. These are all nonfiction favorites — narrowing my fiction favorites is simply too big a task — and all made a strong impression at the times I read them, even if they may not all stand the test of time equally. While these aren’t the most original or arcane selections, they’re ones you’ll almost certainly be glad you checked out.

Happy reading!

Books about the world: 

  • Guns, Germs and Steel (Jared Diamond) – One of the very first books I read that sparked my interest in why certain places were different than others. I am pretty sure I read it while backpacking in Vietnam. One idea that stuck with me was about the conditions that enable a production surplus (i.e., enough food that we can save it for the future) and how that served as the foundation for modern civilization (e.g., science, philosophy, commerce). The flipside, of course, is how horrifying it is to learn the ways those tools were used against the defenseless as imperial ambitions grew…
  • Cosmos (Carl Sagan) – This is a Carl Sagan classic, and if you don’t know about the Big Bang or time dilation or how big the universe is and you want to have your mind blown, read this book. While it hasn’t directly shaped my career, it’s definitely shaped my worldview (er, universe view) and I like to think there’s an alternate dimension in which I’m an astrophysicist.
  • Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari) – This guy writes his book as if he’s sitting on a nearby planet, thoroughly untroubled by the contemporary concerns of humanity and more interested to understand our trajectory from a cosmic or millennial perspective. The way he grounds the arc of human experience as an extended trajectory of conquest and stories, always within the frame of Earth’s lifetime, makes everything feel small but in a powerful, mind-expanding way.
  • India After Gandhi (Ramachandra Guha) and The State of Africa (Martin Meredith) – I read these books about a decade apart (IAG around 2009, SoA only this year) but they were indispensable books for me as I seek to better understand the context and history of these amazing markets I work in. The books are similar: massive tomes that take on the task of telling the myriad stories of hugely complex and diverse places from the time of independence movements (roughly mid-20th century) through the early 2000s. Obviously, any book like these is totally incomplete and I’m sure disputable on many fronts. But for me, they’ve been useful tools to help me structure my understanding of where India and Africa have been and search for clues about how best to navigate the present and look ahead.

Books about work and teams: 

  • Execution (Larry Bossidy) – I read this book a long time ago, and I fear it’s better suited to a simpler, pre-digital age — in certain parts they recommend writing hand-written letters! It contains a lot of wisdom and best practices about how to create systems for people, strategy, and operations to get stuff done and ensure maximum impact, productivity and accountability. While some of the tools work better if you’re leading big teams, there are ideas anyone can take advantage of, even if you’re just the boss of yourself. Another book recommendation on the execution theme is The 4 Disciplines of Execution. This one pushes us to focus on our “wildly important goals” and keep track of progress via “lead” measures on a scoreboard, all while (reassuringly) acknowledging the whirlwind of day-to-day stuff that can suck up 80% of our week.
  • The Four Hour Workweek (Tim Ferris) – The Tim Ferriss classic… It seems cliche to recommend this but what I really liked and what led to some useful epiphanies is the reminder that a good business makes money, and some of the best businesses make money quite simply — without crazy new ideas, lots of VC money, and impossible odds. It’s kind of an antidote to the voracious world-dominating viewpoints of most VC / entrepreneur books (e.g., Zero to One!) and re-grounds business in a simple profit equation: Put in as little resources as possible to make as much money as possible, and focus on actual free cash flows so you can live a really cool life.
  • High Output Management (Andrew Grove) – Another classic, written by the longtime Intel CEO and Silicon Valley legend Andy Grove. Maybe a little dated, but still largely applicable and covers a lot of amazing basics about building and growing teams, running complex organizations, creating leverage points, and making decisions.
  • The Culture Code (Daniel Coyle) – This one rocked my world, and was a topic of a previous blog post. In essence, Daniel Coyle asks, “Why some teams are more than the sum of their parts, and some are less?” This gave me a way for thinking about teams of all stripes (athletics, business, etc.) and what makes them great, without just falling back on some flaccid notion of “shared values.” There are a number of other culture-oriented books I’ve also enjoyed (including Primed to Perform, Delivering Happiness, and Setting the Table, to name just a few), but this one is special.
  • New Power (Jeremy Heimans) – Written by the CEO of Purpose, I recently found this book a very insightful and useful framework for thinking about the role of social media and movements and virality in building great businesses. I fear I am still an “Old Power” kind of guy (maybe it’s my age?), but there’s a lot in this New Power method and philosophy I’d genuinely like to learn and leverage to unlock professional potential through Shortlist.

Books about development: 

  • The Mystery of Capital (Hernando De Soto) – The book that drove me to become (briefly) a real estate lawyer… This is one of the most insightful development books I’ve ever read, describing the complicated interplay of law, record-keeping, and politics that turns things we own into “capital,” i.e., things we can easily turn into money through mortgage, collateralization, etc. The idea of widespread “dead capital” in emerging markets was fascinating to me, and I went into real estate law so I could learn in detail how a web of property rights and contracts could actually turn this dead capital into living, breathing capital ready to be deployed toward investment and growth.
  • The Elusive Quest for Growth (William Easterly) – The William Easterly classic (along with White Man’s Burden), which I remember as one big, brilliant takedown of traditional development economics and the development-industrial complex that rests on it. Easterly became a persistent counterpoint to Jeffrey Sachs and his “if we only had enough money, we could solve all the problems!” idealism. I like that this book eschews big development aid in favor of letting a thousand flowers bloom. This was an initial spark that got me more excited about tools like microfinance and entrepreneurship to solve big problems rather than massive institutions like the World Bank.

Books about startups:

  • The Hard Thing about Hard Things (Ben Horowitz) – A more recent hit, written by the iconic founder of venture behemoth Andreessen Horowitz. I found the first half a bit self-congratulatory, but the second half was full of interesting examples and insights about the challenges and celebrations along the way of building startups.
  • Traction (Gabriel Weinberg) and Lean Startup (Eric Ries) – These are good books to refer back to every once in awhile; they’re kind of like two sides of one coin. Lean Startup focuses on the “rules” of building product in a rapid prototyping/iteration model (“build-measure-learn” cycles), and Traction focuses on distribution and goes through a bunch of marketing and sales tactics to get your product out there.
  • Zero to One (Peter Thiel) – This is the Peter Thiel meditation on what makes a high-growth, dominant startup. There’s a lot here that I question or don’t agree with (e.g., the focus on building a monopoly as a positive thing, the need to dominate markets, etc.). But, it’s a really useful framework to try to make sense of the modern tech landscape and the difference between a normal business and a venture-backable startup.

I hope you were able to pick up one or two ideas for your next read. I’d love to hear your thoughts and your own book recommendations, so please leave comments or write me at paul@shortlist.net.

employee value proposition

Employee Value Proposition: Defining your company’s

5760 3840 Shortlist

Image Credit: Pexels.com

It’s every hiring manager’s nightmare — you have found the perfect candidate for an open position, but your dream hire has another offer on the table. At this point, the candidate is weighing every element of what each company has to offer, including salary, benefits, work culture, room to grow, and more. Here’s when your unique identity as an employer kicks in, and the importance of crafting a strong employer brand (Read More) becomes clear. It’s time to present your employee value proposition.

What is an Employee Value Proposition?

Similar to the way a company’s brand communicates its offerings and differentiators to the consumer, an employer brand aims to connect with a potential hire by demonstrating specific characteristics to attract the ‘right fit’ talent. We call those specific characteristics the employee value proposition (EVP). Put simply an EVP is the set of differentiators that make you an attractive place to work. According to a study by Gartner, a strong EVP can help you attract significant talent, boost employee engagement and reduce compensation premium by 50%. An EVP answers the following questions:

  • Why is your company a great workplace?
  • Why should a candidate work for your company instead of somewhere else?
  • What is in it for them?

While compensation and benefits are a crucial part of a company’s EVP, culture, career growth prospects and overall work environment sum up the whole package. Defining your company’s EVP is a significant part of your recruitment marketing and employer branding strategy. In order to attract the type of candidates who will thrive in your workplace and personalise your talent acquisition strategy, you must clearly define all the values you stand for and provide as an employer.

How to define your Employee Value Proposition?

Now that we know the importance of an EVP, we’ve created a set of questions that can help you define yours. To get started, plan a focus group or send a survey to all or a selection of your employees. It’s important to learn about your differentiators from your employees themselves, and not just the HR tear — after all, they are the ones living and breathing your company’s culture. Below is a list of starter questions, but feel free to customize and add in ones that are specific to your company or industry

Ten questions to ask your employees to define your employee value proposition

1. What are some of your biggest motivators at work?

2. What makes our company different from others you’ve worked for?

3. What do you think are the organisation’s most meaningful traditions?

4. What qualities do people need to have to be successful here?

5. What work are you most proud of? And why?

6. If you were considering joining another company for a similar compensation package, what are the factors that would make you want to stay with us?

7. What values are important to you in an organisation? How do you experience those values here?

8. How satisfied are you with your opportunity to learn and grow in our organisation?

9. How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job?

10. Does the management support your pursuits and commitments outside of work?

What’s next?

Once you have your survey results, analyze the answers to derive common themes, values and stories from the feedback to better understand and crystalize your company’s EVP. Your clearly defined EVP should shine through on every platform that a prospective candidate might see — job descriptions, career pages on your company website, marketing materials and social media.

And it’s not just online — you should also train your employees on communicating your EVP so that it can be conveyed during networking, candidate interviews and throughout recruitment more generally. In our next several blog posts in the series, we will be exploring these crucial steps in more depth, so stay tuned!

Keep it real

In the words of Michelle Hord-White, NBCUniversal’s VP of Talent Acquisition, “Your EVP has to be inspirational, not aspirational. It shouldn’t be a goal. It should be an experience that we can talk to candidates about, and 100 days after they get there, they can confirm.”

It’s important that your EVP represents where you are as an organisation today, not where you want to be tomorrow, in order to have it effectively attract talent who will thrive in your workplace.

Different strokes for different folks

In order to use your EVP effectively, customisation is key. Keep in mind the different priorities of your employee respondents based on their work experience and commitments outside of work.

If you want to attract recent graduates to fill in entry-level positions, pay attention to the answers to this exercise from people with similar profiles in order to highlight why your company is a great fit for millennials.

Similarly, if you’re looking to hire managers at more senior level who may have children, you can highlight your company’s childcare services and other parent-friendly components in the interview and job description.

Stand by for more on employer branding

As a part of our latest campaign on employer branding, we will be sharing fresh and actionable resources and tools like these over the next few months. To receive all of our top tips straight to your inbox, sign up for our weekly newsletter here!

If you’re hoping to learn any specific about EVP, let us know in the comments below.

Employer branding tips for Kenyan companies

Download our survey report for actionable insights from 1,200+ Kenyan professionals