The following article was originally published in Fast Company.
Now more than ever, leaders are analyzing, debating, and trying to predict what the new year will bring. We have never before experienced such uncertainty and unpredictability affecting all areas of business.
Despite the great unknowns, there’s one critical action that should guide every leader’s vision in the new year: prioritize your corporate culture. Nurturing your internal culture enables people and business to thrive. After a year of uncertainty, chaos, and social unrest, how companies function internally not only has a profound impact on employees and corporate reputations, but it directly affects organizational growth and influences every aspect of your business.
This became even more apparent to me with the recent tragic passing of one of Silicon Valley’s iconic leaders and proponents of corporate culture, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh. In a New York Times interview he discussed the company’s incredible success: “We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself.” Here’s why his philosophy is even more relevant and imperative today and how it will inform other business priorities in 2021.
INTERNAL RELATIONS ARE NOW EXTERNAL
For years, marketers have known that most consumers want to make purchases from companies with values that align with their own. During this pandemic, value-based consumer loyalty is driving market realities more than ever. In a recent report, 90% of people believe brands must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends. And 66% of consumers consider elements like company culture and employee welfare as factors that determine whether they buy from one brand over another. Building brand belief across the whole of the organization has become critical to commerce.
To keep employees engaged and attract the values-based generation of consumers, all your actions should be led by your brand purpose. Your brand purpose should be well-defined, understood, and infused across your organization via all touch points—in everything you make, say, and do. Your purpose can be a galvanizing force—something bigger than a company’s commercial offering—that people can believe in to drive innovation to all parts of the organization. This is also a great time to evaluate and possibly update your company core values to make sure they are still relevant in the new world order.
PUTTING YOUR PEOPLE FIRST WILL BUILD BACK BUSINESS
As the pandemic lingers and employees continue to work from home, hiring and retaining productive employees will be a challenge. According to a report by SHRM, one in five Americans left a job due to poor company culture within the last year. Replacing an employee costs up to 150% of their annual salary and drives productivity into the ground. Organizations that want to succeed in the post-COVID era must make sure employees feel valued, respected, connected, supported, and productive to prevent them from running to competitors with better culture.
In the new year, your primary focus should remain the health and well-being of your people. When employees come first, they can then take care of the business more effectively. This is the time to take another critical look at your benefits, workplace safety, and internal communications practices to make sure they are meeting your employee needs. Make sure to include staff feedback via surveys or managers to inform and prioritize your actions.
CULTURE IS A DIFFERENTIATOR
In periods of uncertainty such as the COVID-19 pandemic, strong corporate culture is even more important, as organizations need to leverage every competitive advantage they have. In a study of 5,000 respondents by Glassdoor, 77% of people would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there, and over half consider it more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.
In our virtual work world, nurturing culture is challenging. Identify the unique elements of your culture that create a sense of community and connectedness and then develop ways to re-create them online. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been using all the digital tools at our disposal to connect via virtual meet-ups, happy hours, book clubs, group yoga sessions, and more. Now we’re taking this a step further to recreate the more spontaneous encounters that we had in our open office space to keep our culture alive. We host a weekly virtual coffee shop where everything but business is discussed as well as a virtual meeting roulette where employees are randomly assembled to simulate moments like lunch on our rooftop or a drink at our TapServer.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION IS NOT JUST AN HR ISSUE
The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in corporate America has gained widespread public attention this year due to heightened recognition of social injustice and inequity. Rightly so, leaders are being called on to join the global effort to affect change, beginning with internal efforts to increase DEI efforts in their own workplaces. According to The Harris Poll, nearly eight in 10 Americans say they expect a company’s leadership to support racial equality. Companies with foresight will seize the opportunity in 2021 to not only make internal efforts a priority but also allow them to inform external actions.
Make sure your DEI viewpoints and goals are included in your brand purpose and infused across all your actions. Being inclusive of all will help attract the next generation of high-performing workers. Creating brand experiences for people of all backgrounds and abilities will attract more people to your brand. Better yet, this is sure to happen if you include people who represent the full spectrum of your consumer base in the co-creation or user-generated design process.
The path forward into the new year for any organization should be prioritized around nurturing a vibrant and strong internal culture to fuel the health, well-being, and productivity of your team. This investment will pay even more dividends in 2021 and years beyond.