Culture: Borrowing from the best

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2016 and beyond
Also in 2015, social recognition was all the rage – but Heyward sees this coming off the boil a bit in 2016. “There was a massive investment and focus on building new tools and gadgets. Gamification was what it was going to all be about,” he says. “Social recognition is still important and a fundamental element of success lies in sharing recognition broadly across an organisation. However, the focus is shifting back towards the employer.”
Indeed, Heyward believes 2016 will see the focus shift from recognition being solely employee-centric – where the focus was on the user experience and social recognition – back to the employer: looking at the value in any recognition program they are running and using data and insights more effectively.
“I’ve noticed employers are keen to get the data providing them with an understanding of the communities that exist in their workforce. What are the hidden hierarchies, who are those leaders who are not necessarily managers but are key influencers? It’s really about knowing your employee, knowing who they’re engaging with, and knowing who those hidden leaders are.”
McCord also noted this employee knowledge is essential, especially when companies are in growth mode – she referred to “the split personality start-up”:

“At Netflix, I sometimes had to remind people that there were big differences between the salaried professional staff at headquarters and the hourly workers in the call centres,” she said. “As leaders build a company culture, they need to be aware of subcultures that might require different management.”
To help tailor approaches to recognition, Heyward anticipates a more seamless experience between mobile, tablet, and online during an employees’ lifecycle. “We’ve had many discussions over last nine months about the employee journey and the touch points you have with them over that time, as opposed to a recognition program that’s just happening today. It’s thinking more deeply about the role that recognition plays over the life of that employee – whether it’s three, five or 10 years. How does recognition change over the employee journey?”
Heyward also sees a trend towards simplifying recognition and benefits. “There’s been a trend towards greater sophistication and sometimes it’s just sophistication for the sake of sophistication rather than for actual need. I think we’ll see recognition programs simplified somewhat so you’re not trying to build a space shuttle every year. Keep it simple, keep it focused, make sure you’ve got executive buy-in. Focus on those things rather than building something sophisticated just because you can,” he says.
Indeed, Netflix, for all its focus on innovative HR, takes a surprisingly straightforward approach to talent management.  McCord referred to two “overarching principles”, which are ingrained in Netflix’s talent management philosophy:
  • “The best thing you can do for employees – a perk better than foosball or free sushi – is hire only ‘A’ players to work alongside them,” she said. “Excellent colleagues trump everything else.”
  • The second element of the company’s approach is a willingness to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, “no matter how valuable their contributions had once been”.
Smart hiring and effective performance management? Now that’s a two-pronged approach any organisation can implement.

An engaging culture
Want a Netflix or Google-inspired culture? It’s impossible to replicate culture, and there is “no silver bullet to driving culture”, says Alan Heyward. “A benefits program on its own or a recognition program on its own are just tools in your toolkit. If your culture is broken you have more fundamental issues to deal with before looking at those two.”
However, there are some common building blocks that winning cultures have:
  1. Leadership buy-in for any engagement-focused initiatives. Heyward cites the MD of Bankwest as a good example: “He will pick up the phone every week to random people who have been nominated through the Bankwest recognition program and spend five minutes with them, congratulating them on being recognised by their peers. It’s not just the top achievers, it’s anyone who made the list. Really visible executive buy-in can help steer the right culture in an organisation.”
  2. Clear expectations around strategy, execution of that strategy, how you’ll behave as an organisation. “We’ve seen organisations preach one thing and do something different, and very quickly the culture falls away. Atlassian consistently polls well as a great place to work. They have a set of values along the lines of: we’re an open company, we’re no bullsh*t and we don’t p*ss off the customer. The values are genuine, they’re something everyone can relate to, and they make it really clear what the expectations are if you want to work there. It’s a great starting point; your people could be engaged but they need to be clear on what they’re trying to engage with.”
  3. The fundamentals: “Challenge people to grow, give them permission to make mistakes and move on. Recognition and benefits are also part of this overall pie of engagement, but it would be starting with clear direction and expectations from the executive, having them be visible and demonstrating desired behaviours, and then driving that through recognition.”

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