Over the past year, the Neiman Marcus Group has deployed a workforce strategy aimed at “leading with love” and emphasizing empathy as a business practice. The goal is to spotlight the success of their leaders while attracting new talent by showcasing the importance of corporate culture.
Recently, research from i4cp revealed the changes in workforce management amid looming economic concerns and changes in corporate culture following the peak-pandemic period. The firm said in its report that 66 percent of respondents offer or plan to offer employees more remote work opportunities. And 58.3 percent of respondents said their companies had expanded flexible work schedules, locations and times. The survey also found that more than 71 percent of respondents said their companies are placing more emphasis or plan to place more emphasis on corporate culture, which includes a greater commitment to diversity and inclusion and environmentally sound initiatives, as well as having a clearer purpose and mission.
WWD: What role does corporate culture play in retaining workers?
Chris Matichuk: Corporate culture very much supports employee retention. By creating a positive culture, employees are more inclined to enjoy their workplace and less likely to look elsewhere for a new job. If an organization can elevate that to not only create a positive culture, but also recruit employees whose values are aligned with their own, they will build advocates or ambassadors that will not only be committed to staying with the organization, but will promote the organization to others.
Dave Loat: Attrition is one of the persistent outcomes of the pandemic. Tools that organizations used to rely on, such as wages, benefits, and paid time off, still play a role in employee retention, though that role is either somewhat or greatly diminished, depending upon the age group of the employee, with the older workers giving such tools more credence, and younger ones less.
And while many of the traditional tools have diminished in importance, the importance of corporate culture on retention has increased. This comes with a new set of challenges — whereas adjustments to wages, benefits, 401(k)s, and the like are easy to implement, you can’t change the corporate culture on a dime — improvements to it have to be built over time and require strong and consistent leadership.
However, if done right, your employees will identify more readily with your brand and become your brand advocates — both to your customers and to their friends and family.
WWD: And what are the elements of culture?
C.M.: Really comes down to values and norms — how employees interact with one another, communication tone, rewards and recognition, dress code, and even the physical surroundings can play a role in defining a particular corporate culture.
D.L.: Values and norms do play the defining role in what the culture is, but I would also add two other elements that I believe are essential to a great culture. The first is community engagement (or corporate philanthropy), and the second is the elimination of “tribalism.” I prefer the term “community engagement,” as I believe it speaks in a more meaningful way to Gen Z.
If your charitable programs resonate with your employees and you engage them in the execution of some aspects of the programs and celebrate the results, this can greatly contribute to a positive culture where employees feel that they are making a difference through their employer.
In terms of the elimination of “tribalism,” a healthy culture is one that: 1) works to create a single team, without “camps” or “cliques,” and where there is consistency and transparency in both regular communication as well as issue resolution, and 2) embraces diversity — having a diverse workforce that gives all employees a positive environment to explore what they are each able to bring to the table creates strong teams with a contagious commitment to their place of work.
WWD: For specialty retailers, how do you implement initiatives around culture and being “purpose-driven” while also being authentic?
C.M.: I think this is an area that many retailers do quite well. Often their brand is already associated with a purpose, and that attracts employees who are aligned with the same. Authenticity is ensuring you stay true to it in the business decisions you make each day and allow your employees to have a voice to raise objections or ask questions.
Where organizations face challenges is when they publicly try to align themselves to a cause that isn’t necessarily in their DNA but rather just on trend. Employees can sense this, and you lose credibility because it isn’t authentic.