Culture as a Collective: 2023's Big Differentiator

Published December 21, 2022

Culture. It’s what I believe will impact talent retention, and engagement the most in 2023, and I think that’s a big deal. Understanding culture as a collective is key to capitalizing.

2022 has been marked by some new trends. The Great Resignation, quiet quitting, and now, waves of layoffs rolling into the new year. Companies competed in a fiercely tight talent market, headcount numbers surged, and salaries trended up significantly.

2023 is without a doubt a different situation. It’s a bear economy with fears of recession looming. More employers seem to be reducing headcount than increasing it. Purse strings are tightening. Many companies are focused on keeping what they have and making the most of it. For smart businesses, retaining and engaging top talent is a key component of the financial game plan. After all, keeping the talent you have is a huge saving when compared to backfilling positions when employees move to a more appealing situation.

  • Research by SHRM suggests that replacement costs can be as high as 50%-60% with overall costs ranging anywhere from 90%-200%.

Putting a stop to employee turnover, candidate churn, and waning engagement stands to make a significant impact on the bottom line. Developing a healthy remote-first culture is a non-negotiable for CEOs looking to gain the upper hand. Reducing friction across the stages of the employee life-cycle might not be the overnight answer that founders are hoping for, but it may be the mid to long-term advantage that separates the leaders from the pack in 2023

According to a recent Gallup study, disengaged employees cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity. Don’t be a statistic.

Culture isn’t a thing, it’s a collection.

Company culture is not a singular thing, it’s not a transaction or an event. Imagine culture as a collective of an employee’s experiences as they journey through the lifecycle of working with your company. Those experiences are informed by the values a company embraces and how they translate to day-to-day operations.

If you’ve not intentionally created “a culture” by defining those values, you still have one, it just might not be what you hoped for. It is what the people who work with you say it is based on what they experience. 

Culture Collective

Culture happens at different stages of a journey

  • Recruitment and employer brand are where cultural experiences begin for many. 

well-designed hiring process with a strong emphasis on candidate experience is a great way to put your best foot forward. Think of it as a candidate’s introduction to your culture. Recruiter outreach should be thoughtful and forthcoming. Job advertisements should build trust through transparency and realistic expectation setting. Interviews should be standardized and as free from bias as possible. Hiring managers should be well-trained to execute their tasks. Candidates should experience an equal exchange of value for time invested in the process. Oh, and ghosting is never a good look. 

When hiring remotely, an all-day onsite isn't an option. Extra care is needed to expose candidates to their future colleagues, communication rhythms, and workflows within distributed teams. 

  • Benefits and compensation offered, and offer acceptance are part of the collective. 

What will your total compensation philosophy say about your company? What do your benefits communicate a commitment to? In many organizations, flexibility is presented as a benefit, but for organizations strongly committed to inclusion, it’s an operational strategy. How do you present it?

  • Onboarding creates a new opportunity for cultural experiences.

Onboarding is an opportunity to create connection and trust while setting employees up for success. Having a shareable resource to prepare new hires for the onboarding experience goes a long way to reducing those first day on the job nerves. What can employees expect during their first day, week, or month on the job? Remote teams must strike the balance between synchronous connection and engaging asynchronous knowledge transfer. A robust knowledge base is critical to success. 

Culture Collective
  • Management practices up and down the organization, including feedback and evaluations, appreciation, promotion, and career progression make up a significant portion of culture.

They say people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. How are management practices impacting the experience of your employee population? Many managers are promoted to management because they are exceptional individual contributors. It’s critical that managers have adequate training and coaching on being successful managers. 

Remote direct reports, and especially those in entry-level or junior roles, may need an additional level of support that doesn’t cross into micro-management. It’s also important for managers to have a measure of insight into the well-being of their teams and help them guard against burnout and a work-life balance that is out of balance (I recommend Kona).

  • Daily operations: How employees spend their time, what level of control they experience, how much value they get from the activities assigned to them (projects, meetings, learning initiatives, etc.), and how much value they feel they contribute are all important factors. 

The processes and systems described up to this point make up the framework of employee experience. The day-in and day-out of an employee’s working week operates somewhere in the in-between. Distributed teams face unique challenges. How are collaboration tools leveraged? How much autonomy do individuals have over the tasks they work on and what they prioritize? Having clear expectations on working hours and boundaries is needed, even if they're highly flexible. Informational silos should be avoided and decision-making empowered. A comprehensive handbook is a great place to begin. 

  • Finally, the time for change comes. At the end of the journey an employee off-boards. 

There have been many examples of distasteful layoffs in the final months of 2022, but there have also been bright spots that showed how a values-guided leader can build cultural capital in a time of loss. Beyond the optics of well-timed and articulated layoff announcements, offering resources for those impacted is an important piece. Resumé and Linkedin profile reviews, interview coaching, and employee (or alumni) support groups, are easy to offer and go a long way in retaining brand affinity.

This last experience and every brand interaction that follows, along with with all of the preceding ones, make up a culture. 

Putting the Culture Pieces Together

In the same way that a product is a collection of features and functionality, culture is a collection of processes and people. Each piece of culture deserves intentional design, excellent execution, and talented oversight. 

Every experience in an employee (or contractor) journey contributes to the culture collective. When experiences are optimized for, insert company value, the results are a culture that boosts engagement, reduces attrition, and drives high levels of satisfaction.

Optimizing experiences for anything else (or not optimizing for anything) results in an unintended culture. 

The stakes are too high to leave this to chance.

It's never a bad time to start building culture as a collective

If you feel there’s a gap between where your culture is today and a culture that every employee can be proud of, make the commitment to intentionally improve it, one experience at a time. Continue to see culture as a collective at your company.

If you’re looking for help intentionally optimizing your existing experience, and building out a cultural journey that retains and engages your best people, I’d love to talk with you.

Culture Collective

Pictures by Sophia Jené Photographs