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In our now normal, company culture seems to have taken a back seat to… well, everything else. So how do we retain our best talent?
Statistics tell us that 2020 was “the year of productivity.” As the world of business moved all its staff into their bedrooms, efficiency levels skyrocketed. Gone were those unproductive hours in the air, on the road, in the canteen, and at conferences. They were replaced by an endless stream of back-to-back Zoom meetings, with hardly a minute left for a toilet break or a single creative thought. Instead, we belong to the next Outlook notification: “Reminder: Microsoft Teams meeting: 15 minutes.”
But I’d suggest that while quantifiable productivity rose in 2020, company culture went into free fall. Not an especially big deal, one might argue, as business owners found themselves caught in limbo between panic and delight. While bent over backward, they watched the bottom line swell while transportation and real estate costs plummeted.
Ironically, this new reality might spell the end of the very concept of the corporation. At the very least, it raises a truly fundamental question. One that millions of employees are secretly asking themselves behind closed doors…
Why bother working for a corporation?
Our Now Normal
Here’s the issue. As employees dropped like flies, cut loose throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the fata morgana of a “permanent job” showed its true colors: a nice idea, but with very little solid underpinning. Instead, employers rewarded employees with an unexpected bonus, a pipeline of bureaucracy channeled straight into their bedrooms. Forget about the separation of private life and work life in our now normal. Many families found themselves with multiple family members juggling multiple conference calls while simultaneously handling the baby and the toddler, the dog, the cooking, the cleaning. And in return? They heard that their salaries might be reduced, since their remote work took place in a low cost-of-living area.
Friday afternoon happy hours were a thing of the past, along with birthday songs, late afternoon hangouts, company parties, and townhalls. In their place, you guessed it: another Zoom meeting.
Some have realized that maybe it’s time to rethink the workplace. Or at least how they fulfilled their role in the workplace. Perhaps it’s time to go freelance. Not a big difference when you think about it. No concerns about distance, or the fear of receiving notice, or the monotonous workday. For many of the most highly skilled people, it won’t take very much convincing.
What is Next?
In the aftermath of COVID-19, with countries like China, Korea, Taiwan, and Australia finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, there’s been a dramatic surge in such search terms as “personal branding.”
Here’s the situation. Many employees are coming to the conclusion that a future working for one employer simply does not make sense. Instead, now they’re building their personal brand, making contacts, attracting business, and offering their services to the world at large.
I’d argue that we’re reaching the tipping point, at which the very idea of working for a corporation no longer makes sense. Why bother fighting a never-ending stream of politics, bureaucracy, red tape, rules, and regulations when you can keep a nice arm’s length from all of them? How does a good night’s sleep sound, without the constant worry of losing your job?
In sales, they say it costs ten times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. It’s at least that much in the case of employees, but most companies seem to have forgotten that fact.
Investing in Culture
Which brings me back to the beginning, when I observed that Microsoft didn’t pre-install a “culture button” in Teams: As a leader, that’s your role – not Microsoft’s (or Zoom’s, or Google’s). It’s your job to start focusing on your organization’s culture. That money saved in rent and travel costs? That money doesn’t belong to the bottom line. The truth is, it belongs to a bleeding culture in crisis.
Now is the time to reinvent what culture means. As managers and leaders, we need to be aware that many of our employees ask themselves, “Why should I, as an employee, stick with a company when the only connection I have is through the internet?”
As managers and leaders navigating our now normal, we need to ask ourselves: How can we reinvent the sort of culture that leads our best people to decide to stay with us?
To learn more about Martin’s new book, please visit MartinLindstrom.com/Ministry-of-CommonSense.