company culture

#WorkTrends: Culture Wins

Two out of three Americans hate their jobs.

That’s a crazy statistic, and it’s one we all want to be on the opposite end of. We want to love going to work — and we want everyone else on our team to love work, too.

This week on #WorkTrends, we’re talking to William Vanderbloemen, author of the new book “Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace.” He’s helping us think through why culture matters so much and how we can all build better ones.

You can listen to the full episode below, or keep reading for this week’s topic. Share your thoughts with us using the hashtag #WorkTrends.

Work Is Family

I thought I could get through 5 minutes of an interview without bringing up the “M” word, but nope — we jumped into a conversation about millennials right away. Vanderbloemen points to the number of workers, by generation, who are available to work. There are a lot of baby boomers and millennials, and much fewer Gen Xers. As the Boomers start to retire, millennials are going to absolutely dominate the workforce. So their preferences about work are only going to become more important in the next 10 years, he says.

“Smart companies are starting to say, ‘What are the things we can learn about this generation? How can we build a workplace that matches them so we can retain them?’”

One thing that’s unique about millennials: They prioritize financial security, but are marrying and having children much later in life. So, Vanderbloemen says, “that means the people they work with are their family. And if they don’t like the people they work with or the place they work, they’re going to go find another family to hang out with.”

Millennials aren’t looking to stay at one organization for 20 years, but finding ways to retain millennial employees for just two years longer than your competition can lead to huge advantages for employers, he says.

Values Trump Fun

We’ve talked before on #WorkTrends about fun at work. So I asked Vanderbloemen: Does fun at work matter? His simple answer: Nope. “If I could rewrite my book, I’d have one more chapter titled ‘Culture Does Not Equal Fun.’ Work is work, and work is where you show up to get things done. A lot of people mistake a winning culture for a place that’s fun.”

When his company won a Best Place to Work award from Entrepreneur a few years back, he was surprised that they took home the top prize even though they had a simple office without bells and whistles like free food or foosball tables. Instead, his team focused on their values.

“We laid out nine clear values of how we function together,” he says. “We’ve hired around it. We’ve reviewed people around it. We compensate around it. We fired people because of it. And it’s created a sense of family. Now, is it fun when you all function the same way? Absolutely, but if fun is the target you’re going to be chasing windmills. Fun is a byproduct of a healthy culture, but it’s not the target.”

Vanderbloemen reverse-engineered his company’s culture to define his team’s core values — or what he calls “defining our kind of crazy.” One of those values is “ridiculous responsiveness.” He realized early on, when he was running his business from a card table, that clients were amazed by how quickly he got back to them. He realized that responsiveness set him apart from the competition, so he made sure to hire only people who were “almost maniacal about getting back to people right away.”

Defining your culture, he says, is all about asking this question: “When we’re at our best, what do we do that’s common to us but uncommon to other teams around us?”

Build a Business Case for Culture

Vanderbloemen has seen the impact culture can have on a team — and on the bottom line. When he was writing his book, he researched more than 100 companies with award-winning cultures. One thing they all had in common: they invest cold, hard dollars in culture every year.

So, how can HR pros make a business case for investing in culture? Vanderbloemen says HR teams have to shift the conversation away from spending and instead focus on how investing in culture will save the organization money and create fewer people problems.

“There’s nothing more expensive to a business than people problems,” he says. He points to one tech company that has two very similar competitors, but they’re much more profitable than those competitors. What sets them apart? They invest 5% of their revenue on culture.

“In the tech industry, turnover is rampant,” he says. This particular tech sector’s churn rate is about 38%. Once the company started spending money on culture, their churn rate dropped to 2%. “So, every year, four people leave instead of 76. That’s 72 vacancies they don’t have to deal with every year. By spending a million dollars on culture, they’ve retained people. They have momentum in their business, less turnover cost, less hiring cost and greater profitability.”

“That’s why we called this book ‘Culture Wins,’” he says. “It’s a way to win in the coming years.”

Continue the conversation. Join us on Twitter (#WorkTrends) for our weekly chat on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific or anywhere in the world you are joining from to discuss this topic and more.