The nine dimensions of work that employees care about

Abhijit Bhaduri | Updated on July 17, 2019

Their views matter Employees look for the behaviour that people display in day-to-day interactions   -  PeopleImages

An MIT-Glassdoor Culture 500 study identifies core values that measure culture in an organisation

When business leaders think of digital transformation, they need to focus on four levers — business model, talent strategy, leadership style and organisation culture. Changing the culture of the organisation is arguably the toughest lever of the four. The talent strategy complements the business model and the leader’s role lies in leveraging the team at the top to change how every employee drives the transformation in every day behaviour.

Values and behaviours

When you look at the values that organisations articulate on their posters, most sound the same. Customer obsession, integrity, teamwork, innovation, diversity, courage, saving the planet... these have all been used. The posters have now become almost interchangeable. But when you read what employees say anonymously, you get a clear sense that the same value may get implemented very differently in different organisations. Innovation at Pixar may mean something different from the behaviour it evokes at Amazon.

Employees are often the best people to tell you what it feels like to work in an organisation. What makes them stay and what makes them leave can be a rich source of insight about the culture, its leadership style, etc. Microsoft today has a market cap more than any other company in the world. It is bigger than the three As (Apple, Amazon and Alphabet) on that count. Satya Nadella humbly attributes it to the cultural change, a learn-it-all culture.

When Satya Nadella took over, this was a company that was stagnating. Nadella’s predecessor Steve Ballmer had shouted to all 13,000 employees on the day of his retirement, “Soak it in, all of you. You work for the greatest company in the world.” Microsoft had a know-it-all culture. Employees were hesitant to surface new ideas for fear of breaking from the charted course.

A new leader often has to translate the values into norms of behaviour. That translates an abstract concept into tangible behavioural norms.

The cultural norms

Nadella translated the cultural shifts into three norms:

1. Customer-centricity: Nadella hired almost 5,000 specialists to make people understand how customers were using cloud-based services. This told the rest of employees that the customer mattered.

2. Speed of response: Meetings are often the by-product of hierarchical structures. Nadella freed up the sales people from several obligatory meetings. That greased up the organisation and built speed.

3. Incentivise the new norms: Nadella used performance bonuses to encourage sales people to go beyond selling fixed-contracts. This is a great example of partnering with HR to change culture.

When Ed Catmull of Pixar made Incredibles, he took a bold bet. Disney was already successful. Yet he decided to move from 2D animation to creating 3D animation through code. He took a bet on a director whose last movie was a giant failure. That action creates the cultural DNA of the organisation. It changes the behavioural norms. Everyone around understands what the word Innovation translates to.

The Culture 500

If Microsoft’s growth is a by-product of the company’s culture, so it is with Wells Fargo, the third largest bank in the US. In February 2018, Wells Fargo lost nearly $30 billion in market capitalisation in a single day. The company had reportedly opened more than two million accounts without authorisation from customers. The bank’s financial fraud was an extension of the porous norms of corporate ethics at Wells Fargo much before the fraud was discovered. The feedback from Wells Fargo employees, on job site Glassdoor, had been consistently pointing out the toxic culture that encouraged such behaviours.

Glassdoor has collected more than 49 million reviews and employee insights, covering approximately 9,00,000 organisations over more than a decade. Employees submit anonymous reviews which employers cannot remove (especially the critical ones). Employee feedback can often be the weak signal that describes the organisation’s culture. Recently MIT partnered with Glassdoor to understand if they could create a measure of organisational culture. Using machine learning and human judgement, the employee feedback was used to create a measure of culture.

They identified nine cultural values in the study they term as Culture 500. These are:

1. Agility/nimbleness: Employees can respond quickly and effectively to changes in the marketplace and seize new opportunities. Does the organisation’s internal bureaucracy come in the way of course corrections?

2. Collaboration/teamwork: Employees work well together within their team and across different parts of the organisation.

3. Customer focus: Employees put customers at the centre of everything they do, listening to them and prioritising their needs.

4. Diversity: Company promotes a diverse and inclusive workplace where no one is disadvantaged because of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality.

5. Execution excellence: Employees are empowered to act, have the resources they need, adhere to process discipline, and are held accountable for results.

6. Innovation: Company pioneers novel products, services, technologies, or ways of working.

7. Integrity: Playing by the rules. Honesty.

8. Performance-driven: Company rewards results through compensation, informal recognition, and promotions, and deals effectively with under-performing employees.

9. Respect: Employees demonstrate consideration and courtesy for others and treat each other with dignity.

While these nine values (and their synonyms) seem to be the most frequently occurring in stated values, employees look for the behaviours that people display in their day-to-day interactions.

While Travis Kalanick was the CEO, Uber taught its new hires the 14 values at Ubervarsity. The world celebrated the valuation of Uber and ascribed it to its values like “Always be hustlin’” and “Step on toes”. It was built on a view that for me to succeed I must kill my peers. The value of “principled confrontation” was designed to encourage employees to challenge authority without fear. On the ground, it translated to bullying the weak colleague. When Travis was sacked, there were over 200 cases of harassment, bullying, gender discrimination, reports of interns working 100 hours a week and being paid for 40.

Comparison of culture

The report shows how it is possible to understand which values are the strongest and which ones need attention. Amazon employees find the organisation high on Innovation, Customer-centricity and Diversity but rate it low on Respect and Collaboration. That seems consistent with a New York Times article about Amazon’s culture,Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.

The framework makes it possible to compare one’s organisation against peers. It allows comparison with benchmarks that cut across industry sectors. Amazon comes out way ahead of Apple, Google and Netflix on innovation. Compared on customer-centricity, Disney, Four Seasons and Nordstrom are ahead of Amazon.

Putting this to work

What does this Culture 500 framework mean for an organisation not in this report?

1. These nine common values can be a great place to start getting an understanding of the organisation’s culture. Ask your employees to rate your organisation on these values, rate each value on a scale and also share qualitative remarks to explain what makes them feel so.

2. Keep it anonymous. That gets people to be honest.

3. Visit Glassdoor site and see what employees have liked or disliked about your company culture.

4. Share the results with your employees. They anyway know what they say about the culture in informal settings. Your candour and courage will be appreciated.

5. Ask employees for ideas on how to address the weak spots.

Repairing a broken culture takes much longer. A number of start-ups laugh at these needs of articulating values. Quite often the founding team chooses values that support revenue growth but ignores elements like diversity and respect,that they think come in the way of achieving scorching rates of growth. There is no doubt that it is well worth the investment.

When someone asks you if culture change can help the company make money, you can point to the Microsoft market cap and share the evidence.

With more than 8,50,000 followers on social media, Abhijit Bhaduri is an influential columnist. Join him on LinkedIn@AbhijitBhaduri

Published on July 17, 2019

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