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Does your culture click?

Corporate culture can be a critical benchmark of success

By Riva Froymovich

  • Many companies struggle to define purpose and culture despite their importance to retention and growth
  • Singtel focuses on messaging its purpose to its youngest recruits
  • Ausenco tracks employee data to measure cultural health

To understand how companies are using digital technology to improve the human experience of work, we interviewed a half dozen Chief Human Resources Officers at companies leading those efforts. This is the third of four articles in a series.

The most valuable currency in the war for talent is a strong sense of organizational purpose, not salaries and benefits. Yet many executives still struggle to create a culture that makes its purpose clear.

Nearly nine in 10 companies today cite culture as one of their top challenges, according to Deloitte, yet just 12% believe they are succeeding at that task. That’s a critical problem, given how difficult it is for companies to hire and retain top talent.

There is a war for talent,” says Jaime Perez Renovales, chief human resources officer of Banco Santander, Europe’s fifth‑largest bank. “Our top management considers the corporate culture to be a key element for success.”

One culture‑shaping strategy at Banco Santander is to focus early on career planning—and encourage employees to have conversations with managers about their options that may have once been awkward.

“What we’re trying out is providing every employee with a lot of information about what they may do at Santander,” says Perez Renovales. “We were worried whether employees would feel comfortable telling their bosses that they want to work for a different department or in a different country. But it is a transition that has to happen.”

At Singtel, Singapore’s largest telecommunications company, Group CHRO Aileen Tan aligns purpose and culture well before prospects can even become employees. She says the company is reaching out to a younger generation by working with schools to introduce career courses and skills‑related contests.

“The war for talent is an everyday affair for us,” says Tan.

Other companies keep a close eye on employee survey data and retention trends as a gauge of cultural health. At Ausenco, a global consulting, engineering, project delivery, and operations company headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, chief people and technology officer Neil Trembath uses employee surveys and evaluation data to measure the fit between an employee’s motivation and the company’s culture and strategic direction.  If there’s not a good fit, the employee is likely to leave the company within the first two years.

Defining purpose has become so critical to employee engagement—and business growth—that it’s pulled CEOs into the conversation.

At U.S. health insurance company Humana, the chief executive reviews key talent decisions with Chief Human Resources Officer Tim Huval on a regular basis. He receives in‑depth briefings prior to his bi‑monthly meetings with the board of directors. The briefings focus on building a positive, values‑based culture rooted in the company’s purpose of improving health and well‑being.

At a more basic level, defining purpose means having good answers to questions that employees care most about today: Does the company’s purpose match my values? Are the company’s ethical standards high? Does the company’s growth model seem fair?

The answers matter, says Brian Fetherstonhaugh, worldwide chief talent officer at Ogilvy. “You might not work there forever,” says Fetherstonhaugh. “But maybe you come back again, and maybe you recommend [us] to a friend.”

Riva Froymovich works at the intersection of communications, technology, and social impact. She was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and is the author of “End of The Good Life: How the Financial Crisis Threatens a Lost Generation‑‑And What We Can Do about It.”

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