Workplace Aesthetics – Not Just Perks & Paint

WorkAestheticsAre workplace aesthetics just aesthetics? Or are they an expression of your unique identity and culture, secretly empowering your people?

I recently read a workplace design article in Aeon Magazine (Tech Aesthetics by Kate Losse) that looked at companies that they believe are dictating the future of work – blurring the lines between work and life. As evidenced through miniature golf on the roof, graffiti on the walls, private employee shuttle buses, free food, and log cabins transported from Montana forests into the corporate office. Are these just aesthetics? Are they indicative of a macro-trend in the workplace? Or rather, when viewed independently, are these expressions of each company’s distinct culture?

Full disclosure, you may have guessed from the clues above, but the organizational work environments that were examined here were the usual best-in-class companies – Google and Facebook.

I subscribe to the belief that every workplace is truly distinct.  Every workplace, whether you are conscious of it or not, is an expression of an employer’s past and future, values, behavior… its CULTURE. Workplaces are born – and evolve – from the natural course of business. But they must be maintained over time, ensuring they continue to empower your people and foster the right attitude, communication, and most importantly, the highest productivity. At first blush, free snacks may seem like a ploy to keep you in the office longer or to skip that lunch break, but for some employers like Bloomberg, the employee traffic patterns and free flowing food pantries spark chance connections, ideas and collaboration. There is a science to department store and supermarket traffic patterns to get you to browse and buy. The same logic applies here fostering innovation and new thinking in the workplace.

At Nestlé PURINA, you can bring your dog or cat to work every day. They even have a “bark yard” where pets and their owners play during breaks.  This may seem like a natural perk of working for a pet food company, but it’s actually a constant reminder of the living, breathing end user of their products. It’s their inspiration for future product development and in maintaining the highest quality and safety standards. Not to mention, it celebrates the bond between pets and people with the added therapeutic value of reducing employee stress. Those pets always put a smile on their employees’ faces, no matter how dark the day.

A workplace is more than furniture, snacks, toys, and paint on the walls. It’s a set of rituals and processes, too. Every organization has them, and they are all unique to their identities and mission. We worked with a national restaurant chain, TGI FRIDAYS, that has the most inspiring impromptu huddle sessions throughout the day – they refer to them as “Alley Rallies.” These sessions keep energy levels up…a critical part of ensuring that the consumer promise is delivered consistently in the restaurant. That’s particularly important when you think of delivering a feeling or experience such as a “Friday” every day of the week.

Let’s look again at the perks and workplace aesthetics of Google and Facebook. You may be asking yourself, “How can we compete with what Google or Facebook offer?” or “How can we do what Google and Facebook are doing?  Instead, you should be asking yourself, “What does that workplace say about their culture?” and “How can we create an environment that further promotes ours?” What works at Google may be counter-culture at your organization and could actually reduce employee productivity. What works at T-Mobile won’t make sense at Verizon. What works at Coca-Cola won’t fit with PepsiCo. Get the idea?

So many employers are quick to talk about the outlandish perks they offer and often forget to emphasize how they connect or reinforce the greater, more holistic story about what the company is trying to achieve – it’s purpose.

As Losse suggests, is the macro-trend of the workplace “an attempt to disguise work – with trimmings that suggest personality in place of smooth, ordered humming of a corporate workforce?” No, I don’t think employers are making a deliberate attempt to “disguise” anything. However, the best-in-class employers are deliberately architecting their cultures to deliver on their vision and business goals. They don’t start with the place in mind; they start with the purpose in mind. Then they design the place and processes to mirror that. That’s what Facebook and Google do.

In fact, it might surprise you to discover that Google’s workplace has been informed and refined by Social Scientists that have influenced everything from lunch lines to casual collisions (much like Bloomberg) that spark innovation. That miniature golf isn’t about play; it’s about productivity.

If you are to be inspired by Google and Facebook, be inspired not by the aesthetics or blend of work and play. Be inspired by the calculated approach they have taken to purposely design their workplaces to reinforce their culture. While newer companies like these have the luxury of designing their cultures, architecting the workplace from the beginning, you very likely inherited yours. And though this call for change might seem daunting, at the end of the day, you have the same opportunity. Roll out the blank canvas and re-architect your workplace with your distinct business goals, values, people and culture in mind. Start small. You’ll be surprised by the opportunity that exists and how much of an impact you can make at your organization – not aesthetically, but in real business value.

Are You Defining Your Culture or Creating It?

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Today, companies in virtually every category are going through major transformations: Education, Healthcare, Finance, Telecommunications, Television and Video Distribution, Aerospace/Defense, Fast Food/Fast Casual Restaurants… the list goes on. With these changes, companies need clearly defined cultures connected to their mission, values and purpose to inform and inspire their existing employees and to attract their next generation workforce.  Many think of this process as “employer branding” whereby a culture is defined and communicated.  However, that stops short of what’s really demanded in today’s world.

Given the importance of employee alignment with and enthusiasm around these major business transformations, CEOs, CMOs and Chief Talent Officers have never been more connected. They’re sitting at the table together, ensuring the brand promise is being delivered at every level. For many companies, this requires the installation of new values, behaviors, processes and workplace infrastructures to achieve their business goals. That goes beyond branding and communications to the redesign of the employee experience. One could argue that we are now not only defining and communicating culture but also creating one.

This may seem like a wild declaration, but considering that so many leaders are starting from a point of major transformation; it’s giving them license to treat the organization as a start-up. Re-writing the culture. Tossing out all the stuff that isn’t working. That’s not to say leaders are forgetting the brand’s heritage all together, but rather preserving the best parts and infusing them into a new story.

And the best part? Everyone wins! Leadership has a galvanized workforce; employees are re-sold on their employer and re-inspired toward the cause; candidates are attracted to this “new” organization with the opportunity to build something and make an immediate impact on companies and industries alike; and marketers and consultants… well, we extend our value and impact. This maker-movement is fully alive and well.

My advice to all Chief Talent Officers in this climate is, “don’t squander this opportunity.”  Defining and announcing an employer brand is not enough anymore, and it’s not strictly a marketing exercise. Change in employee behavior (i.e., from transactional to creative, empowered and entrepreneurial), and making a measurable impact on the customer experience requires a re-architecture and re-programming of your workplace, all the while perpetuating and reinforcing your brand promise. I challenge everyone to go further with your recruitment and employee engagement communications. Don’t just announce change; build it.  Involve your people throughout the entire journey. Only then will they truly understand and embrace the transformation that’s taking place. Transform your business, your workplace, the industry…  and maybe even the world!

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Employee Video Storytelling with 21st Century Fox

21CF1We recently came across the careers website for 21st Century Fox and found that there’s something with this careers site that stands out among many. [Who is 21st Century Fox, you may ask? In brief, 21st Century Fox owns a global portfolio of cable, broadcast, film, pay TV and satellite assets spanning six continents across the globe. They’re kind of a big deal.] While the site design and overall navigation experience could improve, we love that this careers site is so focused on their people and not as focused on getting candidates to search and apply for jobs. The whole careers site prioritizes employee videos right in the design, which nicely combats the typical candidate instinct to go to a careers site and skip important content about company culture, going straight to the job search.

 

21CF2When you first get to the 21st Century Fox Careers site you’re immediately greeted with a big, colorful box featuring a few employee videos. Watching these videos, dubbed “21 seconds with (Employee Name Here)” you get a feel for who 21st Century Fox is as an employer and the types of people that thrive in this company culture. [Not to mention, it’s also a nice play-on-words using the number “21” in the series title!] These short videos are fun, creative, and drive home the fact that 21st Century Fox employees love what they do, all in a 21-second video clip. We asked Tiffany LaBanca, SVP of Global Internal Communications, about these videos, and she replied, “I think the content and stories are really true to who we are and the people we employ.  This company is full of passionate, creative and amazingly talented people.  We have a lot of fun doing what we do and we aimed to bring all of that to life.”

 

21CF3We love these employee videos because it really allows 21st Century Fox to show a more human side to a large global company through employee storytelling. However, for being a content creation company at heart and for having about 26,000 employees, we’re asking, why aren’t there more employee stories?! There actually are additional employee stories than the homepage previews, but it takes some clicking around to find the “Meet Our People” section of the site.  Once you’re there you can watch longer format videos that give you a deeper understanding of an employee’s actual job.

A big opportunity we see to further improve how these videos are viewed and the relevancy to candidates could be to relate the videos to career path options. By adding content on the roles each employee plays, the companies that are a part of 21st Century Fox’s network, and how it all fits into the larger 21st Century Fox story, a deeper experience could be had. We asked Tiffany her thoughts on this and she said, “We’re just getting started telling the 21st Century Fox inside story. Stay tuned!”

Until then, we’ll be enjoying these unique employee stories from 21st Century Fox.

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How Good Storytelling Can Help Guide Your EVP

Our most basic instinct is to share our stories. Debate our theories. Demonstrate our knowledge. And, every company tells a story whether they know it or not. So, the question becomes: Does a company own their story, or will they allow the marketplace to do it for them? The essence of every company’s story is expressed through its culture. A company’s culture is most effective when it can be reduced to its core – full of humanity, passion, and vitality. A message so filled with meaning that it speaks to future and current employees, regardless of their experience, position, or background. This message is guided by a North Star – an employer value proposition (EVP).

*Communicating Culture*

Corporate culture may take years to create, but with an EVP, it can be summed up in just a few words. A truly effective EVP can drive recruitment strategies, employee engagement, and even long-term business goals. An interview in Forbes magazine with CEO of MSLGROUP, Olivier Fleurot, talks about just how important a strong employee culture is:

“Business leaders need to make sure their employer brand is strong. That’s because Millennials respect organizations with clearly articulated visions, a strong purpose, shared values and clear career path options.”

Though Fleurot is speaking to his experience with Millennials, staff of all ages could be hobbled without a fully articulated EVP. In the vacuum created by the absence of a company’s cultural vision, employees will fill in the blanks for themselves. But, when employees’ disparate visions collide, it creates the kind of environment that makes businesses less effective.

*Not Just What You Say, But How You Say It*

A truly effective EVP should cut across generational boundaries to communicate a vision that speaks to every employee, regardless of age or experience. Though, maintaining culture is a reciprocal process, it’s up to senior management to constantly reinforce the character and passion of an EVP. Getting it right is essential. Well-known for the exemplary culture, CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, spoke to The New York Times about why he sold his first company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft in 1996:

“From the outside, it looked like it was a great acquisition, $265 million, but most people don’t know the real reason why we ended up selling the company. It was because the company culture just went completely downhill … I just dreaded getting out of bed in the morning and was hitting that snooze button over and over again.”

Zappos has since become the gold standard of corporate culture, even offering new hires $2,000 to quit if they don’t think they’re a good fit. Hsieh took a valuable lesson from his experiences at LinkExchange. If the CEO of a multimillion-dollar company can still dread coming to work, how can we expect front-line staff to be any different? Developing and sticking to an EVP can translate to more engagement and job satisfaction for all employees.

*From Front Office to the Front Line*

An EVP, regardless of its accuracy, only works in concert with an activation plan. Using the activation plan as the blueprint and the EVP as a foundation, teams can develop a strategy that more clearly defines a company’s culture, while developing the nuances that better explain their collective identity.

Activation through social responsibility programs, pro bono work, or employee giving programs breathes life into the EVP. This brand reputation can guide every facet of a business, empowering employees and improving the experience for consumers.

Corporate culture will always have an element of fluidity – full of factors beyond anyone’s control. But, when employees understand who they are together, companies are giving employees something bigger than themselves, a culture to believe in.

Does your company have difficulty articulating their culture? Are you struggling to find the right candidates for your company?

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