Is Your Organizational Culture Attracting or Repelling Top Talent?

by Shabnam Banerjee-McFarland

December 07, 2018

Business Dictionary defines organizational culture as “The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.” And make no mistake; those values, behaviors, and environment can be a big determinant in whether an organization attracts or repels talent.

Organizational culture doesn’t just affect the talent you hope to draw to the company; it also impacts your ability to keep the talent you have. A 2017 Gallup report found that just 15 percent of employees strongly agree “that the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future.” Although that doesn’t necessarily mean the other 85 percent have one foot out the door, the statistic is telling in that it shows that companies aren’t fostering a supportive organizational culture as well as they think they are.

Cultivating a supportive and positive organizational culture falls squarely in the domain of effective leadership—leaders hold a primary responsibility to create a mission that employees want to embrace. In the book Leadership and Self-Deception, the authors write, “What our experience tells us … is that in order to move from merely dreaming about a culture of responsibility-taking and accountability to actually experiencing it, the accountability has to start with the leader—whether that leader is the CEO, a division VP, a line manager, or a parent. The most effective leaders lead in this single way: by holding themselves more accountable than all.”

From this starting point of an effective and accountable leader who engages in practices of self-awareness, an organizational culture that attracts and keeps top talent can blossom. Here’s a closer look at how to move from a toxic workplace culture to a positive one.

Benefits of a Positive Culture

Organizational culture follows a fairly simple framework, described by Robert Quinn in his book, The Positive Organization: Breaking Free from Conventional Cultures, Constraints, and Beliefs: “Your current organization is not static. It is continually becoming more negative or more positive. As organizations become more negative, the people within them tend to withdraw and underperform. As organizations become more positive, their people tend to invest and exceed individual and collective expectations.”

Once an organizational culture takes a turn toward the positive, the benefits start amassing, including these characteristics highlighted by Quinn:

  • A focus on growth

  • Full engagement

  • Intrinsic motivation

  • Individual accountability

  • Creativity

  • Organizational predictability

  • Cohesive teamwork

  • Authentic relationships

Quinn writes, “In a positive organization, the people are flourishing as they work. In terms of outcomes, they are exceeding expectations.” When these and other characteristics of a positive organization are present, employees not only buy into the culture, but actively contribute to it. Your company can quickly become an organization top talent will flock to, rather than a workplace plagued by turnover.

Negatives of an Unhealthy Culture

The benefits of a positive workplace should be enough to prompt an organizational culture transformation. However, many businesses claiming to succeed at this aren’t even close. One of the key indicators that you are dealing with an unhealthy—even toxic—culture is a high attrition rate. Though it might be difficult to acknowledge that these things are happening within your organization, turning a blind eye to them will only make the problem worse. If you notice your people leaving en masse, here are some negative characteristics of an unhealthy culture that you should work to address:

If people are leaving a company in droves, finding high-quality replacements will be difficult. In his book Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Keep the Best People, Mark Miller writes, “What attracts and keeps Top Talent is different from what attracts and keeps typical talent.” Typical talent may take a position at a company because it’s a job, regardless of the culture—and then barely engage because they view it as just a job and nothing within the organization is inspiring them to make it something more. Top talent demands more. If these individuals don’t see an appealing culture, they are less likely to accept the job or even pursue it. And if they are hired, they won’t hesitate to look elsewhere if the culture doesn’t change.

Rehabbing a Toxic Culture

Unhealthy cultures can range from mildly negative to suffocatingly toxic—but that doesn’t mean organizations can’t change for the better. In The Positive Organization, Quinn details several steps, briefly described here, for building or rebuilding a positive organizational culture:

  • Create a sense of purpose: A leader should empower employees to see that their work is important to the organization.

  • Nurture authentic conversations: By eliminating posturing, organizations foster authenticity that can bring about real change.

  • See possibility: Instead of dwelling on constraints, positive organizations focus on what can be achieved.

  • Embrace the common good: Success isn’t so much a personal goal as it is an organizational goal in a positive culture.

  • Trusting the emergent process: Leaders who let go and trust others empower employees and build positivity.

Quinn also writes in The Positive Organization, “Deep learning can occur when both challenge and support are present. As you begin to conceptualize new practices and to see things from a more complex mental map, you will be able to transform yourself, your unit, and even your organization. If that happens, you and your people will never be the same.” Along those lines, the talent you attract will never be the same, either. Leaders must possess an unwavering dedication to becoming more self-aware and retaining top talent. Committing to these steps is hard work, but ultimately rewarding. If you notice your organization is struggling to keep top talent, these are the reasons why—and the way forward.

Topics: Your Organization, Workplace Culture, retention

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