Millennials In the Workplace: Overhaul Your Culture

This is part 4 in a week-long series titled The Millennial Revolution.
Part 1: The Millennial Revolution: An Experiment
Part 2: Millennials in the Workplace: Lead. Don’t Manage.
Part 3: Millennials in the Workplace: Motivation vs. Compensation

If you want to attract and retain Millennials, you are going to have to overhaul your company’s culture. Let me just spoil the surprise: almost everything you’re doing right now is repelling them.

By the way, a company’s culture is one of the most important factors in a Millennial’s decision to join – or stay at – a company. If they don’t like your culture, they will leave. If you have trouble retaining Millennials, you likely need to start here.

[Sidebar: As pointed out in the comments on yesterday’s post, everything we’ve been discussing as being desired by Millennials is also desired by X’ers and Boomers – just not as intensely. See the comments by Sandra and Jason Moore if you’re interested in why.]

Haven’t We Been Discussing Culture?

In a manner of speaking, yes. “Leading instead of managing” and “motivating in addition to compensating” are really cultural decisions you’re going to have to make about how you run your company or your team.

But culture, as important as it is, is impossible to manufacture. It’s more than simply changing a few policies then patting yourself on the back for a job well done.

What Culture Is Not

Before we talk about what culture is, let’s spend a second on what it isn’t. A culture isn’t created through typical corporate initiatives or programs. Companies are notorious for creating dumb programs with titles like “Vision 2010” or “Leading Through Innovation Initiative.”

Do not even think of creating anything that sounds remotely like “The Summit for Creating a Better Culture” unless you like halting progress before it begins.

Let me repeat this: you cannot manufacture culture.

So, What Is Culture?

Culture is what is created when a group of people share a core set of values and choose to live by those values.

Your company’s culture is determined by your entire team’s beliefs and behaviors as they pertain to each other, your customers and your mission. It is not determined by programs or committees. It is formed and nurtured over the life of your company. Programs have end dates. Creating a great culture does not.

So how do you overhaul your company’s culture?

Step 1: Examine What You Personally Value

If you run a company or team, the culture of that group is a direct reflection of what you value. If your team seems set in their ways and avoids risk, it’s probably because you’ve made it known that you value predictability and perfection over innovation and failing forward.

If you don’t have a passion for something, if you don’t desire growth and learning, if you don’t see work as more than just an opportunity to make money, your team won’t either.

  • If your team doesn’t feel valued, it’s because you don’t value them.
  • If your team doesn’t offer input, it’s because you don’t value it.
  • If your team gossips, it’s because you haven’t placed value on character and integrity.

A fair word of warning: if you truly want to change your culture, be prepared for a painful process. When we see ourselves through the lens of what we’ve created, it can be devastating because we can’t create excuses for it.

If you’re not willing to do this, your company’s culture will never change. Why should anyone examine themselves if the leader won’t? Is that even leadership?

You must begin by changing your core values. A company’s culture and values can’t grow beyond that of its leaders.

Step 2: Examine What Your Company Values

If your first response to this is to say, “We have a Mission Statement and Vision Statement so we’ve already done this,” please know that those two things are not enough. In fact, they’re more likely useless since very few of your employees even know or care what they say.

Why? Because almost all of them involve useless statements and buzzwords that mean absolutely nothing whatsoever. Mission and Vision statements generally read like products of the legal department – not like they were crafted by people passionate about what the company does.

Your company’s core values are the principles by which you operate. In recent times, I don’t believe there is a better example of this than Zappos – the online retailer that was recently purchased by Amazon for over $1.2 Billion.

Here is the list of Zappos’ 10 Core Values:

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More with Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble

And the Zappos Mission Statement? “To live and deliver WOW.”

Now, let’s put this to the test. Let’s say a customer who is extremely unhappy with a shipment they received calls your customer service department. What happens in your company if “The Supervisor” isn’t immediately available to help out? Will your employee know what to do? Will they feel like they can make a decision without escalating it? Do you even trust them to?

At Zappos, anybody can return any item for any reason within 365 days at no charge. If you’re first thought is, “WOW! That’s insane!”, they just succeeded at delivering on their mission statement and core values.

It took them over a year to craft this list that originally started as 37 principles. No switch was flipped. It began with the leadership asking themselves what kind of company they wanted to create.

Then they worked closely with the employees to find out what kind of company they wanted to work for. This is key. You shouldn’t try to dictate to your employees what the culture will be. You must involve them in the process and value their input as equally important. Ignore this at your peril.

Step 3: Relentlessly Pursue Your Values

When working on your core values, create high standards and then hold everyone accountable to the relentless pursuit of them.

If you say you value “fun and a little weirdness” but have a policy that requires people to wear ties to work and doesn’t let them decorate their desk with more than one picture, you’ve failed.

In your relentless pursuit of your values, you will have to change a lot of what you do and how you do it. You will have to rewrite your mission statement and vision statement (or just integrate them into the Core Values and get rid of them altogether). You will have to examine every corporate policy. You will have to examine your hiring process.

Everything must be changed. The good news is that it doesn’t have to change overnight. Give people the freedom (read: autonomy) to figure out how to change these things a little bit at a time (or a lot at a time if they choose to do so).

Core Values Create Accountability to a Better Culture

The beauty of a set of core values that everyone knows and agrees to is that it creates accountability. If you’re not playing by these rules as an employee, you’ll feel pressure to change or leave. People become protective of cultures like this because they are so difficult to find.

On the flip-side, if you as a leader violate them yourself, you will lose any trust or credibility you created. If you ask for openness and honesty but then don’t paint realistic pictures of where the company is at, you may as well take that out of your core values.

Core values will either make you better or brand you as a hypocrite so be aware of what you’re asking for when you create them.

Millennials: What do you think companies need to value most? What would you like to see in a list of core values at your company?

Executives/Managers/Owners: What are your core values? What would your team say you value?