5 principles for a winning culture

When competition for talent gets fierce, corporate values win

5 principles for a winning culture
While top recruits continue to expect competitive pay and benefits, that is trumped by feelings of value, inspiration and empowerment, says a Toronto CEO. Credit: STILLFX (Shutterstock)

Competition for tech talent is stiffer than ever in Canada’s biggest city and across the country, according to Bryan Pearson, president and CEO of LoyaltyOne in Toronto, a data analytics company that focuses on building customer loyalty.

Accordingly, wooing and then retaining a solid core of staff is about much more than salary and benefits, he said at a recent SCNetwork event in Toronto.

“It’s not about compensation or signing bonuses or hourly massages at your desk,” said Pearson. “Money alone doesn’t win the hearts and minds.”

“It’s about culture,” he said. “Foundationally, it’s how people work together. It’s how the values and beliefs that they share bring them together — how they respect, support and collaborate with one another towards common goals.”

Attitudinal shifts from potential recruits mean companies can no longer rely on reputation to win the war for talent, said Pearson.

“When we try and gauge the expectations of younger employees, we’re really dealing with what is a tough, moving target,” he said. “Being a successful, well-established firm is no longer the guaranteed magnet it once was.”

“Based on our experience at LoyaltyOne, the answer is clear. To compete successfully for talent, we need to foster a vibrant, inclusive, collaborative culture.”

While top recruits continue to expect competitive pay and benefits, that is trumped by feelings of value, inspiration and empowerment, said Pearson. Culture attracts talent, develops workers and builds total growth.

“An authentic, positive, self-sustaining culture may be more critical than any other factor in driving a company’s day-to-day strength and long-term resilience in today’s economy,” he said.

Building a top culture

LoyaltyOne’s cultural foundation began with input from employees, said Pearson.

“We started by defining more clearly to ourselves and the rest of the world what we stand for and who we are as a company.”

The company chiseled out five principles describing the values that drive the company’s success:  passion, curiosity, authenticity, simplicity and collaboration.

“Frankly, I’m sure that’s true of many of your organization’s values,” he said.

In essence, the principles are a commitment by LoyaltyOne to think and act in a way that is true to its convictions, said Pearson.

LoyaltyOne defines its foundational principles as follows:

Passion: Wake up. Be awesome. Repeat. “We want everyone to feel genuinely excited about coming to work each day and committed to sharing that positive energy that they bring, to bring out the best in other people,” he said.

Curiosity: Embrace the fringe. “We’re always looking beyond the obvious to find fresh, new ideas and to encourage people to sort of think on those boundaries so that we will keep our business growing,” said Pearson.

Authenticity: Let’s keep it real. “That means staying open and truthful, delivering on your commitments, and being accountable for the results that we need to create together,” he said. “It’s also about being comfortable about who you are as an individual while appreciating the differences in diversity that exists in the workplace.”

Simplicity: Less is more. “In our business, it’s hard not to make things complex,” said Pearson, and LoyaltyOne makes an effort to strip away unnecessary elements in an effort to pinpoint the essentials.

Collaboration: Team first. “When you’re playing, you play for the logo on the front of the shirt, not the name on the back… an approach where we bring diverse perspectives together in strong, focused teams, recognizing that diversity leads to better decision-making and also to better outcomes,” he said.

Culture has to be embedded in the purpose of your business, said Pearson.

“You can’t just impose it from above; you can’t just write it down on a piece of paper and send it through,” he said. “Culture needs to emerge naturally out of what people are doing in their jobs each and every day.”

Setting the tone

Macro-level decisions play a major role in bringing culture to life, according to Pearson.

LoyaltyOne’s efforts have included attempting to go green by providing Smart cars for employee use, discounts on Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) fares, and making environmentally minded decisions while designing the Toronto office.

“The physical environment needs to mirror and reinforce the kind of culture you want as an organization,” he said.

Senior managers do not have offices in LoyaltyOne’s new campus-style environment, said Pearson.

“Constant interaction and collaboration are critical to the success of our business,” he said. “We don’t want our leaders to be shut off in private retreats. And we certainly don’t want a culture in which leadership equates to isolation.”

Programming such as paid volunteer time and wellness initiatives are also part of the company’s cultural mandate, as is a youth empowerment framework supporting marginalized young people, said Pearson.

“We believe a strong culture within LoyaltyOne has to include empowering associates to contribute to the greater good. We have tangible evidence that it makes our people more loyal, more engaged and mutually supportive.”

Commitment to culture means consistent evaluation as new needs arise. It’s important to acknowledge that different approaches to work are perfectly acceptable, he said.

“Certainty breeds complacency and, ultimately, stagnation,” said Pearson. “The challenge is to recognize that as technology keeps changing, so will people’s understanding of where work fits in their lives.”

“If an associate leaves early to pick up (her) kids, then logs in from home that evening in order to put in a couple more hours’ work, do they have their priorities wrong? Or have they found a smart compromise?”

Taking visionary messages and translating them into a living, breathing culture is the secret, he said.

“All of this depends quite simply on just staying alert, on sending the right signals, on creating those big moments that show our understanding that we know what the associates really value and where they want to go next.”

“If you’re trying to create a workplace where talented people feel valued, inspired and empowered, I think your odds of success are pretty good. Because those are the very people who will make your cultural aspirations a reality, and they’ll help you keep on evolving.”

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