Two Important Factors Behind the Shift to People-First Cultures

By Lyn Currie, Managing Director, Executive Search

If purpose is the “why” that bonds employees together, culture is the “how” – it is purpose in action. When organizations get clear on their purpose, they can then build and craft a culture to support it. And that, in turn, will help organizations attract and retain the high performing leaders they need to succeed.

There was a clear and distinct change when it came to culture in the 2022 Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures award submissions. More pronounced than ever before was what can only be described as a people-first focus among organizations.

Never before have we seen such a ground swell of programs that put employees first. Organizations are instituting more supports for their teams and doing so in a more rigorous and defined way – this includes Employee Assistance Programs, increased benefits and supports around mental health and access to tools to support mental and physical wellbeing.

We are also seeing that organizations are more actively and frequently listening to their employees. We have seen a dramatic increase in organizations spending time on “stay interviews” – those 1:1 chats with employees, soliciting their feedback and suggestions in a psychologically safe environment. And these are not necessarily being conducted by People and Culture or HR leaders, but they’re also being done by CEOs and senior leaders who are creating communication channels across all levels in the organization, so every employee has a voice and a say into how the organization crafts its culture.

This pronounced shift to a people-first culture was accelerated by the pandemic, but there are two other factors that have had a significant impact on how organizations craft culture:

  1. The Economy
    Regardless of any softening in the Canadian economy, there still is, and will continue to be a talent shortage. Craig Wright, chief economist at RBC, states that labour market conditions still look exceptionally tight. Longer-run demographic challenges tied to an aging population means that labour market shortages are likely the new normal, even when we factor in accelerated immigration programs. And, we continue to be surprised with job creation numbers both in Canada and in the US.

  2. The GEN Z Effect
    Newer entrants into the workforce want different things than even the generation before. Of course, they care about compensation, but they also want: robust learning and development programs; employee benefits that allow choices such as mental and physical well-being; a clear commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI); a defined commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility; and to have fun at their job.

    This means that candidates have choices – and that they will shop around until they find an organization that can give them more of what they’re looking for.

So, what does this mean then when it comes to attracting and recruiting talent? It means that employers need to re-think some of their long-standing biases and beliefs when it comes to hiring if they are going to compete for, and win, top talent.  Ask yourself:

  • If candidates still have choices, and if they are more likely to join or leave organizations based on values alignment, are we doing everything we can as an organization to spotlight our purpose, mission, and values? Do our hiring teams understand, and can they clearly articulate our Employee Value Proposition?
  • Is it time that we rethink what “jumpy” means on a candidate’s resume? We might be dismissing talent based on an outdated view about how long an employee should stay with an organization?
  • Is it time that we start looking at gaps on a resume as adding to a candidate’s experience, rather than taking away from it? What tools and skills are gained when someone takes a sabbatical, an opportunity to travel, an opportunity to go back to school, or time away to take care of an elderly relative?
  • Are we as authentic and transparent in our evaluation of talent and in our hiring processes as we aim to be across the rest of the organization?

More and more, we are seeing that candidates who are choosing to join organizations that align to their own values and culture – and there’s no sign that this trend is going to change. Organizations that are looking to win the race for talent need to opt into a people-first culture – it’s the best way to ensure you’re attracting and retaining the high performance leaders and team members who will help take your performance and success to the next level.

At Waterstone, we help organizations build high performance teams and cultures through transformational recruiting – ensuring you have the right leaders in the right seats to drive your culture and your performance forward. Schedule a meeting with our team and learn how we can help you meet your people and culture goals.