With above-market compensation packages dangled regularly before their eyes, holding on to your rising stars has never been more difficult. Brian McMullen offers a non-financial solution.

The advent of the information age and the birth of the knowledge worker have increased business’ dependence on top performing employees. Some forward-thinking businesses are taking a different approach to attracting and retaining their most precious resource.

Organizations new and old are creating corporate cultures that break down old school command-and-control management styles in an effort to model themselves after the dynamics of a learning organization. Given the tight labor market how do companies attract and retain top performers? Many companies are realizing that employee retention can be a tremendous competitive advantage. Thus, the development of a corporate culture is no longer something that just happens –it is a tool that is used to instill excitement, pride and a sense of ownership in employees throughout the organization. But keep in mind, culture can have either a positive or a negative impact on a company’s ability to attract and retain top performers. How does your company’s culture measure up? The following points describe some common attributes of successful cultures:

  • Culture is not a human resource responsibility. New-hire training on areas such as mission, culture and values should be taught by the employee’s peers. The leaders of an organization are the true stewards of an organization’s culture.

  • Culture should encourage knowledge sharing. All companies have formal communication networks for disseminating information throughout the organization. But does your company encourage knowledge sharing through informal social networks? In many organizations today, time spent socializing at the water cooler is no longer wasted time, but an opportunity to engage in knowledge sharing and cross-functional problem solving.

  • Culture requires management enthusiasm. Senior management of an organization is ultimately the caretaker of an organization’s mission, values and culture. The attitude and devotion that management portrays towards the cultural aspects of the company will determine how successfully those efforts will be adopted by newer employees.

  • Culture should promote mentoring. An organization-wide mentoring program is an important cultural attribute for the retention of employees. A formal mentoring program administered by the human resources department is not the objective. Ideally, mentoring should occur within informal relationships that develop naturally in the work environment. However, formal mentoring programs are beneficial for integrating new hires into the organization’s culture. Successful mentoring programs, formal or informal, require the support and buy-in from senior management.

  • Culture should be aligned with your corporate strategy. When culture is appropriately aligned with business strategy it provides focus and can be used as an organizational enabler to improving employee morale, retention and loyalty.

  • Culture requires tempo. Employees like to identify themselves with a successful organization. Thus, senior management has the responsibility to publicize the major wins of a firm and those people that contributed to the success. Another way to develop a sense of tempo is to revisit the recent past during company-wide meetings; review the past two or three years chronologically to show the major milestones and successes that have brought the organization to it’s current position.

  • Culture should be fun. Keep in mind that fun, like culture, means different things to different people. However, one example that has been used very successfully to inject fun into all aspects of work is to emulate a family-like environment in your culture. Close families will tease each other, laugh at themselves, plan group activities, recognize major accomplishments, interact socially, and come to agreement on difficult issues for the sake of the family bond. Other suggestions for incorporating fun into the work environment include using toys during meetings, having regularly scheduled social events, recognizing funny or embarrassing situations that occur in the work environment, and sponsoring team activities such as walk-a-thons or relay races.

During a reflection of your company’s culture, it is also important to identify the anti-cultural attributes of your organization. In other words, what attributes of your culture are counter-productive to building the organization that should be eliminated? One way to reduce the occurrence of anti-cultural behavior is to develop a practice of identifying when it happens and use the culture’s peer pressure to minimize the occurrence of the behavior. For example, pagers and cellular phones ringing during meetings could be an anti-cultural behavior. One way to reduce the occurrence of this behavior is to issue yellow cards to all employees, and when someone’s cell phone rings during a meeting employees can yellow card their colleague’s anti-cultural behavior.

The recruitment and retention of people has become a vicious circle. Not only is it costly to find and train talented individuals, but as salary expectations continue to rise it is expensive to hold onto those employees.

Any edge a company can develop to the work experience for its people is also a powerful tool for attracting the most sought-after job candidates. Organizations that are successful at developing strong corporate cultures will be able to attract and retain people while benefiting from the intellectual capital payoff of low employee turnover.