Culture, and how to build and sustain one, is one of the toughest challenges for managers, especially in today’s fast-paced, highly competitive organizations. Every organization wants to create a culture that works from a set of core values, where everybody is on the same page about what’s important, where the company is going, and how it’s going to get there. But what happens when the external competitive environment — and the direction of the company — changes? And what happens as advances in technology constantly change how customers and employees expect to interact with your company? How do you manage the evolution of your company’s culture, and hold on to what makes you great, even as you change and grow?
Here at Workday, these questions have been central to our existence from day one. We were founded in 2005, and our cofounders, Aneel Bhusri and Dave Duffield who were both already highly successful entrepreneurs, understood that any successful culture would be built on a core set of values. For us, those values are employees, customer service, integrity, innovation, fun, and profitability. We are certain that our high customer satisfaction ratings and top spot on many best-place-to-work lists come from our early recognition that culture permeates every sales call, every employee interaction, and every product innovation.
As a provider of cloud-based finance and HR applications designed to help companies change and grow, our customers rightly expect us to lead by example. At the same time, we listen closely to our customers’ business challenges and successes — which in turn helps us change and grow.
While we hold on tightly to our core values, we strive to keep evolving our culture to meet the changing needs of our employees and customers. Perhaps not too surprisingly, technology plays a central role (after all, we’re a technology company). But if you asked most people to list the things that create and maintain a strong company culture, chances are they wouldn’t list technology. We’ve found that you can’t create a culture just through values, new processes, or an organizational restructure. Those things are necessary, but we like to think of values as the beating heart of culture, processes and organizational structure as the brain, and technology as the nervous system that makes sure heart and head are working together to move us forward.
For us, giving our people tools that empower them to work how they want to work — in everything from finding their next career opportunity, to hiring their next employee, to making data-driven day-to-day business decisions — is critical to holding on to the integrity of our culture in a fast-changing environment. This culture of empowerment has helped keep the company true to the core values on which we were originally founded. Here are the main components of that culture, and how they work:
Democratization of information. In their personal lives, people have become accustomed to having access to any piece of information they want at a moment’s notice. This hasn’t always been the case in the workplace. Data was usually kept in the hands of a select few, and extracting and using that data in a meaningful way was a long, painful process. But modern enterprise technologies and applications are pushing access to data and information to the front lines.
One area we see this playing out is within our own HR organization. At Workday, managers don’t have to spend valuable time with HR discussing headcount or status updates on new job openings — they already have this information at their fingertips. Instead, managers can spend their time with HR talking about how to get top performers to the next level, keep people who are at risk of leaving the organization, and align workers to meet business objectives. They can focus on creating value for the business by mobilizing talent.
Another area where this plays out is in hiring. When it comes to recruiting for fast-growing companies, talent acquisition needs to be efficient without sacrificing quality. Our managers can see all interview, resume, and references information in one place from any device, anywhere. Whether sitting on a plane or walking between meetings, a manager can immediately see the hiring team’s feedback and decide whether to move a candidate forward with a tap of their phone.
It’s good for any company to be able to make faster decisions based on immediate access to data, but it’s also good for the candidate — no repeated requests for a resume or work samples, no making them wait longer than necessary for news about next steps. And, with the race for top talent, speed-to-hire is crucial. And this says something to a candidate about our culture right from the start: We move quickly and we respect your time.
This democratization of information also enables greater transparency, which is critical to sustaining a positive culture. For example, we conduct online chat sessions that provide employees with the opportunity to ask our top executives whatever questions are on their minds. This is done in the spirit of keeping employees informed and is at the center of everything we do.
Culture of opportunity. Another area we’re passionate about is creating what we call a culture of opportunity. We’re not about stringent policies or old-fashioned career paths. We’re about being transparent about new positions and opportunities that exist within the organization and then providing the tools and information our people need to pursue them.
An employee can not only see what moves others have made, they can also reach out and connect to those specific individuals to talk with them about their experience. With a tap you can introduce yourself to set up time to connect or simply ask a question.
And as mentioned earlier, we listen to and learn from customers. Adobe, for example, often “pulses” its employees to get quick feedback on their experience. We were inspired by this approach when we built a tool that we use to ask one or two simple questions that can be answered via any device in a few seconds such as, “Has your manager talked to you about your career goals in the last month?” Our aim is to quickly and easily capture employee sentiment so that we can calibrate our efforts to reinforce our culture.
Performance enablement. For us, performance enablement is an evolution of the traditional performance management process that stresses regular, ongoing feedback, and takes an employee-centric approach to helping our people thrive. Several of our customers, like Ellie Mae, are passionate about this approach as well and have set a great example to follow.
Measuring an employee’s impact is more efficient and ultimately more effective thanks to tools and technology that allow us to regularly capture and aggregate real-time information.
The annual review process at some companies is not very transparent — and, there can be demoralizing surprises. It can also be demoralizing to only receive feedback once or twice a year. We now expect managers to have regular check-ins with their direct hires, ideally on a bi-weekly basis.
It doesn’t make sense to only flag areas for improvement once a year, and more often than not, an early course correction heads off bigger issues. By the same token, there are many positive behaviors, such as suggestions for process improvement or innovation, which might not get immediate feedback in a more traditional environment that are important to encourage.
From a manager’s point of view, regular check-ins give more visibility into not just their team, but how their workers are interacting with other parts of the organization.
In the end, our goal is to hire and retain the best people in order to provide the best service to our customers. To do this, we need to keep our employees happy, make sure they are challenged, motivated, and engaged, and know that they are contributing to the overall success of the company. We want to keep learning, adapting, and listening to our people as we grow. We know that technology is most effective when it’s designed to support and encourage the behaviors and processes that lead to innovation — and we believe that this is what will continue to foster our great company culture.
Ashley Goldsmith is the CHRO of Workday, a leader in enterprise cloud applications for finance and HR.
Leighanne Levensaler is senior vice president of products for Workday. The two women work together to empower Workday employees and fuel its customers’ success.
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