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8 Secrets to Building an Employee First Culture in 2023

10 years ago, Vineet Nayar, former CEO of one of the biggest IT service companies in the world, turned organizational hierarchy on its head with four simple words: Employee first, customers second.

What is a business necessity today was the start of a revolution then, a shift in mindset — decentralizing decision-making, making leaders accountable to the employee while the latter became the center of experience delivery. Ever since, progressive companies have looked inwards and outwards to implement employee-friendly cultural and operational changes along with policies and mindful actions that show they care.

As the world continues to recover from the COVID19 pandemic, organisations are now left with a lingering question: what does this mean for workplace cultures?

The answer is simple — it means that companies must do everything in their power to ensure that their employees are healthy and happy in a workplace culture that’s not only psychologically safe, but also equips the employees to bring their best to work. 

Our study found that employee experience matters more than ever when looking for a new job or evaluating current employers. The research revealed that lack of ‘Inclusivity’, ‘Work-life-balance’, and ‘inspiring leadership’ were the top 3 factors employees said they would consider leaving their current employer for. 

What is employee first culture?

An employee first culture is an environment in which employees feel comfortable sharing concerns, feel their voice is heard and respected, see opportunities for growth, feel respected expressing their opinion, feel that they have a fair work-life balance, believe in the core values of the organization, and are being treated fairly. All of these are key components of making an employee first culture, and you’ll find employee first companies, like Microsoft Japan, prioritize all these key levers. So, that brings us to the question of how can you create an employee-first culture.

8 steps to create an employee first culture

The concept of an employee first culture is one that many leaders have tried to implement. The problem is, it's hard to do.

That's why we’ve compiled a list of 8 methods HR leaders can use to build an employee first culture. These methods will help you get started on your journey toward creating a more positive environment for employees.

1. Engage in two-way communication with employees

One of the most important ways to build trust with your employees is by engaging in two-way communication.

This doesn't mean that you should be asking them for their opinions all the time. It does mean that you should be listening to their concerns, ideas and suggestions, and that you should be open about what's happening with the company.

For example, if there is a new initiative coming up, let them know what it is and why it's important so they can understand how it affects them and why it might require extra time or effort on their part.

If there's a change in leadership, management or direction within the company, let everyone know as soon as possible so they won't have to guess at what's going on around them. It may seem like common sense, but many organizations fail at this simple task because they're afraid of change or don't want to share bad news with their employees until they absolutely have to — which almost always ends up being too late!

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In an era when information moves at the speed of light. this can be done through a variety of methods: Internal blogs and forums, Social media (Twitter, Facebook), Email newsletters, Internal websites and intranets.

2. Provide regular feedback and coaching

One of the best ways to motivate your employees is to provide regular feedback and coaching.

What does that mean?

It means you should be giving your employees clear direction on how they’re doing, and how they can improve their performance.

You may be thinking, “But what if I don’t know how my employee is doing?” You might not know if they are working hard or not. And they might not tell you that they are unhappy with their job, either.

But there are ways to figure this out without having to ask them directly:

  • Ask your employees what they think about what’s going on in the company and how their role fits into it. Ask for feedback about what could make their job more fulfilling, too. This gives them a chance to share their thoughts with you in an honest way.
  • Look at how long it takes them to complete projects or tasks that are new or unfamiliar — this will give you an idea of whether they are learning quickly enough or not.

Coaching too is a powerful tool for providing the feedback and guidance employees need to grow and succeed at work. Here’s how to coach your employees in four steps:

  1. Create a coaching culture by modeling it yourself
  2. Make time for one-on-one check-ins with each employee
  3. Give regular feedback on performance and development needs
  4. Develop action plans together

 

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3. Empower them through leadership development opportunities

Employees don't just want a paycheck — they want to feel like they're making a difference.

The problem is that most companies aren't set up to empower their employees to grow into inspiring leaders, and those that are often fail because they don't have the resources to do so.

The answer lies in leadership development opportunities.

When you give your employees the chance to develop their leadership skills, you're empowering them to take an active role in your company's future success. And as an added bonus, it'll also help prevent employee turnover because people who feel like their voice is being heard will be less likely to leave for greener pastures elsewhere.

Here are some ways you can empower your employees through leadership development:

  • Encourage feedback from managers so that they can share what they like about an employee’s performance and what areas they could improve upon
  • Give new team members opportunities to shadow other leaders or attend workshops that teach skills like communication or teamwork
  • Offer challenging projects with deadlines so that employees can practice new skills or try something new

Leadership development doesn’t only benefit the employee — it also benefits the company. When you invest in leadership training programs for your employees, you’re giving them the tools they need to succeed in their careers. You’re also creating an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated, which will motivate them to work harder and give their best effort every day.

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4. Give them the resources they need to succeed

If you want to keep your employees happy, give them the resources they need to succeed.

While it's important to cultivate a culture of employee engagement, it can be difficult to know where to start when you're managing a large team. Here are a few ways you can help your employees succeed:

  1. Give clear expectations and feedback. Employees who don't clearly understand what is expected of them will not be able to deliver quality work consistently. Make sure you're providing clear instructions for projects and tasks, and offer regular feedback throughout the process so that everyone has a chance to improve their skills and adjust their approach if needed.
  2. Provide the training needed for each role. Some employees may need more training than others before they can be effective in their roles. For example, if someone is new to sales or customer service, they might need some additional training before making calls or interacting with customers on social media
  3. Give employees the tools they need to do their jobs. If employees are struggling because they don’t have the right tools or resources, give them what they need. That could mean providing software programs or equipment that will make their work more efficient or effective. Some companies even provide employees with laptops so they can work remotely when needed.

Give employees training opportunities so they can improve their skills and become more valuable members of the team. This includes not just formal training sessions but also informal opportunities to learn new skills through reading books or taking online courses.

Create an environment where people feel valued and appreciated so they stay motivated and willing to go above and beyond for their employer and clients. This can include things like offering flexible schedules for important events like doctor appointments or parent-teacher conferences, and offering generous benefits packages such as health insurance coverage for spouses and children

Feeling like other employees are being treated differently, or that they’re being passed over for promotions or opportunities is a quick way to cause an employee to start hunting for new jobs. Fortunately, an employee engagement chatbot like Amber allows employees to make sure their concerns about preferential treatment are heard by HRBPs and CHROs, who can then pass on concerns to managers and work to help upskill them. As Angel Investor Vijay Amritraj wrote in this article, Amber knows whether or not your employees are happy at work. So get an employee engagement chatbot so you can stop attrition and build a positive workplace culture by making sure every employee is treated equally.

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5. Show appreciation for the work your team is doing

A dedicated rewards and recognition program can help you build an engaged workforce that is committed to your organization’s mission. 

The way you communicate with your employees will have a big impact on how they feel about the company. If you want to build an employee-first culture, start by ensuring that communication is a priority for everyone in your organization. The best way to do this is by creating a dedicated rewards and recognition program that includes regular meetings between managers and employees.

A rewards and recognition program can be used as part of an annual employee development plan or as a standalone initiative focused on recognizing employees who go above and beyond their job descriptions. In either case, it’s important to set clear expectations for what constitutes an “above-and-beyond” effort, so everyone knows what behaviors are being rewarded.

You should also make sure there are no hard feelings when it comes time to recognize someone by rewarding them with gifts or cash bonuses. Even though most companies give out awards like gift cards or $100 checks during holiday parties, these aren’t always appropriate for every situation. If you want to make sure your employees know how much you appreciate them, consider giving them something more personal such as tickets to a sports game or concert or even tickets for two.

6. Work-life balance: How to develop a positive workplace culture with time management 

Now more than ever, with the shift towards work from home, creating a healthy work-life balance for your employees is a key component in reducing burnout and keeping productivity high. In a work from home setting the lines between “on” and “off” are often blurred, so make sure you’re not putting an inordinate amount of work on your employees’ shoulders. While one huge benefit of work from home is flexible work hours, it’s important that you’re considerate of your colleagues working styles. If you find that you work well after what we consider to be “standard” working hours, hold off on sending messages at odd hours to colleagues. Try to align your periods of communication with the hours that most people are working.

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7. Sense of pride: Believing in the mission and their work

One key part of building a positive workplace culture is ensuring all employees buy into the guiding tenets and values of a company. If you’ve worked to establish a strong culture and ethos it should factor into all decisions taken within the company. From this, the employees build a sense of pride about the work they’re doing for the company. If they believe in the vision of the company they’ll inherently be more motivated and inspired to perform. Having a high net promoter score is a huge part of building a healthy brand, both in the present and in the future when you hire. Having former employees leave the organization as brand ambassadors is a sign you’re doing something right, and you should strive as a leader to ensure that everyone who joins the firm is proud to be there.

8. Performance culture: Recognizing top talent 

A performance based culture goes hand in hand with fair treatment in the workplace. Nepotism should never be the way employees move vertically in an organization, rather empirical evaluation of workplace performance should be prioritized. One key way to do this, and in turn build a positive  workplace culture, is clearly defining goals and objectives for employees. Making the performance aspect as transparent and data driven as possible will help ensure all employees take pride in their work and are also accountable to hitting their numbers. Rather than be anxious over how they’ll be reviewed by a supervisor using unclear criteria, staking OKRs and KPIs to data points will allow everyone to understand who is performing well, and why.

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Having worked across organizations, we looked inwards and outwards as well to highlight 5 companies with the employee-first cultures based on their interactions with us and reviews on Glassdoor.

1. Puma

What are employees saying on Glassdoor?

While an overwhelming 47 reviews on Glassdoor praises the "cooperative staff, positive work environment", the sentiment behind these 37 reviews is higher: "The work-life balance is the best I have experienced"

What does Puma’s HR do differently?

Based on our initial interactions, we learnt from the HR team at Puma India that while their employee engagement was always high, they needed a solution to help them dig deeper and measure and enhance the:

  1. Experience of their high performers and the success of retention initiatives
  2. Impact of L&D initiatives to help their employees grow

What are their employee-first best practices?

The HR team regularly monitors, quantifies, and stays on top of:

  1. Positive and negative impact of factors affecting employee experience
  2. The sentiment around communication and take ready action on feedback
  3. Constructive feedback exchange between managers, and employees

What the CHRO says

“While PUMA is a hugely engaged organisation, we always felt the need to have a tool that could provide a measure for this. The employee engagement surveys are static and are not able to capture the dynamic nature of human emotions.” - Manisha Agarwal, Head - Human Resources, Puma India

2. Makemytrip

What are employees saying on Glassdoor?

In an overwhelming 72 reviews, employees praise "A very open and interactive work culture", while 60 reviews applaud their "great work life balance"

What does Makemytrip’s HR do differently?

An early adopter of employee-first practices, our discussions with Makemytrip’s HR team helped us narrow down their three major objectives to enhance their employees’ experiences at the time.

  1. Reduce their HRBP: employee ratio of 1:300 with a tool that can connect with 3000+ employees in real-time.
  2. Understanding employee sentiment patterns while in the midst of a major merger with Goibibo and Redbus
  3. Replacing dated annual surveys with a a built-to-context platform to capture evolving workplace dynamics and understand the needs of a fast-paced millennial workforce.

What are their employee-first best practices?

As the HR team has automated most of their manual labor intensive processes, they now:

  1. Prioritize and focus on high-risk employees highlighted using real-time sentiment analysis
  2. Involve business Heads and HRBPs in action planning based on insights and findings generated using predictive people analytics.

What the CHRO says:

“I don’t think that MakeMyTrip would be the company it is if not for its people. This is built by its people, built for people.” - Deep Kalra, Chairman and Group GEO, GO-MMT

3. Altimetrik Uruguay

What are employees saying on Glassdoor?

In 49 reviews, employees praise the "good work life balance in organisation" and 23 reviews cite Altimetrik Uruguay  as a "very good company, Employee Friendly"

What does Altimetrik Uruguay’s HR do differently?

When we spoke to the HR team at Altimetrik Uruguay, they told us that as they scaled from 60 to 200, it was critical to maintain their connection with the workforce. This meant:

  1. Replacing classical tools like the annual surveys, typical processes of performance reviews with a tool that got them face to face with employees they needed to meet
  2. Managing and maintaining trust and core cultural values by understanding their employees’ sentiment in real time
  3. Using technology to bridge gaps between leaders and employees and ensure transparency in communication

What are their employee-first best practices?

Altimetrik Uruguay’s HR team now regularly:

  1. Uncovers insights on employee sentiment to build action plans that can improve experiences and reduce attrition
  2. Use predictive analytics to confirm what’s working well and areas of improvement when it comes to employee engagement strategies

What the CHRO says:

“In HR, with the right tools in place, you will feel that the more you know the more you feel a closer relation with all the employees; no matter the size of your company, you will know what is happening with all of them.” - Manuel Vidal, Head of Uruguay Technology Center, Altimetrik Uruguay

4. Myntra-Jabong

What are employees saying on Glassdoor?

65 reviews on Glassdoor are in awe of "The best work culture you'll ever experience" while 42 reviews highlight "Best work environment and got many things to learn."

What does Myntra-Jabong’s HR do differently?

We learnt from the HR team at Myntra-Jabong that they needed to enhance employee-centricity much like their approach to their customers. This led to:

  1. Realigning employees with the company’s mission and reinforce the value code - MAGIC (making it happen, aiming high, greatness together, integrity, customer-centric approach)
  2. Understanding and deep diving on factors that lead to disengagement to create employee-focussed strategies

What are their employee-first best practices?

Today, the HR team at Myntra-Jabong:

  1. Regularly track and monitor employee behavioral trends and act on pain points highlighted using AI-enabled tools
  2. Works with the CEO and uses a data-driven approach to keep a finger on the pulse of their workforce and solve employee issues directly irrespective hierarchy

What the CHRO says:

“We want employees to stop thinking about their departments, their managers, their team members and start thinking of the organization as a whole.” - Abhishek Sen, Senior VP & Head - Human Capital, Consumer Experiences and Corporate Services, Myntra

5. GE Healthcare

What are employees saying on Glassdoor?

A whopping 146 reviews have applauded the "Family like work environment, can be a wonderful team environment" and an even larger 245 reviews mention "Also offers good work life balance".

What does GE Healthcare’s HR do differently?

In a discussion with GE healthcare at the time, the HR team wanted to stay ahead of the curb and continually focus on keeping a diverse set of employees happy, motivated, and engaged at the workplace. This meant:

  1. Using a different, more “natural” channel (instead of annual surveys) to focus their efforts and understanding on employee needs and expectations
  2. Building direct, meaningful connects with employees spread across the globe with different levels of experiences at the company

What are their employee-first best practices?

Since the last time we spoke, we learnt the HR team does:

  1. Proactively devise data-driven action plans to effectively engage employees to reaffirm they are being heard
  2. Round-the-clock monitor of the engagement index to understand how their employees related to the company’s mission and vision

What the CHRO says:

“We are extremely focussed on diversity. Our population of employees truly represents the melting pot of the world." - Terri Bressenham, former Chief Innovation Officer, GE Healthcare.

Conclusion

To summarise, building an employee first culture will go a long way to transform your organisation into a place employees love to work. The benefits of this approach include:

  • Employees who are happier and more engaged, with higher levels of productivity.
  • Employees who are more loyal and less likely to leave.
  • Higher staff retention rates, which help you to avoid costly recruitment and training costs.
  • Improved recruitment processes that attract the right people for your organisation’s needs.

It’s now more than ever important to be employee first, and the numbers back it up. Want to know more? Sign up for your demo today.


Amrita Kar
Amrita Kar
Content Specialist at inFeedo

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