The challenges of revitalizing an employment culture
Creating the right company culture has become imperative for businesses today, especially as they seek to bring on skilled talent in a market where candidates hold more control. It’s a topic we read a lot about in the staffing industry. And while it’s growing in importance as a primary initiative, it also represents one of the biggest challenges for employers. Improving or reshaping corporate culture requires changing behaviors — fostering collaboration, humility, information sharing, transparency and placing the needs of the mission above the goals of individuals. Easier said than done, as many enterprises have discovered.
When Lear Corporation fell into bankruptcy during the Great Recession, it realized the need for dramatic change. By 2013, the organization had stabilized economically and strengthened its operational efficiencies. However, people leaders at Lear worried that the push for results and satisfying the demands of customers had taken a toll on the human aspects of the company. Lear tasked Tom DiDonato, its chief human resources officer, and Noelle Gill, vice president for leadership development, with optimizing the organization into “One Lear,” a sustainable and united culture with a shared vision.
As DiDonato and Gill explained, “One Lear was all about keeping the company’s interests ahead of one’s own division, function, or region. ‘Results the Right Way’ emphasized collaboration and long-term perspective, while ‘Lead with Integrity’ pushed for accountability and humility.”
MSPs are part of every client’s culture
Culture isn’t just a concern for employers, it’s a huge consideration for MSPs and their staffing partners. They must integrate with their clients’ cultures, work to assimilate others into the new shared culture, and promote cultural values to attract the right candidates. This is the reason that implementation plans often necessitate transition and change management strategies. Yet, even with the best-laid tactics and good intentions, cultural change is difficult. Using the lessons DiDonato and Gill learned from their efforts at Lear, let’s look at how MSPs can create an ideal, collaborative culture for their programs.
Cultural change begins with awareness
When Gill and DiDonato first undertook the transformation of Lear’s culture, they started by raising awareness — by establishing and familiarizing every stakeholder with the new brand: “We spent some money on publicity, including framed posters, mousepads, and even a sculpture commissioned for the headquarters lobby. The leadership model and related descriptions went out in the 20 languages used by Lear managers around the world.”
MSPs can do the same — without having to commission sculptures. Beyond communicating project timelines and objectives to clients, MSPs can establish their own brand, visibility and role in the client company’s culture.
• Generate name and project recognition among target audiences. Many MSPs and staffing curators have done through this creative approaches such as providing talent with branded coffee mugs, polo shirts, etc.
• Raise awareness. Just as Lear did, MSPs can create internal publicity campaigns through slick promotional materials, newsletters, get-to-know-us cards, entertaining yet informative interactive handbooks and more. The Motley Fool garnered much praise for its culturally rich online handbook, and it’s a great model for conceptualizing your own unique content.
• Distribute and inform. Provide all stakeholders with a clear understanding of how the program will benefit them. Explain the new dynamics, people, processes, contributions to the client’s overall mission, and how teams will interact. As Lear did, make sure these details reach every department leader, manager and executive who will come in contact with the program, regardless of where they’re located.
• Establish and communicate metrics for success. To help foster program adoption, measuring progress and reporting it to stakeholders will instill a sense of comfort and confidence, making bumps in the road much easier to avoid or overcome.
Educate people on the cultural changes
To succeed, we can’t just present clear instructions, expect others to follow through and rest on our laurels. A productive and empathetic learning process is crucial. “Too many companies skimp on this step,” DiDonato and Gill note. “Any change in behavior that matters is going to be difficult. First of all, it’s just hard to translate words on a page into specific behaviors.”
For the MSP, capitalizing on learning opportunities during the discovery process of implementation will provide a thorough understanding of the client’s existing culture, executive support and structure of the relationship. This allows the MSP to develop strong relationships with client sponsors and maintain open communications throughout the program. Actively engaged business leaders and committed hiring managers are essential to gaining organizational buy-in. While it’s not practical for MSPs to host a retreat with client stakeholders, as Lear did, getting their attention for an educational session can make a positive difference for everyone involved. MSPs can use this opportunity to:
• Advertise their support structure for clients, suppliers and contingent talent.
• Focus on the needs of individual stakeholders and help those who are resistant to the change.
• Provide a detailed understanding about the changes and how they will affect people specifically.
• Share expectations among the group.
• Collaborate with existing management teams to facilitate a seamless transfer of duties.
• Train users about new policies and provide additional opportunities for cross training.
• Recognize and emphasize the contributions of each team member in the program.
Some creative ways of supplementing the learning process could include developing an online library of useful materials, instructional and informative videos, podcasts, and more.
Successful change demands practice
To fit snugly into a client’s culture while cultivating a sense of belonging and success, we must earn the confidence of the stakeholders. We’re seeking sustainable accomplishments, not rewards for specific short-term results. It takes a big message with a big-picture mindset behind it. When organizations call in an MSP, there’s generally a compelling reason — oftentimes, it’s that in-house efforts have failed to produce the desired outcomes. So with the introduction of the MSP, emotions can run high. The managers who were previously in charge of the program may feel blamed, rebuked or somehow exposed for perceived failures.
In reality, the decision to engage an MSP is simply to improve processes and ease the burdens on those same managers so they can focus on their core duties. And that’s the message that needs to be conveyed. A lot of managers understand that internally administered contingent labor programs don’t work as well as they’d planned — they just don’t know how to fix them. People will be receptive to a message that’s properly framed, which comes with humility, executive support and the assurance that you’re there to help them — not place blame or create a model intended to benefit only certain individuals.
DiDonato and Gill found that when they “cast the issue as an organizational challenge, not a problem for individual managers, people could talk about it and help each other much more.” Some best practices to consider include:
• Start the program and relationship building process with a clean slate. Don’t dwell on or emphasize whatever challenges or issues existed with the program prior to the MSP. Begin fresh, drawing those managers into the new culture. Request their expertise and the insights they gained from their experiences before your MSP came aboard. Excite them about the advantages and support you’re delivering.
• Establish informal meetings on a frequent and recurring basis, which aren’t tied to formal business reviews. Structure these discussions as a safe zone, a “cone of silence.” When people can interact in a forum unconnected to issues of documented performance or compensation, they’re more comfortable having meaningful, productive and candid dialog.
• Give hiring managers and client leaders time to practice the new interactions, behaviors and roles that come with the change. Getting accustomed to the new MSP program will take patience and understanding. “We didn’t expect them to get it right the first time,” Gill and DiDonato admitted of the Lear effort. “A lot of behavior change is about failing your way to success.”
Accountability matters in times of change
Accountability must be established, understood and maintained for the change to proceed smoothly. A well-run initiative can make every participant more collegial, collaborative and aligned to the larger corporate mission. However, as DiDonato and Gill point out, performance must remain a top priority: “We’ve also been watching carefully to make sure we don’t lose our edge as an organization. The leadership model can’t become an excuse for slacking off. We still need strong operational results if we are going to stay competitive.”
An MSP brings a wealth of benefits to client hiring managers, removing a lot of work from their plates. That doesn’t mean they should have no involvement in the program. Set expectations and define responsibilities clearly with visible support from executive leadership.
Better program management means better long-term results for clients, improving their employment brands and cultures. HR functions in the 21st century are shifting from tactical and transactional administration processes to strategic people development. Attracting and retaining the best talent for a competitive advantage requires a cohesive and inviting culture that focuses on the “human” and not just the “resources.” When MSPs and clients come together to build new, embracing environments for the blended workforce — cultures that emphasize shared values, innovation and progress — everybody wins.
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