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How to Create a Company Culture That Sets You Apart

Kathryn Minshew is the founder and CEO of The Muse, an online platform that helps job seekers find employers that align with their values and vise versa. We asked her about the employee engagement and company culture initiatives that really matter to today’s workers.

Kathryn Minshew

Founder and CEO, The Muse

What challenges have you seen companies face as employees are working from home?

Companies have always relied on their culture to compete for talent, but in the past few years, many have been allowed to become a bit lazy, assuming that a ping pong table or free snacks “counts” as a great culture or workplace. But with everyone working from home, companies have been forced to articulate their culture and values more explicitly, without relying on their office spaces, perks, or free food to do it for them. We’re seeing a trend toward greater authenticity, with companies relying on short, homemade videos of employees talking about their jobs and workplaces, rather than glossy, highly produced brand videos. 

Why is employee engagement so important today for overall business success?

We’re seeing the acceleration of a trend that has been present for years: A company’s brand isn’t just what it wants to say about itself, but the sum total of what others are saying about it — and for many companies, they’re just waking up to the fact that employees talk. How businesses treated their current and former employees during covid — including how they handled layoffs, for example — won’t quickly be forgotten. We’re seeing many candidates asking questions on this topic directly during interviews, or quietly seeking out former employees to understand how the company’s leadership behaved in times of crisis.

Top employees today have a lot of choices about where to work, and they’re looking to join companies that share their values. They’re doing in-depth research before they apply or before they accept the offer, and one of the questions they’re asking is how well the company listens, and how in sync leadership is with what’s truly happening “on the ground” for most employees.

What are some strategies companies can employ to prevent employee burnout and retain top talent?

It’s a lot less expensive to keep your current employees happy and productive than to lose them and have to hire new ones. It’s why at The Muse we’re very focused on helping employers not only hire great people but also keep them. In fact, I believe companies need to completely rethink their relationship with talent — to understand what draws people to choose them as an employer, what keeps them happy, and what causes them to leave.

When we start working with a new partner at The Muse, we often encourage them to go through a process of tapping their current employees for insights and data about what it’s really like to work there. We have a software platform that does this, but for companies that are running their own process, you can ask questions like, “What differentiates us from other places you’ve worked? What works well for you about how we get work done here? What might frustrate a new employee? What traits about how we work are most likely to cause someone to love working here or hate working here?” As much as possible, you want to identify what makes you different — and encourage your employees to be honest about the good and the bad.

Then, understand which aspects of your workplace and culture you want to change, and be clear and transparent in the steps you’re taking. It’s also critically important that you accurately and authentically communicate culture to candidates and prospective hires outside the company, so people can make informed decisions about whether you’re the right employer for them. Again, it’s so much less expensive in the long run to invest in getting the hiring process right rather than rushing it or trying to convince a candidate you’re something that you’re not — and paying the price later on.

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