Is Culture the Key to Employee Retention?

Team at the top of Mt Ainslie
When you look back on all the positions you’ve held in your career, which organisations really stand out to you? Are they the ones where you enjoyed the work, or where you felt valued and happy above all else?
If you said the latter, you’re not alone. Workplace culture is gaining increasing recognition as a vital component to business success, with countless studies proving its importance for staff retention.

A study by Columbia University found the likelihood of job turnover in an organisation with a positively reviewed company culture was just 13.9%. This is compared to turnover in organisations with a low-rated culture of a whopping 48.4%!

Another study showed that turnover due to toxic workplace culture costs businesses an estimated $223 billion in the US alone.

With the stakes this high, it would seem that defining and cultivating a positive workplace culture should be a top priority for all business leaders.

However, this is often easier said than done. A 2019 study by Vistage showed 63% of CEOs strongly agree that culture is critical to performance and success, yet only 11% were satisfied with the strength of their existing culture.

So, what makes a great company culture, and how do you get one?

The foundations of a great company culture

We pride ourselves on having a very strong and positive culture at HorizonOne, with an extremely high retention rate.

I believe this stems directly from our hiring and onboarding practices, and our commitment to the HorizonOne values.

For me, organisational culture means the core foundations of how we behave and what’s acceptable in our workplace. This includes how we treat each other, and how we treat clients.

For us, these are non-negotiable:

  • Less talk, more listening
  • We don’t stop at good enough
  • Integrity, no compromise
  • Challenge the usual
  • Share success, maximise impact
  • Humility and respect, simple

These are underpinned by our pillars of quality, depth, trust, understanding, success and innovation.

When you decide who you want to be as a group, you can assess every business decision you make against those benchmarks – from who you hire, to what’s in your workplace policies.

Some organisations may say they want to be “collaborative” or “flexible” or “compassionate”, but if these values aren’t part of an employee’s direct experience then it’s likely the company culture will suffer.

Hiring staff who align with your cultural values

Once you define your values and can see the culture start to permeate the workplace, it’s crucial to maintain it by only hiring people who are a good cultural fit.

To do this, you need a solid recruitment process that gets to the heart of who a person is before you bring them on board.

At HorizonOne, we use evidence-based questioning for interviews with some questions that relate specifically to culture. For example, we may ask a person to give examples of how they have gone the extra mile for a client or demonstrated less talk and more listening.

The way a person responds (including their body language) says a lot about their personal values. We then actively follow up all interviews with in-depth reference checks which provide independent proof of how that person behaved in their previous workplace.

Achieving balance between cultural alignment and diversity

Hiring for cultural alignment doesn’t mean only hiring people who are like you.

On the contrary, we want our workplaces to be full of diversity so we can gain unique ideas and viewpoints from people with varied backgrounds.

Think of culture as the binding agent that brings diversity together. Everyone is different, but there’s a common thread on how they behave and treat others.

When I think of the people who make up HorizonOne, we are all quirky in our own right. But we all have very similar values, and it’s those values that keep us together and drive us forward every day.

In the rare instance that someone comes on board who is not a great culture fit, our people will generally regulate that person’s behaviour without management having to step in.

For example, if they see them act in a particular way or say something that doesn’t align with our values, they will quickly call them out on it and say it’s not the HorizonOne way.

To me, this is the pinnacle of great culture and is absolutely achievable for all businesses. All it takes is strong values, a commitment to ensuring those values permeate the workplace, and a solid hiring process.

Once you achieve these, you’ll be well on your way to a great company culture and higher staff retention.