(Deepdive stage 4)

Culture at the Heart of the Employee Experience

How to make your defined cultural values tangible from the first conversation to the last working day.

Every winning team shares a set of shared values that serve as guiding principles in how a team interacts and operates. However, merely putting them down in writing isn't enough. After these values are defined and implemented in HR processes, it's crucial to actually bring these values to life. This is done by ensuring that all (potential) employees feel these values in every interaction they have with your organization. But how do you do this? How do you ensure these moments align? And what are culture-driven rituals?

Post implementation of values in HR processes, the actual application comes from the entire team. Application in processes, ways of working, and behavior. To truly bring the values to life, the different activities need to align and the values need to be consistently applied. This is easier said than done because how does this look in practice?

This is possible through culture-driven rituals. Each team member contributes to developing and maintaining these rituals. But what makes something a 'ritual'? And what is the difference between an HR process and a 'cultural ritual'?

The Difference between HR Processes and Culture-driven Rituals

HR processes are the various steps and activities that are part of managing an organization's human capital. Think of onboarding and evaluation processes. These processes are managed and executed by HR and are often (partially) automated.

These activities can be set up as HR processes primarily performed by people with specific responsibilities. However, you can also see and organize them as shared, culture-enhancing rituals: recurring activities contributing to the unique identity of the organization in which the entire team participates. This makes culture-driven rituals cohesive. It's important that with rituals (as opposed to HR processes), focus is placed on the greater purpose and the group's cultural values. This way, it becomes clear why activities are approached in a certain way, and team members can position themselves as cultural ambassadors of the organization.

But how do you transition from an HR process to a culture-driven ritual?

Examples of Culture-driven Rituals

Ritual #1: Employer Branding

Culture is the trump card in employer branding. Particularly, Gen Z is seeking an organization with cultural values that align with who they are and what they deem important. Through proper employer branding, you offer potential employees a glimpse into your culture - preach what you practice. Employees play a key role in employer branding. How they represent and make the organization visible defines culture - practice what you preach.

Ritual #2: Hiring

Culture plays a significant role in hiring new employees in two ways. Firstly, attracting candidates who are a good match with the cultural values of your organization is crucial. We believe that at least one of the conversations you have with a candidate should revolve around cultural fit. Secondly, involving current team members in the selection of future employees is essential. By giving them a role in the choice, you enable them to contribute to the culture. They understand the culture like no one else and can easily determine who fits and who doesn't. HR can functionally support them in this (via interview guides, candidate scoring, etc.).

Ritual #3: Onboarding

After the candidate has already had a taste of your organization's culture during the application process, it's important that this culture comes alive during onboarding. It's crucial that the promised aspects become a reality. Alongside the substantive aspects of onboarding, cultural onboarding should not be overlooked. Involve new team members in your rituals, provide them feedback on how they embody the values, ask them to receive feedback from other team members, assign a culture buddy. Various team members can be involved in the onboarding ritual, not just the manager or immediate colleagues.

Ritual #4: Feedback

Feedback is one of the most important ways to foster growth in employees. We believe that you can strengthen a culture by having everyone give each other feedback on how they uphold the values. An employee can also give feedback to a manager about the organizational cultural values. Feedback provides the context to observe how people are developing. Make feedback not an exception but a ritual.

Ritual #5: Performance Management

Culture isn't just about fun and being optional; it also involves adhering to shared values alongside hard skills. Employees understand what is expected of them. There are behaviors associated with each value documented on paper. By also focusing on the growth employees make regarding cultural values during growth discussions, as an organization, you demonstrate that cultural fit is as important as one's substantive performance.

Ritual #6: Employee Engagement

If culture is important to an organization, it's crucial that the organization lives up to what it has agreed upon. Employees, as well as leadership, play a vital role here. Team members are allowed to voice their opinions on how the organization deals with this. They should be listened to, and action should be taken where necessary. One way to implement this is by measuring employee engagement based on shared values as input for moments of shared reflection.

From Employee Journey to Employee Experience

While strategic goals act as the final destination, it's the culture that paves the way to get there. By linking all interactions to your organization's mission and positioning the associated cultural values as rituals, you transition your organization from an Employee Journey to an Employee Experience.

This demands attention and commitment from your entire team: you expect them to apply the values in everything they do and contribute to the continuous feedback loop between leadership and the team. In return, employees experience deeper engagement and satisfaction. Through the freedom and responsibility they receive, they feel respected and valued.

As an organization, you can support your team by acquiring the right tools (for instance, the SUMM platform). A pleasant user experience that provides actions and insights for all rituals throughout the entire Employee Experience will ensure consistent utilization of your winning culture. This makes culture measurable and transparent.

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