Culture and the Employee Experience: Purpose and Development

It’s tempting to disregard “culture” and “employee experience” as HR buzzwords-du-jour, but the reality is this: anytime more than two people interact with each other, culture exists. Good, bad, or indifferent, from applying for a position until their last day, every employee contact with an organization sums up to a total experience.

Culture and Employee Experience (EX) aren’t as nebulous as they might seem– both can be observed, measured, and improved. Both can be complex and continue to be studied, considered and reported on at length. The Harvard Business Review published an excellent primer on company culture in 2018. This Forbes article, also from 2018, is a fine introduction to employee experience, what it is (and isn’t), and touches on how it relates to culture.

We’ll begin at the intersection of Culture and EX, examining two pillars of both: purpose and development.

Purpose: Purpose can be viewed two ways: individual purpose within an organization, and the purpose of the organization as a whole.

On a macro level, purpose is the “why” behind everything your company does and should be clear. It’s the cultural foundation the organization is built upon. Purpose is the banner your team rallies around. Acted upon with clarity and in earnest, purpose is why customers align with an organization. Sometimes the organization and its purpose are so intertwined as to be synonymous. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an expression of lofty ideals though– it can be a simple commitment to good old-fashioned pleasant service at reasonable prices­– but in a time when customers often buy based on beliefs, an organization needs more than mere existence to win business.

Zoomed in to the individual level, purpose is simply the nuts-and-bolts reason a role exists. The interaction of each role with others in the grand scheme of things is not only logistically crucial, it’s integral to the overall purpose of the organization. It can be easy to lose sight of individual purpose. When this happens, work consultant Zach Mercurio suggests the following:

“Take a moment and try to answer this question: “Outside of what you do, how you do it, or what you get for what you do—why does your job exist?” The answer is your purpose. You can also use the below format which helps keep the human being at the center of your purpose: “My job exists to (action verb) (who?) to (think/feel/do what?).” By stating your job’s purpose, you start acknowledging the purpose that was always there.”

Development: The importance of individual professional development and its impact on organizational culture shouldn’t be overlooked. In the past, some managers may have looked at employee development as “preparing the employee for their next job”. In a positive sense, that might be true still: if your company is getting it right, that next job will be within your organization. If someone lacks the needed support to better fulfill their role’s purpose, or if absent development opportunities lead to employees feeling constrained, engagement evaporates. When talent is left to go to seed, personal investment in the organization wanes, culture stagnates- and goals fail to be realized. Human resource development is one of the most critical investment opportunities available to your company.

The benefits of facilitating professional development are manifold, as statistics show. Professional development equals higher income per employee (218%!), higher profit margins (24%), higher productivity (almost 9%), and higher employee retention (70%). These benefits don’t arise simply because better trained employees are more technically adept at their jobs; it’s because these employees care. A culture that values and enables professional development fosters dedication to an organization. A culture indifferent to cultivation of human capital loses talent to organizations who, put simply, care.

Getting company culture right can be difficult; even when some of the moving pieces that make up the whole are spot-on, without taking time to consider how the pieces fit together it can be easy to fall into common mistakes.  Stay tuned for further installments about how managing, aligning and improving culture and the employee experience translate to a better customer experience. In the meantime, here’s a look at getting the employee experience right from the start.

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