Improve Culture, Solve Labor Problems

As a business coach at Aileron, one of the biggest pain points Phillip Stoller hears from companies he works with is, “I can’t get enough talent.”

“This seems to be a growing trend in the labor market, compounded by strong growth in job creation and job vacancies in the upper tiers of management left by retiring Boomers,” he says.

Just Pay More to Solve Labor Problems?

Phillip Stoller

The seemingly obvious solution of “just pay more” to solve labor problems does not always work for several reasons.

“First, many companies feel unable to pass along the cost of elevated salaries in the form of price increases to their customers,” Stoller shares. “Second, today’s workers are increasingly prioritizing other factors when considering employment options.”

The Secret Weapon to Solve Labor Problems: Culture

The differentiator: culture. “Many companies are looking to culture as the differentiator that allows them to both recruit and retain the top talent needed to give them an edge over their competition,” Stoller says.

But what is culture? A common definition Stoller has heard is “the way we do things around here.”

“In all honesty, I think this definition falls flat,” he says. “I believe this definition is missing the human element.”

Stoller offers an example to explain his point.

“At some companies, I am warmly welcomed by a smiling face, a firm handshake and an offer of coffee or water the moment I walk in the door,” he says. “I have visited other companies where I wait in a small vestibule unacknowledged, peering through a shaded glass window. Internally, I am debating whether I should knock on the glass or just wait for someone to notice me.

“In either case, I begin to experience the culture of the company I am visiting the moment I walk in the door,” he continues. “Sometimes this experience is warm, inviting, validating. Sometimes it is cold, foreboding and intimidating. For both companies, decisions were made based on the values of the organization which shaped my experience. In the first, it is possible that a value around hospitality informed decisions I experienced. In the second, values such as privacy and safety might have been more at play.  All of these are legitimate values, but they create different experiences.”

‘The Way We Do Things’ = Behavior

Another word for “the way we do things” is behavior. Behavior is the connection between an organization values and the people’s experience of those values, Stoller says. “In other words, an organization’s values shape behavior, and then behavior shapes experience,” he explains.

To create a culture, the first step is to get curious about how customers experience your company. “Expanding our awareness around this creates opportunities to test improvements aimed at improving these experiences,” Stoller advises.

Stoller’s challenge to landscape professionals to create culture and solve labor problems: “Follow your curiosity with questions and explore your user experience.”

Editor’s Note: Learn how to define your culture, align your culture and monitor your culture at NALP’s Leaders Forum, Jan. 24-26, 2019, in Aruba. Phillip Stoller from Aileron will be there to talk about “Leading with Influence.” 

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