Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?
Alan Wexler: This is a timely question! Publicis.Sapient is currently in the midst of a major evolution. We’re ensuring we’re in the best possible position to help our clients thrive in these times of change and disruption. A big part of this effort has been a collaborative, global conversation to co-create our new purpose and our values as a company. We’ve held small workshops across the world with hundreds of our people to define our values together. So, while we’re still in the midst of articulating our value, I think it’s safe to say the way we’re approaching that process shows the importance we place in collaboration, empathy, and inclusion.
Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”
Alan: Avoid labels like “millennial mindset,” which I think can be unnecessarily divisive. We should be tapping into the strengths of people across all backgrounds, ages, and experience levels; we should be learning from each other and combining those things to solve bigger challenges and make a bigger impact together. What we’ve seen at Publicis.Sapient from our more junior hires is a huge amount of drive, passion and purpose. When we give our younger people a chance to contribute to teams who are making a difference for our clients and the world, we see great things happen.
Krish: What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why.
- Design a culture-focused people experience from the very start. Our recruiters have a very human approach to initial conversations; they consider the whole person beyond the résumé. We’ve made a significant investment in our three-day immersive Jump.Start orientation program. That program includes a workshop on our culture and ways of working, sending a strong signal to our people from the get-go that we prioritize these topics.
- Cultivate diversity of thought. In a world where we are all experiencing exponential change, we need to help our clients innovate and transform, in sometimes radical ways. That’s complex work, and if we can’t combine the strengths of all of our people — different ways of thinking, different experiences, different skills — we won’t be able to make a difference for our clients.
- Engage your people in dialogue and learn from them. The larger and more complex an organization grows, the easier it is for leaders to rely on established relationships. This is a mistake — your company’s people are the experts on the front lines. So listen to them! This can be as simple as informal coffee chats or Skype one-on-ones, but these conversations are essential to understanding what both your people and your clients or customers need most.
My favorite example of this is a recent leadership meeting we had in New York. Leaders from all disciplines and global regions had come together to discuss how to ground our work in a shared purpose. On day two of our discussion, rather than making it a closed conversation, we invited a team of 20 junior to manager-level people into the room to have one-on-one conversations about our work in progress. We gained so much priceless insight from those 30-minute discussions. And, the people who were asked to participate felt truly heard and valued.
- Build and nurture a network of passionate contributors. Give your most dedicated people the chance to go above and beyond, and they’ll pay you back tenfold in the impact they have on your culture. Publicis.Sapient has a global network of people we call our “Culture Conductors,” who have either raised their hands or have been chosen to foster and build a thriving culture in their local offices. Each month, they meet to learn about best practices in work culture and share their local activities. When we initiate company-wide programs or change conversations, the Culture Conductors are our partners in helping keep our local communities plugged in and informed. And that works both ways. We’re always asking our Culture Conductors to share how we can be creating a better experience for our people across the globe.
- Make celebrating your people a part of who you are as a company. A carefully considered recognition strategy, one that reinforces the most important elements of your culture, is one of the most valuable cultural tools you can have. Not only because employees who feel valued for their contributions are far more engaged in their work, but because it helps everyone understand the actions that lead to the company’s, clients’, and customers’ success. For example, our annual global awards program, The Impact Awards, celebrates the people who have had the greatest impact on our clients and our culture. Shout Outs are a social recognition tool on our knowledge management platform. Each Shout Out thank-you note category aligns to an important tenet of our strategy or our culture.
Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?
Alan: Too often, leaders leave culture to HR or people in support roles. Leadership collaboration with HR, operations and other supporters is of course vital to a thriving culture. But culture is an issue for the business, as well. If we ignore culture, we’re ignoring the most powerful driving force influencing our peoples’ behavior towards our clients and one another. This is why Publicis.Sapient cultivates strong ties between our business leadership and our people-focused roles.
Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?
Alan: Treating culture like a surface-level phenomenon, or mistaking the environment for culture. If you want to influence your culture, it will take a lot more than planning for an open office or adding a ping pong table. Culture is a product of the business and our people. It lives below the surface in what we learn from and teach each other. So, that’s where it has to be planned for and addressed.
The best way to start is to be like a five-year-old and keep asking “why” until you get to the deeper stuff. So you want a culture of collaboration. Why? Because people need to talk to each other to do their jobs here. Why? Because we build complex solutions, and we need to orchestrate our skills. Why? Because our clients and their customers are depending on us, and we want to help them. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. We thought we needed to design for collaboration, but in reality, what’s more important is reinforcing a culture where we care about a deeper purpose: helping our clients and the customers our clients serve. If we can align around that purpose together, our culture can become a culture of collaboration.
Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?
Alan: Set aside time to chat with people who have had diverse experiences within your company. Ask them what they believe you could be doing to have a greater impact as a company. Ask if they believe you, as a company, are living up to your values. And then truly listen to what they have to say. When you make strategic decisions, base them on the stories you hear from your people.
Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?
Alan: Jump.Start is our global employee orientation program, required for every new hire. It’s a serious investment — a three-day, in-person gathering where we cover everything from the business strategy to our company culture. As much as possible, these discussions are interactive and employee-led, so folks with longer tenure also get the chance to connect with the new hires. Years after their Jump.Start workshops, people who shared a class will often reconnect over the great memories of their experience there. The clear investment in people that Jump.Start represents, combined with a strong focus on culture, helps people understand right away that we’re committed to our people and our culture.