Lever 2: Building a Supportive Culture

EXCX-Report Excerpt #2-Image-Supportive Culture

Earlier this year, we began to explore the concept of employee experience. Since then, we talked to over twenty organizations to understand their approach to employee experience and identify leading practices. Now, this is the first in a series of four articles highlighting our findings. A huge thanks to Medallia for sponsoring this research!

Throughout our research, we identified four levers of employee experience to create sustainable results. This article focuses on one of the employee experience levers – supportive culture – and is just an excerpt from the main report.

One of the common themes about employee experience that we repeatedly heard from progressive organizations was the importance of having a supportive organizational culture. Most of us have heard that culture is “the shared assumptions, values, and behaviors that determine how we do things around here”1 that helps people and organizations thrive.2, 3 It is, therefore, no surprise that organizational culture is a key element in employee experience.

However, we wanted to uncover the nuances of what a supportive culture means for employee experience, and in our pursuit, we identified two components. Supportive cultures that have values, beliefs, and assumptions anchored in employee experience drive core behaviors throughout the organization.

“We have open door policies. Our CEO and I don’t have secretaries. You can dial us directly and we’re extremely approachable. We care about what our employees have to say and love to hear their feedback. They make us better every day and are critical to our success. It’s about having a transparent and collaborative conversation.”

Vivian Maza, Chief Culture Officer, Ultimate Software

We mentioned that a supportive culture is anchored in employee experience. But what does that mean exactly? In practice, progressive organizations have people – up and down the ranks – who accept the value of employee experience and model behaviors that reinforce it. Organizational climate, internal policies, and leadership – all constructs of organizational culture – contribute significantly to employee experience.4

“We have a very collaborative culture. So for us, it was very important that we bring people together to talk about the desired employee experience, then make recommendations and decisions.”

Kate Miller, Director of Employee Experience, Robert Half

Supportive culture anchored to employee experience: values, beliefs, and assumptions

A supportive organization weaves employee experience into its cultural fabric. It does so by clearly anchoring its values, beliefs, and assumptions to experience and accepting it as fundamental to success. Figure 1 shows what progressive organizations with a culture anchored in employee experience value, believe, and assume.

Figure 1: Values, beliefs, and assumptions of a supportive culture | Source: RedThread Research, 2019.

“Our first belief, and we think about our values in that order, is that happy employees enable happy customers. Happy customers want to innovate with us. The ability to have great innovation allows us to attract happy employees and do really interesting work, and that creates a virtuous cycle.”

Greg Pryor, VP of People and Performance Evangelist, Workday

Five essential behaviors of a supportive organizational culture

A supportive organizational culture also fosters an experience mentality that encourages people to adopt, at a minimum, five essential behaviors: collaboration, transparency, psychological safety, alignment, feedback-sharing. While there may be other relevant ones in a supportive culture, we found that these five behaviors are table-stakes. We heard them mentioned over and over in our various conversations with organizational leaders. They also underscore the importance of employee experience as a fundamental priority to the wider organization.

In a culture that supports employee experience, everyone – from senior leaders and direct managers to individual contributors – plays a key role. Although the five essential behaviors may apply to everyone across levels, we found that in highly supportive cultures, senior leaders and direct managers often demonstrate collaboration, transparency, psychological safety, and alignment. Individual contributors are also adamant about sharing meaningful feedback. Essentially, how leaders behave paves the way for employees to frequently share meaningful feedback about themselves and about customers. This creates a supportive and reciprocal environment rooted in employee experience.

“Autodesk has figured out how employee behavior and practices align to the culture we care to cultivate. The business and senior leadership fully support The Culture Code we’ve developed and encourage healthy behavior within our system of business practices. The CEO’s consistent reinforcement of The Code has reinforced the work our team does and helped us maintain the momentum for our most recent, successful business transformation.”

Andrea Robb, VP Talent, Culture, and Diversity, Autodesk

For more on this and other levers of employee experience – and examples of how companies have brought them to life – we encourage you to download and read the full report.

1 “Manage the Culture Cycle,” Heskett, J.L., The World Financial Review, 2011.
2 “How to Build A Positive Company Culture,” Kohll, A., Forbes, 2018.
3 “The Leaders Guide to Corporate Culture,” Groysberg, B., Jeremiah, L., Price, J., & Yo-Jud Cheng, J., Harvard Business Review, 2018.
4 “Influence of Cultural Environment Factors in Creating Employee Experience and Its Impact on Employee Engagement: An Employee Perspective,” Shenoy, V. & Uchil, R., International Journal of Business Insights & Transformation,” 2018.

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