Arianna Huffington took to the keynote stage last week at SHIFT: The Culture Conference to share her insights on the employee experience – and the profound impact that a company’s culture has on its success. We were blown away by Arianna’s time on stage, and we were lucky enough to grab some time with her just after her talk for a few final thoughts.
I enjoyed speaking at SHIFT because changing the way we work is one of the most important conversations of our time. Right now we’re in the midst of an epidemic of stress and burnout, which is being amplified by the role of technology in our lives.
And changing that means changing company culture to one that prioritizes well-being and purpose. And SHIFT brought together at the conference HR professionals who are on the front lines of accelerating this culture shift.
Company culture isn’t just about what goes on at work. We take our whole selves to work and we take our whole selves home after work. So changing the way we work is also tied into changing the way we live. We need solutions that work for every part of our lives.
The hunger for purpose and meaning have always been there – we’re hardwired for them, and we thrive when we have a strong sense of purpose and feel like our daily lives are aligned with what really matters to us.
And what’s happened over the last 20 years is that smart leaders have begun to tap into that. They’ve realized that purpose works on the collective level, as well. Purpose-driven businesses are more attractive both to employees, recruits, and customers alike. And the science bears this out.
Now we’ve hit critical mass. And the trend will only accelerate as millennials are coming into the workforce. Young people now expect and even demand that the brands they work for and identify with stand for something beyond profits. They look to the companies they do business with to align with their own desire for purpose.
At the same time, technology has made the process much more transparent. Brands and marketers can no longer hide behind a glossy, expensively shot ad campaign.
So my advice to leaders is that they should realize that it’s not a trade-off – they don’t have to choose between purpose and profit, or between meaningful work and the bottom line. They’re directly connected. And those leaders who understand that will have a competitive advantage.
HR plays a huge strategic role in shaping company culture, which is why, given the profound role company culture plays in any business, it should be more central. Too many businesses think of HR as something that operates around the margins, smoothing out the rough edges of our work lives, but that perception has dramatically changed in the last few years.
Because what HR does isn’t a soft benefit or add-on. It’s as directly tied to the bottom-line as any single factor in a business. And companies that realize this, and break down the walls between HR and other departments — are going to thrive.
It’s the same for Uber as for any company – resilience is essential for navigating change and unexpected challenges. That’s the difference between coming out stronger or being defeated by challenges. But the key is building and nurturing that resilience before the challenges come. That’s why it was so important at Uber to make fundamental and not merely cosmetic changes.
No company looks for crises, but any crisis that happens as a result of problems in the culture that have been overlooked is also an opportunity to turbocharge cultural changes that are sometimes harder to implement without a catalyst. Because of inertia or stakeholders protecting the status quo, a spark of some kind is often needed to get people to look at the bigger picture as opposed to simply what’s next on the to-do list.
And this can be turned into something very positive. I’m a big believer in the power of catharsis (not just because I’m Greek) — a purging process that facilitates renewal. And the goal shouldn’t be just to get through these challenges, but to use them to go to the next level and come out with a stronger culture than ever before.