May 20, 2022
Kueker's Keynote

The Great Resignation or Migration?

Since the middle of last year, it has been difficult to discuss or consume industry news without coming across warnings and woes about the “Great Resignation.” As you know, the tight labor market has made it easier for employees to change jobs and more difficult for many employers to attract and retain talent. From reading the expert analysis, it seems as though the best way to defend against the Great Resignation is to renew or reinvigorate company culture – something with which I agree whole heartedly.

But while the Great Resignation is very real, I also know many companies that have been able to attract and retain employees as well as or better than in years past. Not surprisingly, the companies I am referencing all have strong corporate cultures. This begs the question: Are people resigning for more money, which is typically the complaint of employers, or are more people migrating to companies with healthier corporate cultures?

Let’s face it, while the Great Resignation is transient, truly top talent have always had opportunities to move to perceived greener pastures. This is why Kenway has always, under all economic conditions, put the health of our culture above all other priorities. I think the challenge some companies are facing now is that corporate culture cannot be renewed, reinvigorated, or reimagined at the drop of a hat. Like all strategies, it requires constant scrutiny, measurement, and investment to achieve corporate objectives such as strong employee retention. Therefore, at Kenway, we have always treated our culture not as some nebulous thing, but as a strategic core competency that differentiates us from similar companies.

The foundation of our culture is our mission, or our Why, “To Help and Be Helped,” and our Guiding Principles, which can be summarized in the following themes: means over outcomes, integrity, communication, entrepreneurial spirit, treat each individual uniquely, and value. Upon this stable foundation, we are constantly building and adapting systems that allow us to evolve and scale our culture as the company grows and our environment changes.

At Kenway, every system we have – from recruiting, employee onboarding, and continuing education to both employee and corporate performance management – is geared toward ensuring culture remains the top priority. Following are some examples of how we have adapted our systems and programs in the face of the pandemic’s changing work environment, while staying true to our cultural foundation.

Employee Engagement
Our employee engagement process starts during recruiting before a candidate is even an employee. We have embraced virtual interviewing to allow every candidate the chance to spend time with company leadership to ensure he or she will not only embrace our culture but will, over time, strengthen it. This continues during the onboarding process when we similarly invest a significant amount of leadership time to ensure the smooth cultural indoctrination of new employees. Our founder, Brian King, started a tradition that I now carry forward: During the first hour or two of each new employee’s career at Kenway, I spend time with them discussing Kenway’s origins, our Why, and our Guiding Principles, and reflecting on key milestones that have shaped our culture over the years.

We are also intentional about gathering together outside the office to get to know each other on a personal level. Whether it be a group cooking lesson or a team outing where we’re volunteering our time to give back to the community, we make a concerted effort to strengthen our relationships with each outside of working hours.

Continuing Education
Our continuing education systems train employees on not only technical and functional skills, but also on cultural indoctrination. Throughout the year, we set aside time to discuss and educate each other on matters of culture. We hold four all-company meetings per year, two of which are full-day sessions. At each of these meetings, considerable time is invested discussing practical implications of our Guiding Principles, as well as other matters of cultural significance. All these traditions and systems have been adapted to work virtually and, in fact, we have embraced virtual work to increase employee engagement opportunities. As an example, I now have a one-on-one meeting with every employee at least quarterly to catch up, thank them for their efforts, discuss the company, and get to know each other personally. This is something that would be impossible to do exclusively in person.

Work-Life Balance
A recent survey conducted by McKinsey & Company suggests that 35% of respondents to the firm’s Great Resignation survey say unsustainable workload expectations were the reason they left their job without another lined up. At Kenway, promoting a healthy work-life balance for employees has always been paramount, and we have numerous Guiding Principles and associated systems in place to help make this happen. At the beginning of each year, employees are asked to provide the average number of hours they would ideally like to work each week, along with the number of vacation days they plan to take. While this is a baseline average, we encourage employees to take advantage of unlimited PTO and work with them to ensure their ideal work week is achieved more often than not.

Another more recent example of helping to promote a healthy work-life balance is our policy about returning to the office, which is the same as it was before the pandemic: We have no policy. Instead, we guide employees to work wherever they will be most productive. As our clients accept us back to their offices, that will assuredly be the most productive place to work at times, but not all the time. If home is most productive, so be it. If the Kenway office is most productive, so be it. Thanks to our strong cultural foundation, we trust our employees to use logic and do what is right. Not surprisingly, we haven’t had a degradation in culture or delivery quality while we have been mostly apart. We are seeing in-person collaboration pick up naturally, while also preserving the benefits of remote work that employees have come to appreciate.

I am thankful to work for a company that has always put corporate culture first. For those who have not and are dealing with the fallout during the Great Resignation, it is too late for any quick fixes, but it is never too late to begin a real investment in corporate culture to build a foundation for the future. Organizations will not successfully remedy this issue with superficial band-aids. Instead, companies should take a hard look at whether or not they are really willing to do the challenging work necessary to make the structural changes that will allow their culture to thrive, regardless of the economic conditions at any given time. It is important to make a strong commitment to culture, because employees will know if you are just paying lip service and will push back if you stop investing in it when the pendulum swings back in the favor of employers.

To be ready for the next Great Resignation, my recommendation is to invest in your corporate culture now and remain consistent over time. This sounds simple on the surface but can be challenging to practically implement when faced with the realities of competition for scarce resources when running a business day-to-day. But in the end, the investment will be worth it and may even make your company a landing place for employees during the next Great Migration.

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