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For the first time this year, culture and engagement was rated the most important issue overall in Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report. Surprising? Not so much, considering that candidates and employees have been in the driver’s seat of today’s job market. Nonetheless, to truly be successful and be noted as an industry leader, organizations need to spend 2015 focused on making engagement and culture the #1 priority.

Where to start? Let’s first begin with understanding what’s driving the culture and engagement issue and why it’s so important.

The Rise of Social Media
“What’s it like to work there?” This is the the question I hear most frequently from candidates. What can they expect from day one? In the first month? The first year? Thanks to social media exposure from both candidates who have interviewed and employees who have exited, a perspective candidate can pretty much gain all the information they need about your organization—in 140 characters or less.

So what can you do?
HR has an opportunity to make substantial changes through recruiting and onboarding. You can reinforce your culture and engagement levels through initial contact with potential candidates. You can also work on strategies that will have your current employees saying, “Yes, come work with us!”

The Deloitte report draws your attention to 4 key issues and solutions that you can begin considering now:

1. Treat Employees Like Customers. Employees are more like customers so treat them that way. Respect their ability to impact the messaging you are trying so hard to positively maintain. “Websites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Facebook, and others not only increase transparency about a company’s workplace; they make it far easier for employees to learn about new job opportunities and gain intelligence about company cultures,” according to the Deloitte Report.

2. Use Reverse Mentoring. Do your leaders really understand the impact of culture? Usually not. They think they do, but when you start asking them about what culture really means and how it affects engagement and even recruiting, you’ll find their opinions are skewed and may lack clarity. Take this time to incorporate reverse mentoring. Enable more junior employees to share perspectives with senior leaders, drawing on the importance of culture, environment, and team-building opportunities.

3. Encourage Cross-functional Teams. The world of work has changed the way we work. Encourage cross-functional teams and invitations to interact with others across your organization. Time zones and a lack of in-person meetings are no longer an excuse NOT to be involved in business planning beyond your local office. “Flexibility, empowerment, development, and mobility all now play a big role in defining a company’s culture,” according to the Deloitte Report.

4. Know What Motivates Employees. Motivation has changed. From environment to team members and mentoring opportunities to leadership exposure, candidates are making decisions on which organizations to join based on what they value. And that tends to fall more along the lines of individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Opportunities for career growth, coaching, and training are more important than starting salaries and signing bonuses. “Today, more than twice as many employees are motivated by work passion than career ambition (12 percent vs. 5 percent), indicating a need for leadership to focus on making the work environment compelling and enjoyable for everyone,” according to the Deloitte Report.

Make it meaningful and make it measurable
It is apparent that disengaged employees are an expense. They’re causing business objectives to lag behind, impacting creativity and innovation, draining employee morale, and keeping you from telling your story in a meaningful way. Disengagement taints every aspect of your organization. Creating a positive culture and improving engagement is a business necessity not just a “nice to have.” Even still, with all this research data, 75% of companies are reporting that they have no engagement plan or strategy, even though 90% admit that engagement impacts business success.

As you focus on the things you can change/adapt now, commit to making it meaningful and measurable.

First, make people accountable. Start at the top. We know that leadership struggles to grasp the concept from the start but they’ll get it. Mentoring, development, and other team building programs will help enhance the training and drive home the message of why culture and engagement is so important.

As evidenced in the Deloitte report, “While most leaders are measured on the basis of business results, organizations must begin holding leaders accountable for building a strong and enduring culture, listening to feedback, and engaging and retaining their teams.” This is key to starting off on the right foot.

Second, invest in HR software to keep track of metrics, goals and progress. Here’s the caveat though. Organizations are excited to implement HR software solutions but often fail to implement people and process training to complement the technology. This leaves many scratching their heads about what progress and transformation really means. Get around this hurdle by partnering with an HR software vendor who not only understands the tools you need to make a difference, but can also teach your teams how to properly use and manage the technology and drive productivity.

Third, understand which tools will help to enhance your culture and engagement strategies and then implement the necessary training and realignment of staff as necessary. This may mean a reevaluation of job descriptions and responsibilities on your team. The Deloitte report confirms, “When implementing new tools without redesigning processes and retraining HR does not solve talent problems.”

Solve your talent problems with the right mix of technology and training and then build a culture that is aligned with business strategy and is accountable for progress. Make your solutions meaningful and your employees will be driven to succeed, taking your organization to the next level with that “it” factor that makes others want to join you.

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Rachelle Falls

Based in the Washington, DC area and with 14 years of industry experience, Rachelle Falls provides client service solutions in the areas of HR, Social Media, Marketing, and Brand Management. Rachelle holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business from West Virginia University and a Master’s of HR degree in Strategic Human Capital Management from Georgetown University. She’s an HR pro, blogger, and conference speaker.