A fit like a glove is good

There re­ally is more to an en­joy­able job than money— there’s feel­ing good, writes Vivi­enne Reiner

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

WITH skills that are in de­mand, Charmaine Chalmers has her pick of work­places, but says she looks for more in a job than just a com­pet­i­tive pack­age. The di­rec­tor at Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers re­joined the ac­count­ing firm af­ter be­ing ap­proached by them two years ago.

‘‘ I cer­tainly didn’t make my de­ci­sion just around salary; it was the con­nec­tion I made in the in­ter­view,’’ she says of her de­ci­sion to re­turn to the firm she first worked for upon grad­u­at­ing from univer­sity in 1999.

Chalmers, who has par­tic­i­pated in PWC’s Young Lead­er­ship Team pro­gram, says PWC gives em­ploy­ees the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop as in­di­vid­u­als in a fun en­vi­ron­ment. I do love work­ing here and I love work­ing with my team — that’s a large part of why I come to work ev­ery day,’’ she says.

PWC has a num­ber of ini­tia­tives to ap­peal to peo­ple look­ing be­yond just re­mu­ner­a­tion, such as the PWC Foun­da­tion which matches dol­lar­for-dol­lar em­ployee con­tri­bu­tions which are then fun­nelled to 21 char­ity part­ners.

For or­gan­i­sa­tions, hir­ing peo­ple with roughly sim­i­lar ap­proaches en­gen­ders a co­he­sive work­place en­vi­ron­ment, and it can also be good for brand­ing. For the in­di­vid­ual, the idea of work­ing in a place where they feel com­fort­able or ful­filled is of­ten cited as one of the defin­ing fac­tors in ac­cept­ing or stay­ing in a job, es­pe­cially in th­ese days of full em­ploy­ment.

But do or­gan­i­sa­tions re­ally have cul­tures of their own, and does cul­tural fit mat­ter if peo­ple have the nec­es­sary skills to do the job?

Cul­tural fit’’ may sound like new jar­gon taken up by HR de­part­ments court­ing peo­ple with skills in high de­mand, or used as an ex­cuse for why the job is not right for the per­son in ques­tion, but the con­cept is not new. For John­son & John­son, or­gan­i­sa­tional fit is ex­tremely im­por­tant, and has been for a long time, says its pres­i­dent of Pa­cific op­er­a­tions, Max John­son. So much so, that in 1935 Gen­eral Robert Wood John­son pro­duced a doc­u­ment set­ting out their val­ues.

The health­care com­pany was a global leader in defin­ing its cul­ture, says John­son. He (Gen­eral John­son) had a very strong be­lief that the most im­por­tant thing to be able to run a com­pany was val­ues.’’

John­son says the com­pany has been able to put the the­ory into prac­tice, and points to the fact that there have only been six global chair­men, and that one of their pri­mary tasks is to en­sure the credo of John­son & John­son is up­held. It’s ac­tu­ally quite a com­pet­i­tive doc­u­ment — the first re­spon­si­bil­ity is to the cus­tomers,’’ John­son says.

As well, its stated com­mit­ment to look­ing af­ter em­ploy­ees’ needs can be seen in con­di­tions in­clud­ing paid ma­ter­nity leave, and flex­i­bil­ity in terms of telecom­mut­ing and part-time work. John­son says the com­pany is also a good cor­po­rate cit­i­zen and this acts as a mo­ti­va­tional fac­tor for staff, and helps en­able John­son & John­son to carry out its com­mit­ment to its share­hold­ers.

John­son ac­cepts that this approach may not ap­peal to all po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees, but says it is bet­ter to be up­front than to be per­ma­nently in the mar­ket re­cruit­ing large num­bers of peo­ple. The com­pany’s val­ues are very much part of the in­duc­tion and in­ter­view process, John­son says, ‘‘ mak­ing it very clear to peo­ple this is the sort of or­gan­i­sa­tion we are and let­ting peo­ple have the op­por­tu­nity to de­cide whether that’s the sort of or­gan­i­sa­tion they want to join’’.

The re­sult? A rel­a­tively low an­nual staff turnover av­er­ag­ing some 5-6 per cent.

The com­pany also con­ducts a global sur­vey each year re­quir­ing em­ploy­ees to give feed­back as to whether they think John­son & John­son is liv­ing up to its val­ues, with ac­tion plans drawn up and ex­e­cuted, from the coun­try pres­i­dents and down through the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Global drinks busi­ness Di­a­geo has been ex­tremely suc­cess­ful in align­ing staff to the com­pany’s brand, with em­ploy­ees dis­play­ing a con­sis­tency in their man­ner. In­ter­est­ingly, this has been achieved partly through an em­pha­sis on em­ploy­ing peo­ple com­mit­ted to a work­place cul­ture that places an em­pha­sis on ac­cept­ing peo­ple’s dif­fer­ences.

HR di­rec­tor in Aus­tralia Andrew Man­ter­field quotes Di­a­geo’s pur­pose as cel­e­brat­ing life ev­ery day, ev­ery­where, and he says di­ver­sity is key to this. Di­a­geo has gen­uinely in­ter­nalised its val­ues and pur­pose, and en­cour­ages peo­ple to de­velop their unique­ness and strengths, ac­cord­ing to Man­ter­field. ‘‘ We just want to have a great place for peo­ple to work; we don’t want peo­ple to be stressed,’’ he says.

Last year Di­a­geo marked the 10th an­niver­sary since a num­ber of com­pa­nies came to­gether un­der the Di­a­geo brand — not an easy feat if there are com­pet­ing in­ter­ests at play in the merg­ing par­ties.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions com­monly fail in their bid to achieve a strong work­place cul­ture ac­cord­ing to as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor Bill Har­ley, from Melbourne Univer­sity’s De­part­ment of Man­age­ment and Mar­ket­ing.

‘‘ Fads like this go in cy­cles . . . my ob­ser­va­tion of th­ese kinds of things over the years is that they tend to be more win­dow-dress­ing than any­thing else,’’ he says. As an ex­am­ple, he points to the fact that while in­creas­ingly or­gan­i­sa­tions are pro­fess­ing to of­fer work/life bal­ance, work­ing hours in Aus­tralia are still among the high­est in the de­vel­oped world — de­spite some in­crease in flexible work ar­range­ments.

Har­ley says the con­cept of or­gan­i­sa­tional fit was around as far back as the 1920s, when cor­po­ra­tions in the United States started con­sid­er­ing em­ploy­ees’ val­ues and morals. It is per­haps not sur­pris­ing that there is a school of thought that sees at­tempts to mould or­gan­i­sa­tional dy­nam­ics as bad for the worker. ‘‘ In part at least it’s about the or­gan­i­sa­tion own­ing the whole per­son,’’ Har­ley says of the the­ory.

Th­ese days there may be some­what less em­pha­sis on mak­ing em­ploy­ees evan­ge­lists of the or­gan­i­sa­tion but there is an in­creased fo­cus on cre­at­ing con­di­tions that are likely to at­tract and re­tain staff, es­pe­cially in ar­eas where labour is in short sup­ply.

But while the most im­por­tant ‘‘ fit’’ may still be re­gard­ing skills and ex­pe­ri­ence, Har­ley be­lieves it is im­por­tant to be able to get on with col­leagues, and this is more the case in some jobs than in oth­ers.

‘‘ One of the things that se­nior man­agers in big com­pa­nies al­ways com­plain about is that em­ploy­ees don’t have the soft skills,’’ he says.

With new em­ploy­ees, he says a good way to get to know col­leagues is by lis­ten­ing to them, and it also helps to think about what their agen­das may be and to be flexible.

Caro­line Vick­ers-Wil­lis, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor at Ju­lia Ross re­cruit­ment agency, says the more cul­tur­ally aware Gen­er­a­tion Y is help­ing shift the fo­cus back to­wards or­gan­i­sa­tional dy­nam­ics.

‘‘ We are find­ing that prob­a­bly Gen­er­a­tion Y has greater em­pha­sis on th­ese sorts of is­sues than the pre­vi­ous two gen­er­a­tions,’’ she says. ‘‘ It’s a recog­ni­tion of the sig­nif­i­cance that work plays in the lives of peo­ple in West­ern cul­ture.’’

Vick­ers-Wil­lis says there can be sub-sets of cul­tures in dif­fer­ent parts of an or­gan­i­sa­tion. For ex­am­ple, tech­ni­cians who spend a ma­jor­ity of their time out of the of­fice in­stalling prod­ucts in var­ied lo­ca­tions may have dif­fer­ent needs re­gard­ing variety of work and so­cial in­ter­ac­tions than the team sell­ing the prod­ucts from head of­fice. And a per­son who may have been a good fit for a par­tic­u­lar type of role at one time in their lives may find this is no longer the case as their needs and out­look change.

Vick­ers-Wil­lis ad­vises that if an em­ployee is hav­ing a per­son­al­ity clash with a co-worker or man­ager it can help to open the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion through a third party such as hu­man re­sources. Cul­tural fit is not at play if the prob­lem is con­fined to one per­son, she says: ‘‘ If an in­di­vid­ual doesn’t have the same cul­tural ideals as the or­gan­i­sa­tion (they) will clash with more than one per­son.’’

Pic­ture: David Sproule

In­tan­gi­bles: Charmaine Chalmers is at­tracted by more than money:

I love work­ing with my team — that’s a large part of why I come to work’’.

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