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At the table: cultivating a people-first workplace culture in an era defined by change
Fri, 2nd Feb 2024

From rigid hierarchies in the 1950s to strained employer-employee relations in the 1990s and the tech startup frenzy of the 2000s, we've now landed in the era of human-focused company culture.

In today's uncertain world, professionals are reevaluating what matters to them—questioning how and why they work. This shift puts leaders on notice to prioritise not only productivity but also the professional development, well-being, and personal satisfaction of their employees.

 It highlights the growing importance of a company's culture, demonstrating its direct impact on professional growth in a landscape where individuals seek more than just a job—they want a meaningful and fulfilling workplace experience.

In this episode of “At the Table”, I speak with LinkedIn’s Chief Operating Officer, Dan Shapero, who has championed and shaped LinkedIn’s culture for the past 15 years. We dive deep into how company culture drives success for both the organisation and the people and how business leaders can foster a workplace where culture thrives amidst change.

Culture: the compass of an organisation 

The heart of any organisational culture lies in its core values and mission and should guide every decision and action. Beyond office walls with mission statements, more importantly, it is how we apply these values across the company that serve as our compass – steering every decision, action, and interaction toward a unified purpose. 

At LinkedIn, we asked ourselves: Who do we aspire to be as a company? What are the principles that we want to come back to time and time again? 

Our “members-first” principle echoes in every decision that we make, empowering us to foster an environment where genuine care for our members is not just welcomed but valued. It's also about the collective efforts of our employees to advance our culture, emphasise what truly matters and, most importantly, build a trusted product. By upholding a culture of inclusivity, innovation, and integrity, we cultivate an environment where every individual contributes their unique skills to drive economic empowerment for all.

As Dan aptly points out, “One of the things that I do is I make it very clear to everyone in my team of what I care about when people are up for promotion. So when people see others that are being promoted by living our culture and values, it tells everyone that this is what matters.”

Technology and culture: a synergistic convergence

The impact of technology, such as the rise of AI at the workplace and how it is shaping the future of work, is a recurring theme in my leadership conversations. LinkedIn data shows a rapid adoption of AI skills, a quick pace of workplace evolution, and a growing demand for AI-savvy talent.

While AI diligently tackles its tasks, there's a newfound emphasis on those distinctly human qualities that set us apart. It's like the workplace has discovered a renewed appreciation for the human touch. As AI automates various tasks, the spotlight shines on soft skills – those are unique human abilities beyond technology's reach. This shift underscores the importance of an environment that values and cultivates these skills.

Dan echoes this sentiment, “I think culture plays a huge role in soft skills, but the key is how do you acknowledge that the organisation is changing? Maybe the cultural statements are the same, but we need to evolve how we do the work. And I think that's healthy.”

In the corporate script, it's not just about maintaining the status quo of cultural statements; it's about fostering an environment that adapts seamlessly to the dynamic interplay of AI and soft skills. In the corporate arena, a harmonious blend of cutting-edge technology and human-centric skills demands a culture that mirrors the adaptability of our work.

Generational dynamics: understanding different perspectives

Dan pointed out that one of the hardest challenges for employers is managing what different generations value in the workplace. For example, Gen Zs and millennials are more likely to engage with company posts that mention flexibility compared to Gen X and Baby Boomers. The rise in the importance of development opportunities means employers must not only help professionals grow in their current jobs but also lay out the path ahead.

Employee expectations have evolved. When discussing the new generation of workers, Dan emphasised the difference, “There's no question that new workers into the economy are thinking about purpose. How does the work I do say something about what I value as a human being?” 

With Gen Zs joining the workforce, organisations today face the challenge of managing and understanding what matters to each generation in the workplace. There is a need to find a balance for what works across each generation is crucial for building an inclusive culture. 

The way forward is to stay true to your organisation's culture and values (even if you need to revisit them)

As LinkedIn CEO Ryan once said, “Your Vision (your "why") is something that should rarely, if ever, change. But your Culture and Values (your "how") need to constantly be evaluated.”

With the rate of change happening around us, adapting and reevaluating an organisation's culture and values is essential for staying true to its foundation while moving forward. 

In our discussion, Dan shared four key questions for leaders to ponder:
What do you care about as an organisation? 
What would make you proud if your organisation acted in a certain way?
Are there moments that you find our employees getting stuck or going in the wrong direction? If so, can you use a cultural statement to guide their behaviour? 
How do you use the values to reinforce the behaviour you want in every moment where you're celebrating your team?

What stood out to me in our conversation is that an organisational culture is the building block for who the company is and aims to be. I truly believe that empathy allows leaders to relate to the individual and better understand cultural nuances. Despite regional variations, the desire to feel valued and find meaning in work remains consistent. 

Understanding the culture we want to create or to be part of is paramount. By staying true to our values, we can create a strong organisational environment which will serve as a competitive edge to win in the future world of work.

Let’s continue to navigate change and drive conversations that matter together.