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Benefits Beyond Benefits: Building an Innovative Culture Can Rival Compensation

By Nikki MacCallum

Nikki MacCallum, Strategic Talent Manager at Lighthouse, authored a featured article that was published in Ilta’s quarterly magazine, Peer to Peer, in the winter 2018 edition.

In this day and age, compensation alone, is no longer enough to attract and retain top talent. I’ve noticed this first hand in the eDiscovery market. I speak to ten plus candidates in a given day and I always ask the question, “What is most important to you in a new role?” Ten years ago, that answer was usually in the world of money, or benefits, but today, about 80% of individuals I speak to are answering that question with something related to culture. To be clear, this does not mean that organizations are able to pay under market, it simply means that they must build an offering beyond compensation in order to remain competitive and win top talent. The companies in the eDiscovery space that are most successful in attracting top talent are offering innovative cultures as their weapon against compensation warfare.

According to a recent issue of Forbes, Generation Z (individuals born from the mid 1990s – early 2000s) make up 25% of the population. If you combine Generation Z with Generation Y, you’ve got the majority of individuals who have entered the field of eDiscovery within the last five years. This new generation will continue to infiltrate the industry and shape its future. Understanding the values and what drives Generations Z and Y is critical to organizations attracting and retaining top talent. Especially in the eDiscovery market, given all of the mergers and acquisitions that have taken place in the past five years, it has become more critical than ever to build an innovative culture to make your company a place where someone wants to take their career.

Over the past five years there are a handful of unique practices and tools I’ve seen that have been effective when trying to sway a candidate who has two equal offers. This begs the question, what qualifies an “innovative culture?”

The largest innovative trend that appears to be of value is offering the ability to work remotely. eDiscovery has been a bit behind the curve in this area as a whole and in the past, has tended to shy away from remote capability given the nature of the work, but it has proven to be a huge draw. Roughly fifty percent of candidates that I speak to say that if remote work is an option, they would take roughly ten percent less on a base salary. And there are several benefits to remote work. For starters, it is huge for folks with families and it also allows more flexibility in general. One of the big concerns with it does tends to be, “how do I effectively rally a predominantly remote workforce?” The main way I’ve witnessed organizations successfully building a remote workforce is providing all of their employees with cameras and the ability to connect virtually with anyone in the organization regardless of geographic location. The way I see it, the concept of old fashioned “putting in face time” is outdated and generations Z and Y place a significantly larger emphasis on working smarter not harder. Remote capability supports that mindset and also enhances one’s ability to have face to face meetings by providing easier access and broader opportunities for scheduling.

Another method of supporting a predominantly remote workforce is providing a company-wide chat system that is effective whether that be Skype for Business, or Slack, etc. Aside from technology, there are organizations that have quarterly or yearly company-wide meetings which entail flying every employee to the same location in an attempt team build and create a bond.

In addition to employees staying connected virtually, it is also critical that companies are innovative in terms of building and creating a sense of community. There are multiple tools both strategic and tactical, I’ve seen be quite effective in terms of lending themselves to a sense of community on a virtual level. A sense of belonging and being a part of something greater than oneself is becoming more valuable than an extra $5k on the base. Some strategies around community are simple like having a virtual Halloween costume contest which includes remote employees. I personally have a company-wide ugly sweater contest coming up which I still need to find a sweater for. From a technology standpoint, some tools I’ve seen be highly effective in this area are platforms on which employees are able to endorse each other on a weekly basis, providing a company-wide opportunity for recognition, a concept that is highly valued by both Generations Z and Y.

Companies that have successfully built a strong sense of community typically foster a culture where employees have a seat at the table and are able to affect change which is huge, especially for Millennials. A tactic I’ve seen be successful in terms of making sure employees have a seat at the table is developing an extensive interview process that includes peers as well as decision makers. While vetting a candidate is highly critical to making a strong hire, it has become equally important that individuals within an organization have a seat at the table.

More than ever, advancement, or opportunities for professional development and growth have become selling points in terms of having an innovative culture. While compensation will always be important, job seekers tend to place a high level of emphasis on opportunity for growth and room for professional development. The number one reason I hear from individuals looking to leave a current employer is that “I’ve hit a glass ceiling.” One of the routes to combating the glass ceiling that I’ve seen be successful is when companies are flexible and create new positions based on talent and the fortes of their employees. There are absolutely roles within organizations that exist in 2019 that weren’t even on anyone’s radar five years ago, such as “Success Manager” or “People Manager.” There are multiple litigation support vendors and law firms that have robust teams dedicated to “people and culture.” Another obvious tool to encourage professional development is offering to pay for various trainings and certifications such as a PMP or an RCA. And these certifications will benefit both the company and the employee.

Information sharing is another concept that has been highly successful in terms of supporting an innovative culture. It is now highly popular to have thought leadership groups within an organization where every employee is invited to participate and share information and personal anecdotes centered around a common theme. These can be anything from think tanks, to peer groups, to chapters of groups that are recognized on a national level. And outside of groups, it’s important to have a platform on which individuals can share information and learn. There are currently a handful of software programs that allow companies to develop tools that offer the opportunity to learn a certain technology or skill that may be outside the confines of an individual’s day to day responsibilities.

The most critical piece of building an innovative culture which can include: remote work; a sense of community; having a seat at the table, professional development; and information sharing, is continuing to revisit that business practices are in line with company values.

In order to maintain an innovative culture, companies must continue to grow and evolve with the values of the current market and make a commitment to ensuring that business practices align with that culture. The best practice to accomplish this is undoubtedly continuing to gather employee feedback which can be done through a variety of methods including surveys, think tanks, reviews, and leadership groups.

While money is important, and ultimately the reason people go to work, at the end of the day, an innovative culture continues to be a show-stopper. 

Nikki MacCallum

Nikki MacCallum brings over thirteen years of experience in the executive search space with a focus on litigation technology and eDiscovery. She’s spoken on panels and at conferences nation-wide (ABC News, Women in eDiscovery, LegalTech, CALSM, ARIAS) and was recently the key note speaker for a global Career Panel Workshop at American Express. Nikki is also a resident speaker at New York City’s Coalition for the Homeless where she privately mentors underprivileged women looking to re-enter the workforce.

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