Before I became Chief People Officer at New Relic in early 2017, I worked in management consulting for more than 15 years. That meant I got to work in a wide variety of corporate cultures—the good, the bad, and the truly unphotogenic. I’ve come to understand that while approaches differ, the best ones always focus on this core goal: How do you create an environment where employees are excited to show up every morning and do their best work?
I believe there are three main things leaders need to get right. They are simple in concept, but tricky to achieve. You need to provide a clear and exciting mission and create an environment that helps employees learn and grow. And you need to foster a sense of belonging. Said another way, most people want to contribute to something important, grow their careers, and have fun.
1. Connect people’s work to a broader, meaningful mission
In my experience, nothing is more powerful for employees than knowing that their company has a positive impact on the world. Paychecks are great, as is camaraderie, perks, and other trappings of corporate life. But having that higher purpose is huge.
I see it all the time at New Relic, which—fortunately for me—has just such a mission: to help our customers create more perfect software and digital customer experiences. While many people think a great mission has to involve nonprofit work or contributing to lofty, altruistic causes, we are proof it’s not so. At a time when software is core to how businesses interact with their customers and how humans get things done in their lives, the people who build, sell, and support our products have a clear sense of the impact they have on the world.
2. Help employees learn and grow
While each of us has our own definition of what it means to build a career, one common element is the desire to learn and grow. Everyone wants to know that their current job will expand their skills and experiences, and position them for the next step on their career path—and that they won’t have to wait decades for it to happen. Fortunately, as a fast-growing company, we have the opportunity to do just that. Over the last three years, we have celebrated over 1,100 promotions, 600 department changes, and 100 geographic moves. And we are just a few thousand employees.
Don’t just leave such movement to occur on its own. Think strategically. For example, many of our department switchers came out of our tech support group. Five or six years ago, we had a problem with people leaving the company because they felt their career paths were blocked. Now, around 20% of the group transfers every year into new departments.
This is good both for these employees, and for the company. While turnover from one department to another leaves a department with a hiring challenge, we call that “good attrition” because it keeps the talent at New Relic. Promoting or moving people is a far better result than losing them. And these employees are often particularly valuable to the company as they see problems from new perspectives. In the case of tech support, our employees have experience diving deep into customer issues and solving problems, so they know the products cold. They also have deep empathy for customers and the challenges they face. Whether they go into sales, marketing, or anywhere else, such experience is invaluable.
3. Create a sense of belonging for all
Everyone deserves to feel like they belong at work and to make this a reality, you need to meet employees where they are. While people have different reactions and needs, everyone benefits from a sense of community—a place and culture that has your back.
Creating a great community starts with the recruiting process. While there’s something to be said for culture fit, we think it’s more important to think about “culture add.” Rather than look for people who will immediately fit in, be on the lookout for people who can bring fresh perspectives. That’s why one of our five corporate values is “authenticity.” We believe that people can only do their best work if they feel safe about bringing their full selves to work.
Diversity is a key part of the solution to building this sense of community. Our leadership team and our full employee population are committed to learning and growing to ensure our team shares that sense of belonging, so it permeates everything we do.
It’s a new year and a chance for new beginnings. What will you do to build a great culture in 2020?