Interview with Katri Delimoge
– Head of People Operations & Culture at Creditstar Group
Many HR Professionals claim that having great internal culture is the key to become an employer of choice. We were wondering what does organizational culture actually mean to you, how would you define it?
Katri: For me organizational culture is a difference between just a place to work at and a great place to work at. Organizational culture = a common WHY we are doing what we are doing that is based on the shared values, beliefs, and an aligned understanding of acceptable vs unacceptable ways of interaction amongst as well as towards each other. Having said that, each and every organization has as culture as such, however there might be a slight (or should I actually say immense instead?) distinction between them: namely, whether it has been strategically thought through, implemented, and introduced to all of its (potential) stakeholders or not.
Plus – it is not just talking it, but walking it each and every day! This is what defines and determines the healthiness of an organizational culture. Therefore, I claim like many other HR Professionals that it indeed IS the key in becoming as well as being an Employer of Choice with even more so – it IS actually the key in succeeding as an organization as a whole.
Do you think that companies should think more about how their internal culture comes across externally while trying to attract talent?
Katri: Based on my experience in the field, I’m a firm believer that an attractive Employer brand starts with a healthy internal organizational culture – with our people being our biggest ambassadors and fans since the world is a small village!
Way too often a lot of focus is put on building the best possible façade with all the “right” whistles and bells, however this is a quick win that goes sour very fast when the newcomers realize that it doesn’t match the reality of the everyday life in any shape or form – people just leave as fast as they came, and verbal marketing is a powerful tool! In other words: you can put a lipstick on a piggy, but at the end of the day it still remains a piggy.
Based on your previous experience, how important is it for candidates to find an employer whose culture fits their personal values and beliefs?
Katri: It is a key factor in ensuring a “perfect match in the professional heaven”. Going to work each and every day without having any value dilemmas is the very basis of one’s motivation. Values make us who we are which is why ensuring us and the organization we are working for sharing the same DNA in that regards is of utmost importance.
Imagine going on a mission of your lifetime and having to choose a companion to do it with, then what kind of person would you pick to share this journey with you? Someone to be on the same page with you and by far in being your clone, but in sharing the passion, the vision, and the values whilst together working on achieving what you both feel committed to achieve. Not because you have to, but because you sincerely want to.
Failing to retain key employees can be very costly, everyone is aware of that. This is probably why HR teams put a lot of effort these days to train their leaders and help them learn how to apply the culture on a day to day basis. I am wondering how do you train your leaders and make sure that everyone within the organization understands what does your organization stand for?
Katri: Every organization is unique: it has its own unique people as well as its own unique Leaders. Therefore, I always start with the basic which is, first of all, having an aligned definition as well as a shared understanding of “who is our type of person” – draw it out as a stick figure, visualize it with the very organization’s values, beliefs, and competences if you will whilst getting input from a variety of stakeholders. And – introduce it to everyone and hang it out for everyone to see as this is what “our person” looks like. This “our person” approach must be integrated in all HR-related processes throughout the organization and never be compromised on: whether you recruit, depart ways, develop, and/or promote someone.
The very same approach applies also to Leaders: building the organization’s Leader prototype on the “our person” version whilst including in there the leadership competences that have been agreed to be essential in this very organization. Once the “our Leader” has been created, introduced, and implemented, then I provide full support for the people in leadership roles in them strengthening their already there required competences as well as acquiring the ones that should be improved on. Since I am also a professional coach and facilitator, then throughout my career within different organizations I have conducted relevant tailor-made leadership workshops since these so-called soft skills are actually in-demand hard skills that either make or break the organizational culture.
These tailor-made workshops include trainings from feedback giving-receiving, working with different people whilst maintaining and establishing positive co-operation relationships, dealing with motivational matters, and learning to ask truly powerful questions that actually make people “tick”. And –of course- all the highlighted subjects are combined with the very values of the very organization along the way.
It is hereby essential to note that just having workshops and coming out of there as “the Leaders who know the way, go the way, and show the way” is not a reality which is why in order to keep it alive, we have these in-between knowledge-sharing hubs a la “Success story marathons”. During these sessions Leaders once a quarter get together and share their success stories as well as lessons learnt (read: latter often by them classified as blunders, but in reality so very valuable experiences). This means that the competences acquired are like any other muscle kept “in work” on ongoing basis, Leaders support and learn from each other, and it gets ingrained as the inseparable part of the organizational culture as well as its leadership.
What do you think job seekers expect from their future employer when it comes to the workplace culture?
Katri: Being very much involved also in recruitment, Employer branding, Employees’ pulse reviews, as well as exit interviews, then the information received from all of these sources whether directly or indirectly is highly valuable. Information is power and people openly share it when asked for it, and I ask – a lot.
Having said that, although currently it is often said that people’s expectations have drastically changed to everyone wanting constant challenges, growth, excitement, remote work and the like, then I also often witness first-hand that actually people in essence are still the same they have always been: some still like going to the office- some want to work in their PJs at home; some are hungry to learn whilst others are looking for stability etc.
It is not so much what they wanted vs what they want now, but rather what was offered before vs what is offered now. However, there is still one thing that comes clearly out as something that literally everyone is looking for in their Employer – to be appreciated and treated accordingly.
It seemed like couple of years ago everyone started buying ping pong tables or installing Play Stations in their offices, thinking that these things will solve all problems J Do you think that things like game rooms at offices really contribute to building pleasant organizational culture or do we need to dig a little bit deeper?
Katri: Oh I wish that ping pong tables would be the magic wands to making THE dream organization – that would make me then today the expert of the ping pong tables instead! J Having an inspiring and supportive work environment definitely helps, but again it has to fit the purpose, i.e. your target audience (read: your people). Unicorn rooms and candy cotton machines are definitely good conversation points, yet are not the fixers of it all.
Working environment isn’t a fancy moving desk and a fridge filled with delicacies – it is where people feel safe; they are treated well; and their contributions are noticed as well as truly appreciated. One could be surprised how often “I really value the work you are doing – thank you!” would be chosen in a heartbeat over the office massage and pizza lunches. Therefore, all the above highlighted are just cherries on the already deliciously creamy cake, but first – make sure the cake is really good before sugarcoating it.
How did the trends evolve in the last couple of years when it comes to building outstanding organizational culture?
Katri: It has definitely become a competitive market since if not everyone, then the majority of us want to be the crème de la crème. Understandably so since finding and retaining talent are the keywords in succeeding, however it is important to also remember that there’s no “one way fits it all” solution, so being a copycat in organizational culture because it works for company A, doesn’t mean this exact approach also works for companies B, C, etc.
Imagine the world full of only Googles! Which is why it is essential to find your own way and stick to it whilst finding and retaining your type of people. I think the biggest shift though is the slowly, yet firmly coming realization that our people are our most valuable investment, and just paying competitive salaries + offering fancy benefits no longer cuts it. If you want your people to contribute on the top of the Maslow pyramid, then the foundation layers of it are expected as given.
People take on jobs for a variety of motives ranging from challenges to the offered perks and benefits, but they leave them for unfit Managers and an unhealthy work environment. Therefore, the trend is definitely also to having to step up the game and ensuring organizations are also led by people who are the Leaders with a capital “L”.
What are you working on at the moment to make sure your workplace stands out?
Katri: Maintaining a supportive and healthy work environment as well as an aligned organizational culture is not a project with a start and end date, but an ongoing and consistent work. If I had to mention one current project that is also very close to my heart personally, then it is strengthening our team bond by going on a “Be Kind” mission together – the core of the initiative is giving back to the world with each team agreeing amongst themselves how they together make the world an even better place to be! No matter how small or big the deed as well as whether it impacts the world of an individual, team, community, or even the whole globe – there are no rules or limitations to it, every action matters.
Collecting donations, assisting at the animal shelters, baking ginger breads at orphanages, conducting a pro bono workshop for sharing knowledge – the sky really isn’t the limit! We will be all also recording our journeys which we will be sharing amongst each other via small presentations either in a form of a video or a photo journey at our Xmas do. Kindness and spreading it is a universal and uniting language – it does wonders at so many levels and really brings people together.
Last but not least, we would like to ask you about your personal hacks when it comes to employee retention. Many of our clients struggle a lot with high employee turnover. We are wondering, taking your extensive experience into consideration, what do you think makes people stay with a particular company for a longer period of time?
Katri: It is very humane to look for overly complicated and costly solutions whilst actually going back to the basic is the key here. I as a person as well as a professional am a huge fan of an open 2-way communication, transparency, empowerment via trust, acknowledging and noticing people around me, and sincerely believing in their immense potential. And not only believing, but also expressing as well as supporting them in seeing that also themselves on daily basis! Although every organization has its own culture best suited to inspire their people to stay, then the abovementioned is something that I carry and apply wherever I go and work.
Plus – this is something I always look for myself as well! It may sound too simple to work, but today I can confidently say this doesn’t only support people staying for a longer period of time, but also encourages them to walk all the extra miles due to being packed with motivation and feeling appreciated. This is my very own personal hack that I am on a mission on spreading as well with supporting the (organizational) worlds becoming great places to be in!