How Organizations Can Build an Intentional Culture

intentional company culture from UKG

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

(Editor’s Note: Today’s article is brought to you by our friends at UKG – Ultimate Kronos Group. Formed by two respective leaders in HR and workforce management solutions, UKG combines the strength and innovation of Ultimate Software and Kronos. They are committed to inspiring workforces and helping pave the way for their people, customers, and industry. Enjoy the article!)

A few weeks ago, I shared an interview with Dave Almeda about how Ultimate Software and Kronos unified their benefits plan post-merger to create UKG. During the interview, Dave mentioned the “10 Key Areas” that drive UKG culture. They are:

  1. Leadership: Every employee deserves a great manager.
  1. Hiring and onboarding: UKG hires unique and smart people then sets them up for success.
  1. Performance and development: We hold ourselves accountable for delivering results.
  1. Rewarding, protecting and thanking: We seek employee feedback to continuously improve.
  1. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging: We foster an environment where everyone feels safe and welcome to bring their whole selves to work.
  1. Communications: We will communicate respectfully, transparently, inclusively, and easy.
  1. Celebration and community: We celebrate personal and professional achievement.
  1. Policies: We prioritize the care and safety of our employees.
  1. Workspace and tools: We trust employees to deliver no matter when or where they work.
  1. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and giving: We give back to our community and encourage employees to do the same.

I thought it would be great to do a follow-up with some insights about how UKG developed these key culture areas. I realize that not every organization is going through a big merger right now, but I thought the process of redefining organizational values and behaviors then using those to create an intentional culture could be exactly something for organizations to consider right now.

We all know that the past year has been tough. Organizations want to shift their focus toward economic recovery. And let’s be clear – economic recovery doesn’t necessarily mean “back to the pre-pandemic days”. Over the past year, organizations and employees have learned smarter ways to work, and those discoveries need to be incorporated into the business.

I had the opportunity to chat with Dave again recently for UKG’s Spring eSymposium. In fact, if you want to hear the conversation, you can listen to the archived session. Dave explained that UKG viewed the process of creating an intentional culture like building blocks. “We started by identifying the WHY, HOW, and WHAT of UKG. These three things keep us grounded and focused as an organization. It helps us create and maintain a common purpose, strategy, and goals.”

Kronos, best, best places to work, award, recognition, culture, corporate culture, David Almeda

The first building block is “WHY”. WHY We Do What We Do. Whenever we talk about purpose and the “why”, I immediately think of Simon Sinek and his TED Talk about how leaders inspire action by understanding their why. UKG says that their “purpose is people”. And this purpose represents not only what they do externally in terms of providing human capital solutions but internally in the way they treat their employees.

The second block is “HOW”. HOW We Live Our Purpose. UKG identified three primary values and behaviors that shape their purpose – united, kind, and growing (another kind of UKG). United represents UKG employees working better together by being inclusive and collaborative. Kind means individuals treating each other with care and working to build trust. And growing shows that employees are agile and hold themselves accountable. You can see how these values and behaviors align with the first building block (WHY).

The third block is “WHAT”. WHAT We Do to Deliver on Our Promises. This, of course, is going to be different for every organization. One of the WHATs that UKG identified – and I think every organization can relate to – is “WOWing Customers and Keeping Them for Life”. Dave said that UKG actually thinks of customers more as partners for life. “If we do our job well, our customers will want to stay with us for as long as possible. We build strong customer relationships by investing in systems to deliver an exceptional experience, giving them a consistent experience, and staying humble. If we don’t do something right, we apologize and try to make it right.”

And of course, that brings us back to Dave’s comment in the benefits post about the 10 Key Areas that Drive UKG culture. First, UKG created their building blocks of WHY, HOW, and WHAT which defines the organizational values and behaviors that will drive their culture. Then, they used those drivers to build an employee benefits package.

UKG Ultimate Kronos Group UKG logo showing the importance of timing and learning

I really hope you’ll take a moment to listen to my conversation with Dave about how Kronos and Ultimate were able to build an intentional culture as UKG. One of the standout moments in the conversation for me was when Dave talked about the challenges of merging two “award winning” cultures.

“Oftentimes in a merger, one culture is clearly stronger than the other and naturally absorbs the ‘weaker’ of the two. Our merger is unprecedented as the first time in history that two Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For have merged. With so much pride built-up in our respective former brands, our challenge was to honor key culture pillars that made each company so successful while simultaneously moving all our employees into a new culture, one that was unique to who we want to be as UKG and aligns with our future strategy.

We did this very thoughtfully and involved employees all along the way – from having a voice in choosing our new name, brand, and logo to building clear UKG values to rally around. While I’ve always been a believer in building an intentional culture, this last year-plus has truly been a case study for how this strategy can drive a more positive employee experience and subsequently, better business results – even in times of remarkable change.”

I think Dave is spot-on that building an intentional culture isn’t easy. But it’s necessary. Especially during times like these when organizations are using their culture as a way to attract, engage, and retain the best talent. If you’re looking for a real-life case study to offer some creative inspiration for your own efforts, keep in mind that the process UKG used works.

  • Identify the organization’s purpose.
  • Agree on how the organization will reach its goals, along with what customers and employees should expect.
  • Apply those building blocks to the key components of organizational culture. Then give managers the training and tools to support the organization’s culture.

Now, I realize that I made all that sound really simple. The reality is, for organizations to get to the place where everyone is in agreement, it takes a lot of time and conversations. But getting everyone on the same page would be a great way to refocus toward economic recovery. It might be exactly the strategic activity that the organization needs right now.

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