Employee Engagement

Arianna Huffington on the Power of Culture


Arianna Huffington, renowned author and CEO of Thrive Global, is a “big believer in the power of culture to change business outcomes.”

On stage at Zenefits’ SHIFT: The Culture Conference, the co-founder and former CEO of The Huffington Post delivered a keynote best described as a call to culture, in which she humorously argued that everything from talent acquisition to employee productivity to company profits all boil down to (and can be fixed by) company culture.

With so much riding on the concept, of course a definition was in order. Here’s what Huffington means when she uses the word, outlined in her 10 Rules of Culture:

#1: End the delusion that burnout is necessary for success

Humans are not machines, yet many people see downtime as a failure or an indulgence. In fact, to many burnout is a marker of success. But the scientific truth is that downtime is incredibly important for our productivity and without it, we get diminishing returns on our work.

Huffington says: if you’re tired, have a nap. If you’re overwhelmed, take a break. Breathe, walk, meditate. Foster a culture that doesn’t expect all-nighters or 80-hour weeks and in its place, support your people to get the downtime they need to rest.

#2: Put an end to the mindset that says growth above all

Even if you only care about business outcomes, this mindset has to be abandoned, says Huffington. The minute you move into this mindset, you’re lost – because then, it’s all about growth at any cost and the result is a frenetic culture that inevitably leads to problems.

Growth above all is a numbers game that isn’t sustainable. While it might work in the short-term, today’s workforce just aren’t interested in staying at a company that doesn’t align with their values.

[Related: 4 Ways to Lead with Mission and Purpose to Attract Informed Candidates]

#3: No brilliant jerks allowed

Especially in Silicon Valley, says Huffington, there is a cult of the top performer. This person is idolized and can do no wrong because of their intelligence and vision. Behaviors unacceptable in others are celebrated and embraced in them.

But these brilliant jerks are toxic and can hurt the whole culture, top down. Which is why, in a thriving culture, Huffington asserts, brilliant jerks should not be not allowed.

#4: Learn to build teams

Chances are that your company needs to be always on in some way or another. But no individual can always be on, says Huffington, which is why learning how to create teams is so important.

One way you can foster collaboration and empathy by conducting entry interviews. The first question to ask, says Huffington: What’s important to you beyond work? That way you can identify any little changes that can help people find a healthy work/life integration.

#5: Treat culture as you would treat your own immune system

There are viruses everywhere, but the difference between those who get the flu and those who don’t is how strong their immune system is. Same goes for a company, says Huffington. At any organization, there will be people who don’t work at their best.

If the culture is strong, that means this virus (those employees who aren’t working at their best) will be rejected and won’t be allowed to contaminate the rest of the culture.

[Related: The Culture Codes of Best Places to Work]

#6: Make culture really strong for women

The conversation around parity – about reaching more and more women who can develop their talents and be at the top – is far from over. That’s because the numbers are not changing. So what’s preventing women from advancing?

Huffington says that workplaces aren’t really designed to be supportive of women. For her, if you have room for a ping pong table but no space for a woman to pump, then you’re not supporting women at work. It’s about embracing women in the workplace.

[Related: What to Do about the Gender Pay Gap]

#7: Culture needs to meet the growing demands for purpose

There’s a growing shift in what attracts job seekers today, especially millennials, and it’s not just compensation and benefits. It’s about purpose and aligning values. People want to work with companies that they perceive as adding value to society.

So, it’s not just enough to have good pay packages or career trajectories, says Huffington. If you want to attract top talent and keep it, you need to offer job seekers purpose.

[Related: 50 HR and Recruiting Stats for 2017]

#8: Model cultural changes at the top

What HR does is incredibly important, but it’s not enough if the C-suite isn’t on board. The C-suite has to model all the behaviors that HR is promoting. In fact, there should be an agreement between the two on what behaviors define your company’s culture.

For Huffington, one of the most important things CEOs can model for their employees is their relationship with technology. Employees today feel like they can’t disconnect, even during time with their partners or families, like around dinner. It’s important for bosses to set expectations.

#9: Embrace openness and transparency

Huffington’s new principle for HR is: unless criminal, bring people who are experiencing conflict together and facilitate direct resolution. There is nothing like openness and transparency for making you feel heard and valued.

Direct communication is a key ingredient in a healthy culture. Give people the opportunity and support they need to be transparent and direct.

#10: If there is a crisis, use it as an amazing opportunity

Crises are amazing opportunities, says Huffington. Sometimes, things have to get to a boiling point because they’ve been neglected for too long. A crisis is an opportunity to fix things and make an amazing culture. Out of the crucible of crisis comes amazing new beginnings.

[Related: Listen, Learn, Lead: How United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz Turned the Company Around]

Hungry for more culture advice?

Want to learn more about cultivating a culture that embraces transparency and inclusivity? Hear from industry leaders like United CEO Oscar Munoz and more in the recordings from our first-ever conference dedicated to recruiting, Glassdoor Recruit.

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