The Link Between Culture and Talent

Written by Jamie Notter on February 26, 2016

I assume you’ve all heard the expression, “People don’t leave organizations—they leave managers.” I get it: managers do matter and can have a big impact on the experience of an employee. But when you leave an organization because of a manager, in many cases, that manager is simply doing what that organizational culture expects of that manager. So I would change that phrase:

People don’t leave managers, they leave cultures.

There are, of course, a million reasons why people leave, so you shouldn’t use this phrase to understand why your specific meeting planner just quit, necessarily. But when you take the big-picture view, I think culture matters more than anything else in making sure you keep the people that you want to keep. Your culture is the one thing that other organizations (that are competing for your talent) can’t offer. Your employees can always find another job that lets them do what they are doing, that pays them, that offers them benefits, etc. The details will vary from job to job, but rest assured—there is always somewhere else they can go. So you’d better make sure that your culture is a draw and not pushing people away.

From what I can tell, however, most associations don’t see it this way. They see an amazing culture as a luxury that they can’t afford because they are too busy serving members and getting things done. They end up keeping employees who are toxic, simply because those people know the database really well. Or the leaders think they have a great culture, without even realizing that a large number of employees hate it there or mock those core values on the wall because they don’t seem to to be lived on a daily basis.

So here’s the problem: if that’s your culture, then you’re not going to attract and keep the best talent. And it’s only going to get harder with time, because the Millennial generation (the largest generation in our history) seems to care even more about culture: 77% of them in one recent survey said that culture is “as or more important” than pay and benefits. Unless culture becomes a priority in the association community, we are going to end up watching the best talent flock to other industries. It’s not enough that associations do amazing things or serve their industries/professions really well. We need amazing organizations with amazing cultures if we want the amazing people. Period.

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