How Corporate America Is Trying to Innovate Workplace Culture

The labor market is tight, millennials are searching for purpose at work, and evidence continues to mount that a diverse and inclusive workforce leads to better business results.

In other words, culture matters these days in Corporate America, and companies are looking to innovate in ways that will attract talent and drive performance. And executives, speaking at Fortune’s CEO Initiative in San Francisco on Tuesday, offered a number of ways they’ve gone about this.

For Aneel Bhusri, CEO of Workday, the HR and financial software company, it’s meant steeping newly-hired managers in the values of the company and celebrating those who model the Workday way.

Heather Brunner, the CEO of WP Engine—a web hosting platform—said she has worked hard to drop her long-held biases around traditional hiring practices. WP Engine no longer requires new employees to hold a college degree or certain work experience. Instead, she looks for candidates who share the firm’s values—and it enforces equal pay for equal work. Employees are not compensated less simply because they were a less savvy salary negotiator, explained Brunner.

Meanwhile, Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte US, a couple years ago launched the consulting firm’s “Culture of Courage.” That initiative resulted in the company’s popular inclusion councils, she explained, where employees representing a variety of backgrounds and perspectives come together to tackle the tough conversations that were previously avoided.

And Tony Prophet, chief equality officer at Salesforce—a pioneer in the work culture space—said his company recently added an interfaith group, FaithForce, to its roster of nine other employee resource groups. Founded by a Christian man and an Islamic woman, Prophet says it’s now the fastest growing of the company’s resource groups and that he’s seen lots of interest in the faith organization from other companies.

Among the stated goals of such efforts is cultivating an environment of authenticity, in which employees can bring their whole selves to work.

Michael Bush, CEO of Great Places to Work, an organization that surveys millions of employees around the world about workplace satisfaction says that’s the way it should be and called broadly on leaders to do more. “The fact is this isn’t happening,” he said noting that roughly half of employees who identify as LGBTQ remain closeted at work and that a majority of individuals with a disabled family member never reveal that fact to colleagues.

“They don’t do this because they’re crazy,” he said. “They do it because they’re smart. They know if they reveal certain things about themselves they’re career trajectory will change. And unfortunately, generally speaking, they’re right.”

Bush continued: “We need to be creating environments where people can be themselves and bring their full selves to work. You’re paying them. You’re giving them benefits. Why not get all of them? Why get 70% of them?”

A company’s ability to achieve this, Bush said, all boils down to leadership. He’s seen low-paid employees doing tough manual labor giving their workplaces rave reviews, and those making big bucks at gold plated firms report complete dissatisfaction with their jobs. His company’s data has found that 62% of working people report a negative experience with their leader.

When it comes to culture, Bush explained, “What we’re measuring is leadership.”


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