Win the Talent War: Peter Phelan Founder and CEO of ValuesCulture
Founder and CEO of ValuesCulture, Peter Phelan shares his views on the subject of corporate culture. Often referred to as the culture doctor, Phelan shares his experience from a 25-year career in global people and culture leadership. He helps organizations hone their corporate culture for the benefit of all concerned, producing win/wins for business owners and employees alike. Chosen as one of the top 100 HR Innovators in tech in 2016, he is often referenced in HR Magazine and the SHRM Blog.
Time-Stamped Show Notes
[00:00] Introduction of Peter Phelan.
[01:38] Phelan’s professional background.
[05:33] Best practices for success.
[11:47] Cultural debt defined.
[13:24] Measuring cultural debt.
[17:37] Hiring top talent in a seller’s market.
[21:07] Recruiting strategies that work.
[25:00] Advice for Phelan’s college-aged self.
Introduction and Background
Ireland native Peter Phelan was lucky enough to get a lottery green card to come work in the United States. He always had a passion for business, and in university studied business, particularly management and HR. Phelan worked for MediaMath, “which had wonderful, cultural fundamentals, and an openness to doing things interesting with culture … It was a really positive experience.” He found his work there immensely gratifying and was thrilled when they became the only company on the east or west coast to ever win the Glassdoor employees’ choice award three years in a row. After working and experimenting for about 15 years, he reached the most senior role in his profession, that of a Chief People Officer. Armed with all those years of innovation and experience, Phelan founded ValuesCulture, which provides help for organizations with health checks and solutions for their organizational culture.
ValuesCulture’s Best Practices for Business
Organizations invest a lot of time and money in finding, retaining, and cultivating great talent. In many ways, they are doing the right thing. Where they often fall down is in getting regular, sincere feedback from employees on an ongoing basis. “What I preach,” he says, “is a regular cadence of feedback at scale, in the form of an anonymous survey of the team every six months.” He chose the six-month term because three months creates a lot of paperwork, and is not enough time to see any clear-cut results. “You go before the team, humbly state, ‘We’re a work in progress, we’re growing in ways that we’ve never grown before.’ … You humbly ask for the team’s feedback, such as, ‘What can we do to make this place run better?’”
Phelan is a firm believer in the Gallup 12 employee engagement survey questions. He feels that they speak to how connected you are to your team and how connected employees feel to the company’s mission. These, or questions like these, should be included in your survey. Once the results are in and analyzed, he advises you get back to the team with what exactly the findings were. Transparency is important. Let your employees know the results, what you’re going to do about it, and how they can help. Make it fun and open, but do take the action you promised, so that your employees feel like partners in running the company.
“You will organizationally accrue cultural debt when there is a sense in the employee base that promises have been broken,” explains Phelan. It may impact employee motivation, discretionary effort, and thinking, but it is not always easy to spot. Another symptom may be an increase in attrition. If you’ve been doing the six-month surveys, you will notice a decrease in your employees’ connectivity with the organization. These are all signs of cultural debt.
To fix it, “Leadership needs to be talking to the teams in ways that inspire confidence that you care,” Phelan explains. “CEOs should be accessible, should be talking about their investment in fixing things, including things that might come up between surveys, and when there’s bad news, to share losing a client, or losing a pitch, and what lessons were learned from that. I think CEOs should be unabashed in sharing these things internally because it will build trust.” Phelan believes that trust is the antidote to cultural debt. Trust comes from sharing the good and the bad and being responsive. He also believes that taking action, even when it is difficult, is something that builds trust. Issues dealt with, head on, in a very transparent, ethical, and positive way demonstrate strong leadership and inspire confidence from staff.
Tips for Hiring Top Talent in a Seller’s Market
In bold letters on the ValuesCulture website, you’ll see these words: The War for Talent Has Heated Up. It certainly has, and it continues to be a seller’s market, according to experts like Phelan. “Having a tight message around what your company stands for is super beneficial for getting the right people, and self-selecting out those who maybe aren’t quite right for you. I think that’s key,” he says. “It has to be something that you come up with internally, and you don’t necessarily need a culture doctor to do this either.”
Phelan says he’s seen some powerful breakthroughs occur when motivated teams got together to redefine values within their organization. By doing this internally, they weren’t the ideas or words of an ad or branding agency. They were the ideas, thoughts, and values of the people who actually work there, a combination of management and employees, which best defined their culture.
Once you have done this, when it comes to recruitment, Phelan says, “you know what you’re looking for, and what you’re not looking for. Then people come into the organization and know what’s going to make them successful on the job, and it’s just a very virtuous cycle.”
The Role of Recruiters
Next order of importance, according to Phelan, is mapping out what someone can expect from a role within an organization.
“There’s a talent acquisition organization called Lever,” explains Phelan, “and … I do like how they write their own job descriptions. It’s very interesting, three months into this role, here’s what you can expect to have learned and mastered, six months in, one year in, and they have all these bullet points which really just show you what they have planned for this role and its growth.” Phelan believes you need to have a clear idea of your own culture and the role for which you are hiring. Once you get a handle on those two things, you can use your own internal recruiting resources.
“I’m not anti-recruiter by any means,” Phelan explains, “but I would say, get to know yourself and your roles first.”
Phelan’s Advice for his College-Aged Self
“I would counsel myself to not be afraid of moving around. I was a bit of a job-hopper at times, but I did it with mixed feelings, because the traditional view … was that you commit to this place. Then many years later you might consider committing to another place for many years … I think I would go back and tell the younger (me), ‘Peter, don’t worry about it, dude, we’re all consultants in a sense.’”
Keep up with the culture doctor Peter Phelan at the ValuesCulture website.