The Great Retention: Culture & Community Experience

With there being lots of movement on the labour market currently, let’s talk retention. There’s a lot of talk of The Great Resignation, but we’d rather talk about The Great Retention. What is the key factor to having people join and stay with your company? What’s most important to retention? We’d dare say it’s… culture!

Your leadership team can wish for a certain company culture and it can be cultivated by setting foundational values and having company approaches and policies that govern them. The foundational values can also be role-modelled to exemplify behaviours that help strengthen and shape your culture. But a culture can’t really be managed. Culture is the key to attracting and retaining the people that find your values and purpose meaningful and who would like to contribute to and help shape the existing culture – by being a culture add. Therefore, your culture will evolve with every new band member. It’s organic. 

Although culture can not be managed, it can be cultivated and fertilised with things such as your people-first principles, incentives that support behaviours according to your values, and the Employee Experience. Working with these things will help create an inclusive, innovative, exciting and challenging culture. As Katarina recently explained, to keep your organisation’s engine running, you need to think about Employee Experience (Ex). Ex is ubiquitous and it needs to be taken into account in everything you do. Your culture is the ultimate litmus test on whether you are doing Ex right.

The Biggest Predictor of Attrition

A toxic company culture is one of the biggest predictors of high attrition. I bet many of us would agree that this is one of the most relevant factors that makes us question our whereabouts in our career journeys. In recent research we can see that a toxic company culture overrides compensation concerns as a reason to leave. It’s actually 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover! 

Culture does not have to be toxic for people to leave. If your culture is only on the “meh” side of the scale, it can be enough to prompt your employees to look for other opportunities. What we mean is a culture that is simply not very exciting. For example, it can be an environment where your band members are not learning anything new, or where your purpose is bland or unclear, or where you are not building any fun memories. 

In the current times, having a culture that’s exciting is certainly more of a challenge. Society has been living with uncertainty and fear for so long, that we have become numbed. We are living in the ‘boring apocalypse’, and our emotional responses have become subdued. 

At Spotify, we are focusing on continuing to build a great culture where employees feel that they belong, they feel excitement and engagement in our path forward while at the same time working in a distributed environment. A culture that stands out to our existing band members, one where they know that the company cares about more than their performance, but about how they go about their work, the experience they have, and about their wellbeing. We’re taking a holistic view of life and work.

The Biggest Paradox in Culture

The key for us to create this culture is to build a sense of belonging and feeling of connectedness. Enter one of the biggest paradoxes in individual motivation that will affect our company cultures: The paradox of people wanting flexibility and individualization, as well as a stronger need for a sense of belonging and community in this volatile world. 

At Spotify we are serving the flexibility of Working From Anywhere, letting our band members choose a flexible schedule and working arrangements that suit them individually. This contributes to both attraction and retention, but it also creates a risk of a weaker community and sense of connectedness at work. 

We can no longer rely on those memorable ‘together’ moments when meeting face-to-face, with coinciding working hours, a shared office, joint fika breaks or any of the opportunities that were previously presented to build relations and create mutual memories at the same time. All these things create a sense of connectedness, and the feeling that you really belong and make a difference. This is the glue that decreases the risk for attrition, so in a new flexible model we need to reinforce and find more and new types of ‘moments’ that bring people together to maintain a strong glue, and drive The Great Retention.

Community Experience in a Distributed World

So, how do we, and will we, balance the paradox at Spotify? We will continue offering flexibility for our band members in the future, maybe even more than today, which means we’ll have to work even harder on the connecting glue! Leading a distributed workforce is challenging us to become experts in how to build community when we don’t have the traditional levers to pull anymore.

It’s worth mentioning that we have a fantastic Diversity Inclusion & Belonging (DIB) team that works around the globe to ensure all our band members feel that they belong, feel seen, heard and respected, no matter who they are, and which highlights cultural moments and history from all corners of the world. This is the team, and work, most people think of when we say community.

We also have another fabulous team called Community Experience (Cx) who are focused on all things community from a broader perspective and work hand in hand with the DIB team. This is a team dedicated to creating the best experience ever in building positive connections between band members and the company, and with other band members through fun and play! The CommunityX team’s ultimate mission is to amplify the Spotify community and create an environment for connections that elevate the employee experience. It’s about building community and a sense of belonging for Spotifiers wherever they are – especially in a distributed setting – as we have band members working from pretty much anywhere in the world.

The team are true community builders, in-office, on-, and offline. They are engagement experts and they are “certified celebrators”, bringing the fun back into our lives. They run initiatives that differentiate Spotify as a workplace, that add ‘sparkle’ to the band members’ life at Spotify and enable our band members to feel included, excited and happy to be part of the Spotify journey. 

Never Underestimate the Power of Fun

And this is where the secret sauce comes into play: we never underestimate the power of fun. We all need to find the fun again, to stop languishing. We need to build what Catherine Price calls True Fun, which is really the combination of playfulness, connection and flow! Having some fun makes everything easier, your stress goes down, your thoughts fly freely, and if you’re having fun together with someone else it creates real connection. Having fun brings ‘flow’ (being fully engaged and focused on something) and is a true antidote to languishing. Fun is energising, it’s contagious, and even if it feels that you’re not being productive in the moment when you are playing, you are re-charging, building connections and experiencing flow. 

Remember that you can’t be efficient all the time, to be effective in the long run. If you are constantly trying to optimise for efficiency, the risk is that you lose sight of the ‘why’ and there’s no room for creativity and serendipitous thinking. Those moments of fun, silliness, or play is where we will build more energy, bounce back from failure, feel connected, and re-charge together. Simply put, it’s good for your health. And what’s more, we know that positive work cultures are more productive. So, if we can create more of the fun and connecting moments, it will build memories that will always bring a smile to their faces, encourage them to stay around for longer as well as keep them healthy.

The Magic Combination

Building community through a combination of expertise in diversity, inclusion & belonging and expertise in fun, celebration and engagement, will be a differentiator for companies going forward. In our industry today there are so many companies with great compensation and benefits packages, with good learning opportunities and exciting growth plans ahead, but if they don’t figure out how to bring some fun and belonging into their culture, they won’t build a strong culture, people will leave, and innovation will suffer. 

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Global Head of GreenHouse - Learning & Development at Spotify