Why culture wins in the battle for tech talent

The battle for tech talent has never been greater but Propel London’s Melina Jacovou reveals how you can win the fight.

There’s a war raging in the tech industry. A war to secure the talent needed to fuel the success of the companies driving our economy and society.

This is a war that used to be won by those with the cash reserves to pay the biggest salaries. Those days are over. Tectonic shifts in the attitude towards work and work culture mean salary or benefits are no longer enough.

The battle for tech talent has never been fiercer and the only way companies can survive today, let alone be successful, is to create a company culture and values that will attract the best talent.

At a time when the tech industry is seeing a dearth of talent in an overly competitive marketplace, company success will be fought and won on the battleground of culture, not financial numbers or skyrocketing salaries.

I’ve spent my career helping companies build their workforce and know the crucial role culture and values now plays in talent acquisition; but even I was astounded in the last few years by how it has increasingly become the single most important factor in hiring decisions.

In fact, the most successful tech companies we’ve worked with in recent years believe company culture is so critical to success that it needs to be built even pre-product, with board meetings dedicated to a company’s culture rather than its financial performance.

If you’re not going to take it that seriously, the tech talent you need will be difficult to find and even harder to keep.

We recently surveyed employees’ attitudes to work and work culture and discovered their views backed up the crucial importance of company culture. 86% of our respondents believe a set of values is of equal or greater importance than holiday allowance when sizing up a job offer and two-thirds (67%) have rejected a job because of a prospective employer’s set of values.

The primary reason that individuals gave to leave jobs was the people/culture/working environment (44%) and 62% think a company’s culture and values are equally as important as pay when it comes to choosing a job. 11% even believed values are even more important than salary.

Our findings are less surprising when you take a look at the growing body of evidence around the importance of work culture. Employees who say they have a great place to work were four times more likely to say they were willing to give extra to get the job done for instance, according to recent research by Fortune magazine and Great Place to Work.

Your culture and values, demonstrated at every company touchpoint and for the benefit of every employee, really are your biggest differentiators as an employer. Why, then, are so few companies willing or able to instigate or adapt real cultural change and instill genuine values?

Forget the free lunches, pool rooms, egg-freezing perks and laundry services on offer: this goes far deeper. It’s about reimagining the working environment for today’s workforce. It means moving away from a so-called one-sided flexibility that’s seen an ever-growing blurring of work and personal time in the employer’s favour.

What’s clear is that this one-sided flexibility increases negative stress and presenteeism and is not good for employees or the bottom line.

Creating a viable company culture and employer brand requires a step-change in attitudes and working practices led from the top; it needs two-sided trust and flexibility in terms of time and location; a move away from inputs (time at desk etc) to outputs (results).

Don’t just take a tick-box mentality to your workforce; don’t see culture, values, flexibility or diversity as a nice-to-have or a fringe exercise for your HR team. Hire with diversity in mind; bring people in who add something different – complementing rather than contrasting your existing workforce. And make it a priority.

Take it as seriously as your financial numbers because the struggle for talent is only going to get harder and the rewards for those that can attract and retain the best have never been higher.