Business News/ Companies / People/  Great place to work is where people want to be: O.C. Tanner

Workplace culture embodies the essence and identity of an organisation, reflecting its distinctiveness through values and cultures. A positive work culture not only attracts talented individuals but also fosters engagement, happiness, satisfaction, and performance. Maintaining employee welfare and cultivating a positive organisational culture is crucial to a thriving workplace.

Recognising this back in 1927, Obert C. Tanner started his firm by selling class rings and pins to high schools and college graduates. After 95 years, the OC Tanner remains the same. Amid volatility and great resignation gripping the market, the firm has adopted technology to help organisations appreciate and recognise their employees via motivating them to thrive at work, by offering its 'Culture Cloud' employee recognition software and service platform. O.C. Tanner's Vice Chair of the board and CEO David A Petersen (Dave) and COO Scott Sperry shared their views in a free-wheeling chat exclusively with Mint on ways for firms to tackle the situation.


1) What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about a great workplace? Why does employee recognition become so important?

Dave: I think a great place to work is where people want to be. Where you can spend a few years in the office and look forward to coming to work in the morning. Another thing you can identify with is the purpose of the organization. If they don't find recognition, they probably move on to someplace else.

2) Recently, global MNCs – including Apple, Microsoft, Meta, Google, etc – went on to cut down their staff and layed off 1000s of them. Was it due only to an economic slowdown or something else? Your take on it?

Scott: There’s been talk about an ongoing recession for a couple of years now due to global conflicts, political instability, fears of a war and a banking crises on a global level in certain sectors has created uncertainties. But I don't believe any of these companies enjoy that. I think most companies are led by good people and they regret when they have to make these kinds of changes. This is particularly in the tech industry, amidst the pandemic, when many people started to rely on technology heavily. It caused organisations in this sector to expand their operations with the expectation of a prolonged period of growth. However, with pandemic started to recede, they realised that they had an excessive workforce and needed to make strategic decisions.

Another aspect to consider is that certain emerging technologies, such as AI and the crypto-blockchain, did not materialise as anticipated. Their implementation faced delays which were possibly due to difficulties in monetisation. Consequently, these newer technologies failed to gain significant traction. On the other hand, technologies like ChatGPT have garnered attention and found various applications, even though the monetisation strategy might still be uncertain. 

Meanwhile in diverse markets, companies are still grappling with the aftermath of the employment shortage. It's worth noting that this issue is not limited to India alone; companies in Europe and the US are also experiencing similar challenges.

3) Looking at the current scenario of 'Great Resignation' and layoffs, how important is it for a firm to establish a workplace culture?

Dave: Positive Cultures are a big deal and people are very proud to speak about these unique cultures. A well-defined and positive workplace culture creates an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and connected to the organization's purpose and values. In times of uncertainty and change, a positive workplace culture becomes critical for open communication, trust, and collaboration, allowing employees to feel heard, empowered, and motivated to contribute their best.

4) Why, according to you, are employees resigning from firms? What are the other factors, apart from economic ones?

Dave: I think one of the things is that when I talk to a newcomer in our company, the first thing I want is that they want to be here. So one of the reasons is that we need to allow an environment where the person is inside. He's a home person. He doesn't have to be different at home and be different here. The person can talk openly, give, express their opinion and be a part of decision-making or whatever. This is the freedom and the comfort, so mental peace of being around. If you're not providing that environment where the person is not valued, if there's a company which is not providing that or not giving that message, it gets impacted.

Additionally, various factors including clear goal-setting, transparency, and effective task completion also contribute to the firm's ability to retain employees.

5) During COVID-19, work from home culture gained momentum. What is the kind of view you receive when you speak with employees on coming back to the office?

Dave: One of the things that we find is that when people's connectedness goes down, their work satisfaction goes down significantly. If they don't have connectedness with their peers, their leaders, it can be very challenging. They need to feel like a company cares about their wellness, and they have to be connected to their leadership. Connectivity is so important. I just can't imagine an organization being more successful where the teams would never meet each other, have never had lunch with each other, or have never personally got to know each other. So I think companies are navigating this and they're sorting it out. And I think workplace culture is absolutely something that's on the top of the priority list.

Scott: Companies and their leaders are going to act in the best interest of their people and the organisation. In many industries WFH is not a long term solution and I think companies will figure that out over a period of time.

6) Being a 95-year-old company, how did you compete and adapt to the changing technology (AI, machine learning), especially in context with India?

Dave: I think like a lot of times technology can be used for very good purposes. We think we have to be very careful with that type of technology, and how we use it and introduce it into our business in the right way, and I suspect that's the case in a lot of businesses. 

On being a 95-year-old company, I like to say we're a 95-year-old startup. Because it's a long-term focus. And if you're not starting up, what's the alternative?

7: What are your expectations from Indian firms in coming times? What would be your next move?

Dave: The workplace culture of India is better. It revolves more around teams or groups, in digital for some. India serves as a foundation for client services, supply chain and operations, and technology across various regions globally. Any expansion occurring worldwide significantly relies on the support services provided by India. By default, if in Australia or the US it grows, India will also experience organic growth. We would definitely grow 33% in the next two-three years.

Saurav Mukherjee
A business media enthusiast...believe to listen more, than just blabbering like others.
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Updated: 24 May 2023, 11:02 PM IST
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