Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Here’s how and why we believe Milestone Systems’ company culture helps attract and retain the best talent

By President and CEO Lars Thinggaard, Milestone Systems

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast, operational excellence for lunch, and everything else for dinner.” I believe this is essential for how we talk about company culture, how we develop it, and how we live it.
The debate about values and culture is more relevant than ever at Milestone Systems, as our need for new employees grows. We set an ambitious goal to increase our innovation capacity by 45% before the end of 2019. We have made good headway, however, to fully reach our aim we need to find the right people across geographical borders.

We are not the only ones looking for the best talent out there. We need to ask ourselves: How can we differentiate ourselves and our company culture from others? To find the answer to this, we decided to look both inwards and outwards. We are taking a closer look at what is important to employees when choosing a new employer. We are also in the midst of reviewing our internal company culture. We realized that if we don’t know who we are, how can we attract the best talent? Let me explain what our approach looks like. It may not be unique, but it works for us.

How do others see us?
We know what makes our workplace cool, and why our colleagues love our company culture. I believe that most companies have this kind of confident self-knowledge. But how many companies know what new talent really wants, what excites prospective employees, and why they choose one company over another?

We weren’t so sure that we knew the answer to these questions. Last year, we launched a global employee value proposition project to find out why our current employees choose to work for us and what prospective employees are generally looking for in a new employer. We wanted to create a more structured approach to our recruitment strategies and optimize what our prospective candidates see: Our values, our culture, and why working for us makes sense. Moreover, we asked current employees how they perceive Milestone Systems and what they believe our strengths and weaknesses are. Finally, we asked our global leadership team to clarify our vision and goals and explain which competencies we need so we can determine which employee profiles match them.

This analysis, consisting of input from potential candidates as well as current employees and managers, gave us insight on what candidates want. For instance: “leaders who support employees’ professional development, a healthy working environment, and the opportunity to upgrade one’s skills.” These are only a few of the many data points the analysis provided for us. We will continue to work on the rest in the time to come. It is one thing to understand what candidates want, but another to understand who you are as a company. Culture is crucial if you want to attract and retain top talent.

Hire for culture, train for skills
Results from Cubiks Netherlands’ research of 55 companies shows that 9 out of 10 employers have rejected
candidates due to the lack of a cultural match. This research defines cultural match as “the way in which an employee connects with the organizational culture” and asks a very relevant question: Should companies hire for culture and train for skills? I believe they should, and it is exactly what Milestone Systems aims to do. But before we can “hire for culture,” we need to understand our own culture even better.

We, at Milestone Systems, know that our company culture is strong. We know what characterizes it and we believe that our culture is a driving force for our growth and ability to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.  Our innovative, entrepreneurial spirit remains the same as it was when we were a startup 20 years ago. Now, as a relatively mature company with more than 800 colleagues and 77 nationalities in 22 countries, we need to master the art of scaling our entrepreneurial spirit.

To do so, we’ve launched a strategic analysis of our existing company culture to better understand the connection between our values, behaviors, and processes. Based on interviews with managers and employees, we have defined six cultural dilemmas and matching guiding principles that support behaviors we believe best fit our culture.

One of the dilemmas is how we balance employees’ desire for professional development with the daily priorities of our jobs. In our guiding principle, we describe how we strive to prioritize the development of our people, benefitting both our employees as well as our company. Another dilemma is how to balance individual freedom and work processes. The guiding principle says: “We need shared processes that support informed decision making, effective cross-organizational collaboration, and more efficient ways of working. We design our processes in a way that allows us to maintain our creative freedom and openness where it is needed.”

We have drawn up other dilemmas, and their matching guiding principles are communicated to our organization and discussed among our colleagues. Because at Milestone Systems, we all own and influence our company culture.

We believe this is what works for us in our endeavor to maintain what makes us unique. We also learn how to handle the challenges that come along as we continue to grow. To us, it is not necessarily about hiring the best software developer or accountant. To us, it’s about finding the best talent who already carries elements of our culture. The rest will work out eventually. 

The column was orginally published in Danish publication Ugebrevet Mandag Morgen.