Are you ready to unlock the secrets of a thriving workplace culture? We’re excited to have Susan Bailey of Marsh McLennan Agency with us as we discuss the power of culture in the workplace. We examine how culture has shifted over the years, the importance of considering the environment and ecosystem surrounding employees, and how intentionality is key in creating a thriving work environment.
Delve into the fascinating world of the human-centered culture, as Susan shares valuable insights on Self-Determination Theory. Find out how the need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness can lead to a thriving workplace culture for employees. We discuss how companies can provide more flexible start times, hybrid workplace opportunities, and continuing education opportunities in order to foster a sense of control and belonging for their employees.
Ever wondered how to turn around a company’s culture when everyone already knows it’s not up to par? We tackle this issue head-on with the help of Susan’s expertise. Learn why a third-party facilitator is crucial for navigating the process, the significance of examining the mission, vision, and values of your organization, and the importance of language, messaging, and customer focus when evaluating your company culture. You won’t want to miss this enlightening conversation with Susan from Marsh McLennan Agency!
Listening Time: 28 minutes
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High energy leader with diversified experience in health, human resources, benefits and education settings. Direct experience on the client, vendor and consulting sides of the industry leading growth and direction of successful culture & wellbeing initiatives. I enjoy work where I can think creatively, be innovative and design and implement impactful strategies that change lives and organizations.Follow
The Power of Culture With Susan Bailey of Marsh McLennan Agency
William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Susan on from Marsh McLennan Agency, and our topic today is the Power of Culture. So this is gonna be fun because culture through the pandemic was discussed in a lot of different ways. And so I’m really excited to have Susan on the show and kinda get her take a pre and post pandemic and how she’s seen culture change and things like that.
So Susan, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself [00:01:00] and Len
Susan Bailey: Agency? Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me. Sure. It is a pleasure to be a guest. And I am I lead the culture as we’re talking about that culture and wellbeing consulting practices at Marsh McLennan Agency. And Marsh McLennan Agency is an insurance consultant and broker.
We do the employee health and benefit side and the business insurance side. And what’s interesting is this practice did not always exist. We started it a few years ago when we realized, Benefits was only one piece of the puzzle. When it comes to helping employees feel great, feel valued feel like they’ve got a great organization that supports them.
And so my role is to help organizations design those strategies to take care of their people as a part of a broader network of benefit design with my colleagues at M A.
William Tincup: That is fantastic. I’ve interacted with [00:02:00] y’all’s firm for years, but more on the technology side. And because y’all do such great work it’s, especially with large enterprises, y’all do so such great work and across so many industries, you just, it’s just if you’re not familiar to the audience, if you’re not familiar with marsh McLennan, you should be, cuz they do really great work.
They’re like a. It grew. Just great advisors, great consultants, and so if you’re not familiar with them, you should be. They’re in your industry, I promise. When you go to their website they’re in your industry doing great work with or without you. The power of culture.
So let’s start with how do you define culture today? Maybe either similarly or differently than you did? December of 19.
Susan Bailey: So that’s an interesting question. It is. I was just yesterday, I was looking back at some notes from 2018. And I was searching for something as I was preparing to think about a speaking engagement, and I looked at this description I wrote, and it was as if I wrote it yesterday.
So [00:03:00] I was like, wait a minute, I was talking about this in 2018. So
William Tincup: Dust the notes off, bring ’em back up. Exactly.
Susan Bailey: It’s like our, you know what goes around comes around. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. So what I’ll say is this, so culture. There’s culture’s the same. The way we talk about is the same.
What’s shifted, I think, at the level of attention it’s receiving beyond the employees in it’s elevated into more organization, leadership teams where they’re realizing it’s important. And the way that I would describe it, just for the purposes of our discussion today. I started it in this field as a wellbeing consultant, right?
So I was focused on helping organizations work on, helping their people be physically, emotionally, mentally well. That expanded over time. And a few years ago, what I realized was we were missing a piece of the puzzle. [00:04:00] And I’m an analogy person, so I’ll use an analogy really quickly.
Imagine that you want to grow a successful maple syrup forest. In order to do that, you’re gonna need maple trees, right? And so you plant your maple trees and then, it may be, what you might do is fertilize them and, treat them well and talk to them and cheer them on and hope they grow, right?
But the reality is if those trees are not planted in the right soil, in the right climate, but the right amount of. Sun and rain and all those goodies. And if they’re not surrounded by an ecosystem that is diverse and biodiverse and you know it, it’s about more than just the trees and you’re gonna have a more successful maple syrup production if you think about the whole ecosystem.
And so that is how I think about culture. For a long time, and [00:05:00] this is part of what’s evolved with this, with the culture talk so to speak, is we just focused on individuals like, do better here. We’re gonna give you all these resources and now you’ll engage and it’ll be great. And if it was that simple but the reality is we have to really be intentional and think about the environment that surrounds them.
The ecosystem, the leadership support and. And when we think about that, now we’re thinking about culture and we’re increasing the chances that we’re gonna create a thriving workplace for our employees.
William Tincup: So you mentioned the word intentionality, and I want to unpack that for just a bit because it begets the question, who owns culture?
And I know you’ve dealt with this about a thousand different ways and a thousand different times. Yeah. So I think it gets dumped on hr okay you’re the culture experts. I’m not sure they’re equipped or have ever been equipped to be the culture’s ours, but tag you’re it [00:06:00]
Susan Bailey: tag.
William Tincup: So with intentionality, okay.
Which is, which I absolutely agree with. Okay. How do we. How do, who actually is intentional when we think about culture?
Susan Bailey: So there’s a lot of different ways to hit this. And I think what I’ll do is, I’ll start with this, the foundation. So one of the things that’s happening right now is that talent is looking from the outside in.
Add an organization or maybe the inside out. If they’re thinking about making a move, they’re looking at evaluating an organization and they’re wondering, one of the first questions you’re asking is, what does this organization stand for? Who are they? How do they show up in the world? How are they gonna show up for me?
And when you think about that, that simple question for me to state, maybe not so simple right to answer. But when you [00:07:00] think about that and then you back up into what happens within an organization to be able to answer that question. So when talent looks, they can get an answer to that.
It comes from a lot of different places. It starts with, leadership being clear around and setting the course for, and the vision for that organization. Why does the organization exist? What do they stand for in this world? In this day, they. Really need to stand for more than just making widgets and or money and, so it’s gotta be more share shareholder value.
Yep. Yeah. So leadership is essential to that intentionality and evolving beyond, we’re here to grow our bottom line. We’re, evolving beyond the basics of, we’re here to make a thing and. The bonus is you get a paycheck if you show up and help us make that thing right? At the core of it, leadership owns it, right?
And, but then when you expand beyond that, the [00:08:00] intentionality really comes from. Being thoughtful about how you pay attention to the elements of culture and intentionally manage those.
William Tincup: Yeah it’s interesting cause I’ve heard the analogy sometimes of like quality, like T Q M and what dimming did in Japan after the war, and everybody owns it.
Yeah which is great, but if everybody owns it, who, nobody owns it so leadership, in my opinion I totally agree with you. Leadership has to say, yeah, this is the path forward. This is what we stand for, with, et cetera. I think HR has definitely has a role in communicating and fostering all of those things.
But I also think that employees, they have a hand in it. They should have a hand in it as well, which, Gets me to the next question around perception of culture. So I’ve got two ways I want to ask you a question. One is, with candidates, how do you think they evaluate culture from the outside?
Like, how do you, how do they get to, to grade it out [00:09:00] in their mind? And then with employees. How do you know, how do you, if you had a finger on the pulse, how do you communicate or what’s their perception of your culture? How do you get to know
Susan Bailey: that? Ah, okay. All right. So I’m gonna start with looking from the outside, right?
And I’ll tie in a little bit your original question. We went through the three years of. Unbelievable experience. That was the pandemic, right? Things we never thought would ever imagined would happen. And during that time people were forced or and or spent time reflecting on what mattered.
And one of the things I think that has bubbled up and evolved, as we think about what’s different is people are looking for a place. To work and dedicate a significant portion of their waking hours to A space where they can feel human. Okay what does that mean to be human?
So I’m a frameworks girl, right? I love to use frameworks. [00:10:00] And so when I talk about this, I have a, I lean on theory called Self-Determination Theory. It’s from Ryan in dc. It’s around what motivates people. And in this world we’re, we had all these employers thinking, how can I get people motivated to show up every day and give their best.
The three elements of human motivation, like basic are first, I need to feel competent. When I, when we look at competence, People are looking to feel like they’re smart, they’re capable. They have control and in their environment that they’re supported, that they’re gonna have opportunities to learn and grow.
So when you just think like competence, like what does that look like? How does it show up? What they’re looking from the outside in is, Am I gonna be able to have that? Am I gonna have opportunities to grow? Is this look like a place that’s gonna help me be a better professional? And give me, one of the things we’re hearing is [00:11:00] people wanna know, am I gonna get a chance to have continuing education and further my development?
So competence is one. The other thing, they’re looking from the outside in and inside out is what level of autonomy am I gonna have? Because the autonomy is we as humans, we like choice. We do not love it when we are controlled. That was part of the challenge of the pandemic. It we lost the level of control.
And so people wanna feel like they’re in control of their own life, their behaviors, their goals. So in the world we’re in now, They’re looking from the outside in and they’re looking at things like flexible start times, hybrid workplace opportunities to choose my shifts. We can slice and dice that a lot of ways.
So they’re looking at how flexible is this place? And flexibility means a lot of different things to different people. Am I gonna have some level of autonomy in this work? And maybe we could play with that all day long on exactly how the work gets done. That’s another story, right? That’s another podcast is what That’s another podcast.
[00:12:00] Exactly. And the last one is relatedness, right? So competence, autonomy, and relatedness. So the last one is people now are looking and it’s growing and growing with this DEIB deep desire to experience belonging and connection to other people. They wanna feel like they’re a part of something, whether it’s a bigger mission or they wanna feel like they’re working with people who are like their best friends.
And they enjoy being on the mission with them. So when they’re looking from the outside in, they’re looking for imagery on the website that they can relate to. They’re looking for videos or storytelling that, yeah. Yeah, that sounds like me. That sounds like something I could really get along and sync up with.
And so those are, that we, I could answer your question. For many, it take many hours to do it. That’s my short answer to part one of the
William Tincup: questions. So with employees which by the way, I agree on every aspect of the candidates, especially them seeing themselves. [00:13:00] Like them. However, you in a job description in your careers page and all those different tools that you use for candidates they’ve gotta see themselves. And I’ve seen that all the way to the point of job fairs and career fairs and things like that, and the recruiting process with companies, if l I say Gen Z, if you will, if Gen Z doesn’t see Gen Z in your organization they just, they opt out of the process. Which is fascinating on itself. But what’s your take on employees and how we, how their perception of our culture, like how do we kinda keep track of what their perception is?
Susan Bailey: Yeah, so there’s a lot, there’s a number of different ways, and I’m grateful to hear more organizations embracing this idea that we need to be connected with how employees are feeling about things.
One is and I, there’s still a place for, I. Good old fashioned employee engagement or employee satisfaction survey, those should be happening with some level of frequency, whether it’s annual or biannual, where you’re doing, for lack of a description, the big beast of a check-in. We wanna see [00:14:00] how we’re doing and ask questions around, do you have the resources and tools to do your job?
Do you have connections at work? Are you feeling supported? And recognized? And I just threw out four basic questions from what might be a longer survey. The other piece is doing pulse interviews. So just that quick check in, maybe it’s a one to three question. We’ve seen some organizations just build that into their internet, so it’s an easy how you feeling today?
Or what’s something you’re proud of this week? So you’re building that connectivity and you’re getting some feedback. And then the other two that we’re seeing more of, Gratefully is day interviews and exit interviews. And, checking in with employees, the simple check in just to say, how are you doing?
What’s working well for you? What’s not working well for you? What would be the thing that would make you leave? And asking those questions, it’s not a fun question to ask. I as a leader of employees, when I hear that, I’m like, I don’t want, I feel like I’m planting a [00:15:00] seed, but I’m plant seed.
But boy, when I know that it’s such a ripe opportunity for me to be clear on, okay, these are the experiences my employees are looking for. Can I build them into this experience here?
William Tincup: But that’s also back to your point around intentionality, right? You’re using that intentionality of saying, Hey, listen, I care enough to ask.
Yeah. Tell me like, if something’s off, this is a great time for us to reevaluate and figure out what we need to do to make you
Susan Bailey: happy. Yeah. And that’s you, when I hear you say care enough to ask. I think the other thing that’s fascinating is so often I hear employers say, we’re afraid to ask.
Oh yes, a hundred percent. Because if we, cuz if they say they want something and we can’t do it. Yeah. And it’s you, so then when you survey, just. Start with saying, Hey, we want your feedback and we may not be able to give you everything, but we certainly wanna listen and do what we can to help you be successful in
William Tincup: Thrive Care.
I think that’s historically been one of the barriers of an employee satisfaction survey, years ago, was that they get the feedback and then not do anything with it.[00:16:00] And it’s okay, then don’t ask people if you can’t, if you’re not gonna do anything with it. So that’s one thing, but if you can’t communicate back.
To people and say, Hey, listen, everyone said that we’d like to have better dental benefits, and you know what? We just signed our deal. We can’t add anything this year, but we’ll put it in the budget and we’ll do it next year. Okay. Most people, most rational people will hear that and go, oh, okay.
Yeah. There’s, they’ve explained why they can’t do it. They know that we want it. Okay. That makes sense. I think some people, especially with folks that have, I don’t say poor culture, that’s not really the right way of frame it because I didn’t like the when the New York, it was New York Times they took Amazon to task about their culture years ago.
And I had a problem with it because I’m like, that might. They might maybe be your culture where you thrive, but Amazon’s culture is essentially Wall Street’s culture. They’re the exact same. It’s meritocracy it’s the shark-infested waters hundred 20 hours a week.
I would not thrive in that environment. But then again, that I, that’s doesn’t mean it’s a bad culture, and they made it sound like it’s [00:17:00] toxic and there’s just bad culture. I’m like, eh. That’s a little heavy handed. First of all, if people opt into that they, I have tons of friends on Wall Street.
They want to work 120 hours a week and do all that stuff. So I don’t wanna say poor culture, but I think it’s, the question is aspirational versus what it is. So if you have a culture wherever you are on your journey, but you wanna get to a different place culturally. How do you portray that?
Cause like we’re talking about the power of culture, we know important. How important it’s to everyone. It’s become, it’s one of those things pre pandemic, I think a nice to have. And now it’s a need to have. So I think we all gonna get that part. But some folks on their journey, they’re mu maybe they’re not where they want to be.
And I know you run into this, like culturally they want to be kinda the best place to work if you want to use that kind of reference. And they’re not there yet. But so how do they market or how do they change the perception and then show that they’re on that journey culturally?[00:18:00]
Susan Bailey: Yeah. That that is a challenge that many organizations have. And so when I think through this, I I’ve got these, this. Process that we work through. And part one is getting really clear on who you are and what you stand for, right? Wishy-washy doesn’t work to the point we were just making around.
Your culture is what your culture is, right? It’s not necessarily bad, but you need to be clear on who you are and what you stand for and how that shows up for customers is one thing. How it shows up for employees, hopefully, as in line with that. Be who you are going to be.
Own it and be clear on it. Real, real quick
William Tincup: on that point. Go ahead, Susan. Should culture, and I’ve said this in the past, so if it’s wrong, please just tear it apart. Should culture attract and repulse,
Susan Bailey: That’s a great question. I,
William Tincup: it’s okay if you say that Harold William. That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.
It’s a trust me, I’m got thick skin. I’m good.
Susan Bailey: I would not say that. And because it’s just a different way of [00:19:00] saying, you need to be clear on who you are and what you say. That’s what
William Tincup: triggered it for me. It’s like the being clear is going to be great for some and some like we use Amazon as in the reference.
I would not thrive in that. I just know myself. I would not thrive in that culture. And if they’re clear about that as I think they’re relatively clear about that I know not to apply to a job on Amazon.
Susan Bailey: Yeah. I and that’s in, yeah. And you build on I’m building off that idea. I think about we use a tool when we work with an organization who’s we don’t know who we are, or we need some clarity around who we are.
We use a tool that is called Culture Talk that helps organizations understand their personality archetypes. And just Carl Young’s archetypes for humans, right? Organizations are made of humans, and so I think about your example, a specific one like Harley Davidson, very high revolutionary culture.
That is not for everyone. There are some people who would truly feel uncomfortable there, right? But they’re really [00:20:00] clear on who they are and that’s great. Because if it’s not gonna be a sync up fit, you want or employees to be clear on how things work and operate there, that there is room for every archetype in an organization, but.
There’s also there that w gap can be really wide and so you might as well get clear on it in the beginning to help people understand. And so then working the way through, like clarity. And then the next piece is really thinking through if we’re gonna evolve our culture, if we know who we are. Then we should have an ability to really clarify what we stand for and what we offer you.
And it’s a win-win. I, I’m still, after all these years, a huge fan of Stephen Covey’s work. Yep. Finding the win-win. This is a give and take, of course we need the employees to give, although we’re in a market where it feels like it’s all about the employee, we need the employees to give too.
It’s a reciprocal relationship. And thinking through what’s in it for the employee across the [00:21:00] spectrum of benefits, which means you’re thinking outside of the benefits box, right? You’re thinking about compensation, wellbeing, resource, career resources, like what does the actual work environment look like?
You, this is, again, we go back to intentionality. These things don’t happen magically. If they happen thought without intention, that’s when you can get things That’s right. Might be toxic.
William Tincup: The, begs the question around the definition as we talk about the power of culture, the definition of if we, if people have different definitions, and I don’t wanna do different generations cause I think that’s kinda lazy.
Maybe it isn’t, but are we looking at. The importance of like I know the importance of flexibility now is more talked about than it was in the seventies, like it was talked about in the seventies. Workplace flexibility. I’m, my mom worked for the IRS and she was talking with her boss about flexibility.
So it’s not a new concept, however, it, because of the pandemic it’s as if. [00:22:00] Flexibility is now as seen as a benefit. Okay you have true flexibility. Come in the office once a week, twice a week, whatever the bit is, there’s true flexibility in your work, and that’s a benefit. That’s also all part of our culture. So do you see the definition of culture change? Like what we think of as culture 10 years ago as opposed to now? And how we view culture is what I’m really, why I’m asking the question that way is, How we, when we think about intentionality, when we think about our leadership how do they define culture?
Like if we were to sit down with a hundred CEOs and say, define culture, like what’s culture? Would we get a hundred different responses and would that be a apropo for that particular comp company, industry, et cetera? Which is fine. I just wonder if the definition is dramatically changed and shifted from, let’s say a decade ago.
Susan Bailey: I don’t think so. For those who were dared to answer the question. Good point. Because,[00:23:00] I think culture is still the norms. It’s the way we do things around here it is, just how we get work done and how we treat each other. It’s, yeah, it’s variations of that.
And it’s all of the factors that contribute to and enable. The productivity of a team member in a workplace.
William Tincup: So two things. One, one, this has been wonderful by the way. One is you ever heard this bit on culture is what you’re unwilling to accept?
Susan Bailey: Yep. I have a slide on that. You’ve heard this
William Tincup: bit, right?
So the other is the opposite is, okay, someone moves, let’s say your C H R O moves from into a company. And it’s, and they’re, and they, they know because they were, they went through the whole process. They know that they’re walking into a poor situation, let’s just say a culture that, that’s, that they need to start over.
And they know that was, there’s not shock at all. They knew it. They, the board, everybody acknowledges it, et cetera. Where do you suggest they start? What’s the first thing[00:24:00] in a rebuild from a cultural perspective, what do you, where do you want ’em to start?
Susan Bailey: So I guess my first question is, are they the only ones that think a restart as an order or does C No, they’ve got buying also.
William Tincup: Agree. Everybody agrees. Board, they’ve got board support, they’ve got the rest of the C-suite. Money’s not a problem. That’s, there’s no, the historical barriers, that stuff’s all good.
And that’s why they took the job cuz they wanted to actually do a turnaround. It sounds like fun. I know, right? Sounds by the way. I know this can be that. No, I’m just kidding. So where do they start? Because I know a bunch of people that are listening to this or that will listen to this are gonna ask themselves like, oh, that’s great, but w I’m in this situation now.
We just went through a riff and morale is low. And I know that I’ve got to turn this thing around where do I get for the most value? Where do I get the biggest bang for my buck?
Susan Bailey: Great question. I wish I had an answer that was like a silver bullet on in 30 days. It’s great [00:25:00] not how it works.
Nope. It’s interesting I’ve had the conversation you just described with a number of organizations over the last few months that is for certain I’m thinking specifically about an organization that I’ve been working with over the last six months where there was a handing of the baton.
We’ve got a, we’ve got new leadership in charge, we’re ready to think about the next phase of who we’re gonna be. And we know we they tried to Navigate the evolution on their own. And then just one day it was like, we need help. We just need someone to facilitate and herd the cats. Help
William Tincup: us to that point.
I think it’s better. To have a third party that you can then that becomes the blown object. To some degree that can be the sounding board, the blown object. And if something doesn’t, like they said, Hey, listen, they’re telling us that we should do this, as opposed to, look like Moses coming down from the mountaintop with the tablets.
It’s no, you know what? We don’t have all the answers, but they work with [00:26:00] thousands of customers. They have tons of great stories. They’re the experts, et cetera. I think it’s easier, quite frankly. If I were doing it, I would hire somebody to help me through the
Susan Bailey: process. I’m, I am with you having been that person for many years.
And Ben on the inside in organizations where I was so grateful to have an outside quote unquote unbiased support person to help us have difficult conversations, and really navigate some things that are hard cuz change is hard. How do you navigate it? Step one is to decide if you think you can do this on your own or you can’t.
So you need to find an outside partner to facilitate the evolution process. And then the first thing is figuring out, like I. Does the current mission vision values still fit? Is it enough? And I, it’s I spent a lot of time looking at organization’s, websites, and I can tell you pretty quickly whether you’ve got work to do or not, just by looking at your [00:27:00] website things like what percent of the website is dedicated to the customer or the client versus.
The team member. Or the employee. The messaging, the language, there’s so much opportunity there. So it’s starting there and really digging in does everything we originally stood for still stand? And then moving forward into that value proposition, what does it look like?
W what do we offer? And then moving into, okay, great, we have all this amazingness. How does it fit into our employee experience? You know from before they walk into the door until the day they decide they’re leaving, hopefully, We’ve actually discussed and we know in advance they’re leaving and they don’t just ghost us.
Like those are the cultures that are really rocking it. The ones where there’s advanced notice that someone’s leaving.
William Tincup: Oh yeah. But again, that, that employee experience as you met back to it, that’s all intentionality too. That’s actually thinking through very thinking, very thoughtful about each step in the process.
Susan, I gotta cut it short because I could talk to you all day. I know you’ve got [00:28:00] other things on your schedule, but I appreciate your time and being on the show.
Susan Bailey: Thank you so much. This was fun.
William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.