The Surprising Employee Values That Will Drive Your Start-Up’s Success

Building your company culture around your employees’ values will help you attract and retain the best marketing talent. Adwerx CEO Jed Carlson shares the values that landed his start-up on Inc. magazine’s Best Places to Work list two years in a row. The surprise? They don’t include perks or cash.

You’ve got a polished product and a perfect pitch, and your employees are inspired to bring their A-game with perks like pool tables and free beer.

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So why isn’t your start-up succeeding as fast as you hoped?

The missing element maybe your company’s culture. Your culture can impact your business’s financial performance and reputation. It can also affect employee morale.

And that employee morale is key because it influences your recruiting efforts and retention rates. By nature, start-ups strive for quick growth and depend on their employees’ productivity for organizational achievements. To do this, they need to attract skilled employees whose values align with those of the company.

But it’s not easy when the competition for Martech talent is reaching a fever pitch. In an annual survey, CMOs reported last year that their planned marketing hires were reaching their highest level since the first survey in 2012. Marketing Dive reports that the number of job postings for digital marketers has almost doubled in the last five years—and that digital marketing jobs take 16% longer to fill than traditional marketing jobs.

Our growing digital advertising firm, Adwerx, has appeared on Inc. magazine’s Best Places to Work list for the past two years. As part of the judging process, Omaha’s Quantum Workplace surveyed our employees and measured a range of workplace factors that impact employee engagement and satisfaction. The results offer a lot of insights about how our company culture has helped us win a spot on the list—and how you can do the same.

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Here’s What Your Employees Really Value

Many start-ups get stuck in the mindset that if they provide a bunch of fun perks, they’re all set. (“Have some beer! Now get to work.”) But employees’ values change over time. Before the 1980s the top must-have was a stable career path. Then it morphed into money, money, money. In the 2000s, football tables and free lunches were what employees were after.

Now, Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, and while a good salary and a pleasant environment are still important, they’re not everything. What Millennial workers want most is purposeful work and meaningful experiences.

So keep the ping pong and birthday parties—because having fun never goes out of style—but also inject meaning and purpose into your company culture by expressing these top values.

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Employee Recognition: The Power of “Thank You”

Employees want to feel appreciated for what they bring to the company. In the Quantum Workplace survey, 91% of respondents agreed that “Adwerx’s senior leaders value people as their most important resource.”

To make this happen, you might read positive client comments out loud during staff meetings, start an Employee of the Week program, or offer awards at company events. One way we at Adwerx recognize our employees is by giving shout-outs on social media when someone experiences a win. It costs nothing, but the impact is huge.

Inclusivity: Making All Employees Feel Welcomed

Diversity is a key aspect of a happy workplace. This means your workplace includes people of different ethnicities, ages, genders, sexual orientations, and physical abilities. However, this value doesn’t reveal its power unless that diverse workforce you created also feels like they belong.

Top brass at start-ups needs to treat their employees with respect, value their contributions, and celebrate their diversity. This is just the right thing to do, sure, but it also boosts your employees’ engagement—and your business’s chances of success. Harvard Business Review reports that companies with higher levels of engagement are 22% more productive, have lower absenteeism and turnover, and are twice as likely to be successful than organizations with lower engagement.

We work hard at this, and it shows. For example, when comparing different age groups, the Quantum Workplace survey showed that the engagement levels of Adwerx employees from under 25 up to 45 years old averaged 95%. Our employee headcount has increased close to 70% in the last two years, and we like to think that making our employees feel included gets credit for some of that growth.

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Professional Development: Giving Employees the Opportunity to Shine

The tools and techniques of business are constantly evolving, and employees who don’t work on gaining new skills—and improving the ones they already have—may quickly find themselves unemployable.

That’s why employees want to learn new skills that will help them keep creating value in the workplace. In fact, LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report [PDF] shows that 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it “invested in their learning and development.”

Here are some common ways to create a culture of growth that keeps your employees happy, productive, and loyal.

  • Offer online classes.
  • Encourage staff to share ideas “above their pay grade.”
  • Contribute funds toward academic degrees.
  • Cross-train job duties.
  • Bring in experts for lunch-and-learn talks.

At Adwerx, we offer a library of personal development books, send employees to conferences, and promote from within—the ultimate way to help employees grow. We encourage employees to consider their long-term goals when they join the team and to discuss their progress during regular check-ins with their managers.

Job reconfiguration is another unique way we help employees develop: Staff members change roles, and even departments, if they feel another position is a better fit for their skills and interests.

And it works. As one of Adwerx’s staff members said in the Quantum Workplace survey, “I’ve never worked in an environment that values critical thinking so strongly from the top down. If you have a good idea you are encouraged to share it and it is remarkable how quickly that idea can become a reality.” Another shared that “…corporate, personal, and professional growth are built into our DNA as an organization.”

Get creative. Look beyond the standard perks. Build a positive company culture around what your employees truly value, and they’ll push your start-up to a new level of achievement.

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