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Leaders: Cultivating this will give you a much more sustainable advantage than technology

Mark McClain, CEO and founder of SailPoint believes that while technologies rise and fall, being a good place to work will never go out of style.

Leaders: Cultivating this will give you a much more sustainable advantage than technology
[Photo: JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images]

No matter your industry, having the best available technology is a significant advantage. Companies invest millions—sometimes billions—of dollars into both hardware and software with the goal of making their operations run smoothly and securely.  

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Is it worth it? Often, yes. A business with top-of-the-line logistics software can probably keep its supply lines running more smoothly than a business managing things by hand. A business willing to invest in best-of-breed cybersecurity solutions is less likely to suffer a costly and damaging breach. And a business moving to embrace the cloud will probably fare better in today’s remote work environment.  

But, “Is it worth it?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “Is it sustainable?” You don’t need to look much further than the smartphone in your pocket to appreciate the fact that technology moves at a blistering pace—unless you bought within the last six months, chances are it’s already obsolete. In the business world, having the best technology is great, but it isn’t the most effective way to maintain a leg up on your competitors.  

Simply put, company culture matters just as much as technology. And with the right leadership, it can be a much more sustainable advantage. 

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Beyond the ping-pong tables

When people think of company culture, they often think of ping-pong tables, beer on tap, or—in today’s remote work environment—virtual wine tastings and swag bags in the mail. But while those things can be great (who doesn’t love a 2 p.m. game of ping-pong to help shrug off that afternoon malaise?), the reality is that these things are just set dressing. They’re a nice little perk, but let’s face it: No one has ever stayed at a job they hate because there is beer in the break room. 

Data backs up the idea that employees want more than fun perks. They want a job that feels meaningful and an employer invested in their well-being and their future. A recent Gartner study revealed that employees increasingly want work-life balance and a sense of purpose, and studies dating back all the way to the 1970s say effectively the same thing.  

Putting the focus on retention

The Great Resignation underscores those desires. It’s no accident that the Great Resignation followed the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many employees were feeling burnt out, cast aside, or uncared-for by their employers. It’s also no coincidence that companies that prioritized worker health and safety—both physical and mental—have had an easier time retaining talent.  

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Many employees worked long hours to keep their companies afloat during the pandemic. Businesses that hired additional help, encouraged time off, and developed remote work and flexible scheduling plans were able to show their employees that they value their time, efforts, and well-being. Companies that were perceived as treating employees as replaceable cogs will have a hard time repairing that reputation moving forward.  

The skills shortage creates an opportunity

Having a reputation for a strong culture matters—especially at a time when businesses across a wide range of industries are experiencing a severe skills shortage. In the tech industry in particular, skilled engineers and developers can be hard to come by, and ensuring that they have little reason to leave their current company is critical. What’s more, a good reputation makes it easier to recruit, giving companies that prioritize culture a significant leg up when they need to dip into the limited talent pool. 

Beyond having a great culture, don’t overlook the value of training. A strong training program can help companies fill roles impacted by the skills shortage, and it is also viewed as a major benefit by employees. A 2019 study conducted by LinkedIn found that 94% of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it “invested in helping them learn.” Strong leadership means recognizing that investing in your employees doesn’t just help those employees—it generates value for the company as a whole.   

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Creating a sustainable advantage  

Building a culture isn’t easy: It requires strong leadership and long-term thinking. But it is sustainable. Companies that invest the time and energy into taking care of their employees will see that investment pay off in myriad ways. Employees who feel they are valued are less likely to quit. They are more willing to go above and beyond. And partners, vendors, and customers can all see the difference when they interact with an employee who believes in what they are doing.  

So, yes—investing in employees is worth it. And it’s also sustainable. Hiring the right people, putting them in a position to succeed, and ensuring that they feel valued and respected creates a self-reinforcing cycle of positivity.  

Technology is important. Your company isn’t going to last long if your employees are trying to work on laptops from 1997, after all. But always chasing the brightest, shiniest new object isn’t a recipe for long-term success. That success comes from within: training and investing in your own talent, providing them with the support they need to avoid burning out or checking out, and making the effort to help them overcome any challenges they face. To sum it up, culture isn’t about free beer and ping pong; it’s about creating an environment where leaders value people and help them succeed. 

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A tech advantage is great, until the “next big thing” comes out. Technologies rise and fall, but being a good place to work will never go out of style. Strong culture stems from strong leadership, and companies looking for sustainable, long-term success should spend the time to learn what their employees really want.  


Mark McClain is the CEO and founder of SailPoint.


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