War for talent "absolutely brutal", says Spotify Head of HR

Michael Kim suggests break with traditional workplace hierarchy at Reward Gateway event

War for talent "absolutely brutal", says Spotify Head of HR

If employers are looking to engage their employees more effectively, they may need to look closely at their company values as an organisation, says Michael Kim, Head of HR JAPAC for Spotify.

Speaking at Reward Gateway’s Engagement Excellence LIVE: Bringing HR Changemakers Together event, Kim highlighted the important role that HR professionals can play in working with employees to create an environment where staff are engaged with their workplace. 

“Our job is to create an environment where innovative and passionate people can be their best,” Kim said.

Drawing on his own experiences at Spotify, Kim pointed to the organisation’s Passion Tour, which was held in 2014. Rather than head office dictating company values, the Passion Tour ran workshops with staff from each of Spotify’s offices around the world to find out what was important to them – a bottom-up approach to define the company’s values. In turn, these findings were used to help develop wider cultural applications within the company.

“We want every employee to understand why they’re here,” noted Kim.

With this said, these values have not necessarily remained static since they were first outlined. The company has undergone a period of “hyper-growth” since then, expanding from 1000 employees to close to 5000 worldwide. Kim stated that similar reappraisals had been held four or five times since the initial Tour in 2014.

“Values can change as we grow, identities can change as we grow,” noted Kim. “Culture is an organic thing. It’s not something that you have to hold on and retain.”

Nonetheless, the consequences of not having a positive culture that lives out its values can be serious, Kim said. Describing the “war for talent” as “absolutely brutal”, Kim highlighted two primary reasons that employees leave their existing roles and look for new ones – also noting that unhappy employees will leave and likely end up working for competitors if things don’t change.

“One of the main reasons people leave a company nowadays is because they stop learning something new, and they stop being challenged,” said Kim. 

The second, Kim noted, was that lots of staff work for “really sh*tty people”. Micromanagement, minimal feedback, disallowing autonomy and other poor behaviours were all noted. Kim cautioned against the adoption of traditional hierarchal models which can reinforce such behaviour. Instead, managers should allow for autonomy among their employees, and a flatter workplace structure.

“Don’t forget why you hired these people. Let them do their job,” said Kim.  

 Spotify, Kim said, does not adhere to the idea of the “brilliant jerk”. Rather, managerial staff are provided with extensive training for developing their leadership and one-on-one communication, as well as delivering regular, effective feedback to employees. It’s an extension of the organisation’s culture, and approach to hire staff who are a good cultural fit for the company.

Kim also noted the importance of consulting with staff before major decisions are made; data is a useful tool, but it does not always account for long-term negative impacts.  

“Always ask yourself, is this the right thing to do for our people?” said Kim. 

Reward Gateway’s Engagement Excellence LIVE: Bringing HR Changemakers Together was held at the Establishment Ballroom, Sydney on October 24. Other speakers included Jennifer Bass of Cuscal, Fiona Murphy of Charles Sturt University and Joy Adan of Reward Gateway.

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