Why Culture Still Eats Strategy for Breakfast

In his blog, Tim Behrendt, our VP HR and Internal Communications, describes the lasting impacts that the pandemic has had on the way that we work and how the “The Great Resignation” can potentially evolve to something that we can call “The Great Reinvestment.” What’s next for companies to consider in their policies and recruitment efforts to support talent?

by Tim Behrendt, VP HR & Internal Communications

The COVID-19 pandemic left a range of lasting impacts on the way that we work – some impacts we are only beginning to fully understand today.

Perhaps no trend has reshaped the fabric of the workplace more than the far-reaching transition from in-office to remote work. We have seen talent, amidst the chaos of COVID-19, carefully re-thinking what exactly they expect from their employers, particularly among millennials and Gen Z. In some cases, they have recalibrated career trajectories to better support increasing demands in flexibility of work; others have set out in search of more supportive work environments, or frankly, just something different.

This trend and dynamic was coined “The Great Resignation” for good reason: talent was leaving. While it appears we are slowly coming out of this shift in talent and emerging stronger, how has it impacted the recruitment landscape of the healthcare industry, which was, and still remains, highly competitive?

The reality is that talent didn’t just leave, they are recalibrating – and eventually – the dust will settle and people will want to plant roots to grow and thrive. We may better think of The Great Resignation as something evolving to “The Great Reinvestment.” The idea of lifelong loyalty to a single employer has been shattered as talents increasingly grow comfortable with the idea of “tours of duty” that are far more transactional in nature.

What’s next for companies to consider in their policies and recruitment efforts to support talent development? A few take-aways I’ve noticed from my personal vantage point here at Affimed:

Culture is key. Affimed has been fortunate to be relatively unimpacted by the ripple effects of COVID-19 given that we had long embraced a flexible working environment. We were prescient in embracing an open work location policy in 2019 in order to recruit the best talent possible, including from across Europe and other regions. Enabling this success doesn’t just depend on having the right technical capacity, but on the right cultural fit emphasizing trust and collaboration. We launched a culture initiative in 2019 to redefine our mission and our values. The initiative emphasized giving everyone opportunities to participate in the building of that culture.

Ask yourself what your talent is seeking – and design your culture around it. The old metrics of compensation alone aren’t enough to recruit and retain top talent, though compensation will always remain a core consideration. But when job hopping is increasingly pervasive and talent know they can often decamp elsewhere in a tight labor market for a bump in pay, the factors that keep them engaged tend to come down to metrics that can be more challenging to quantify– fit, purpose, impact, and time for family and loved ones. I certainly relate to this need myself as the father of young children – it’s one key reason why I was attracted to the culture at Affimed. We’ve seen professionals seeking, above all, interesting work that comes with freedom and flexibility.

Treat candidates like people. It shouldn’t be a revolutionary concept, but countless job seekers have horror stories of how they are treated during their search – left “on read” or ghosted for weeks at a time, or put through one-size-fits-all interviews that barely seem to consider what they uniquely bring to the table. Affimed continues to strive to differentiate itself from other companies in the biotech space, from a recruiting perspective, in how we approach and treat candidates – treating them with respect and making time for more interviews with colleagues they would find themselves engaged with in the daily course of their work. These interviews allow us to dive deeper than assessing fit based on how a candidate looks on paper – double clicking on what drives them, what environment they need to perform, and whether they’re a cultural fit.

Peter Drucker, the famed management icon, famously said that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” An organization may carefully think through that strategic plan emailed out to the company, but culture makes ripples each day. It can be seen in the metrics an organization publishes, the daily behaviors it expects, and the actions it simply won’t tolerate.

Building an engaging and dynamic company culture is an ongoing work in progress. We continue to experiment with new ideas and new ways of engaging our employees – from giving every employee opportunities to join C-level meetings and directly engage with company leadership, to providing more channels for employees to provide anonymous feedback on what we can be doing better.

Our core mission at Affimed is focused on stopping cancer from ever derailing the lives of patients. It may perhaps be due to this focus on people that we have an ever-present reminder of how essential people are to our culture, daily work, and ultimate success. Our most valuable asset are the people who log on to our systems every day to contribute their passion and skills. Let’s make sure they always remain at the beating heart of what we do.