This article is part 4 of our 5-part Employee Engagement and Culture Checklist for 2021 Series. The last year has caused a great deal of disruption in our usual work environments, and especially our means of communication.
- Company Name: Cultural Vistas
- Industry: Non-profit Organisation
- Head Office: Washington, D.C. & Berlin
- Kudos® Champion: Laura Gross, Director of Administration, People + Culture
- Key Takeaways:
- Culture is a strategy (good cultures can overcome change)
- Systems create consistency (monthly awards give employees something attainable to work toward)
- Employees care about more than just salary (they want to support a global mission and vision through shared values)
- Employee recognition through Kudos® is a valuable employee benefit
Nonprofit Cultural Vistas Turns to Culture and Recognition to Compete in Today’s Labor Market
Changing the world through experience
The American nonprofit organization Cultural Vistas believes that "understanding our evolving world is the first step toward changing it." This philosophy is the driving force behind Cultural Vistas' work. They facilitate internships, professional exchange programs, and services for visitors coming to the U.S. and for American students and professionals seeking experiential learning opportunities abroad. Founded in 1963, Cultural Vistas offers over 30 unique exchange programs and partnerships with more than 130 countries. They believe that international professional experiences create more informed, skilled, and engaged citizens by equipping the next generation of global leaders to solve complex challenges by connecting lives to exchange knowledge, values, and perspectives.
This challenging but rewarding vision requires a lean team of passionate and hardworking employees to get the job done. Before the 2020 pandemic, Cultural Vistas had offices in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Berlin, with board members and stakeholders worldwide.
In an interview with Laura Gross, Director of Administration, People + Culture at Cultural Vistas, she explained, "Generally, a lot of people on our staff have lived abroad or grew up abroad, speak other languages, and are very curious about the world. They understand the value of interacting with different people's perspectives and ways of life and have a broader understanding of how to connect with other people."
A global shift
Unsurprisingly, when the pandemic hit in 2020, all exchange programs were frozen due to international travel bans leading to a halt on global movement. Like many organizations worldwide, all Cultural Vistas’ employees transitioned to working from home. Laura and her team were faced with the challenge of maintaining employee engagement within their fully remote workforce.
The challenge to maintain culture and engagement remotely was especially critical for nonprofits. Laura explained, "As a nonprofit, we don't have the highest, most competitive salaries; we need to find other ways to add value for our employees." And this is a common trend - Cultural Vistas is not alone in the struggle. Salaries at nonprofits are often not competitive with those offered by private-sector corporations.
The stakes for maintaining the passion and drive that brought employees to Cultural Vistas in the first place are much higher given today's competitive job market. Fostering a culture that celebrates the mission and vision that attracted employees to their roles is imperative now more than ever. Recognizing the impacts of employees' individual and collective efforts is also critical to keep employees happy in their nonprofit roles.
Embracing Change and Recognizing Achievement
With culture and employee engagement top of mind, the team at Cultural Vistas focused on fostering a virtual environment just as enriching as their previous office life to keep employees happy and passionate about the cause.
The social committees from the different offices quickly merged into one powerhouse committee, made up of employees from all departments and levels, holding weekly meetings that anyone could hop into and share ideas. This resulted in a variety of virtual events ranging from art classes to trivia nights to pet-show-and-tells.
But of course, beyond social cohesion is another critical aspect of engagement – employee recognition.
That’s where the platform Kudos® came in.
Kudos® is an employee engagement, culture, and analytics platform that fosters peer-to-peer recognition, values reinforcement, and open communication to help organizations boost employee engagement, reduce turnover, improve culture, and drive productivity and performance.
Cultural Vistas decided to implement monthly awards using data from Kudos® to help their employees see the impact of their contributions. Each month, three people are awarded:
- The person who received the most recognition messages on the Kudos® platform
- The person who sent the most recognition messages on Kudos®
- The person who was recognized on Kudos® for displaying the most qualities related to Cultural Vistas corporate values.
The last award is perhaps the most powerful and something unique to the Kudos® platform. Every time someone sends a recognition message to a colleague on Kudos®, they also select which qualities the person they’re recognizing has displayed. These qualities are directly tied to the organization’s values – something essential for nonprofits that often have unique and distinct values and missions.
And, of course, the rewards offered within Kudos® don’t hurt.
Laura explained that because of the challenge of competing with the private sector for talent, the casual financial incentive of Kudos® points helps. In Kudos®, employees earn points that they can redeem for gift cards or other custom rewards chosen by the organization. A typical employee will earn hundreds of dollars a year in rewards through Kudos®.
It’s a program that they are proud of.
“We’ve added the Kudos® platform into our official benefits offerings,” says Laura. “It’s promoted and discussed in offer conversations as both a cultural and financial inventive.”
The vistas are bright
"In a surprising twist, a global pandemic that jeopardizes the future of our entire field has also boosted staff morale," shares Laura. "Before the pandemic, there were three distinct office cultures, based on geography. Now that we're all working remotely, it's equalized the experience of being an employee at Cultural Vistas - we all have collaborated so much more organically and naturally than before."
Recent Pulse surveys indicate that the number one thing the employees like about working at Cultural Vistas is the team – a great sign that the effort is working. Simply put, "a happy community of people is good for business," says Laura.
"Our staff is a passionate, dedicated, really hardworking group. They care a lot about their participants’ experiences abroad, but they also care a lot about their coworkers’ experiences, and they work together as a team. There's a lot of shared drive and passion. It's a really great group of people to work with."
So, while the competition to attract and retain top talent will likely forever be a challenge for nonprofits like Cultural Vistas – they can still compete with higher-paying for-profit counterparts by operating in a nimble and employee-centered way. With a strong culture and emphasis on employee engagement through tools like Kudos®, the right employees will feel at home at Cultural Vistas, no matter where they are on the globe.