Q&A: A Culture Conversation with Ara Tucker, SVP of Talent and Culture at Audible

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David Rice

corporate culture

HR teams have a lot to think about in 2020, but amongst the most important has been company values and workplace culture.

Navigating the fallout from the pandemic, issues of social justice and employee wellbeing hasn’t been easy, but it has put HR center stage when we look at how organizations are responding. It’s been a time of great change, and with great change comes growing pains.

To help us take a deeper look at the bigger picture around organizational culture, we caught up with Ara Tucker, SVP and Head of Talent and Culture at Audible.

HREN: Diversity and inclusion is under a microscope right now as people go in search of sustainable and impactful initiatives for D&I. What sort of elements of organizational culture have to change beneath the surface to ensure we’re creating the diverse and inclusive atmosphere and the experience people expect?

Having a sustainable approach to Diversity and Inclusion requires examining current practices, traditions and assumptions to identify where opportunities exist to disrupt old ways of thinking and doing. At Audible we are committed to building an inclusive workplace culture that attracts, retains and develops talent representing a broad spectrum of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives in service of creating an environment where each individual has an opportunity to contribute meaningfully; where we all feel like we belong. To do this, there are two key elements driving and bolstering our efforts: clarity around our aspirations and commitment from leadership.

We can’t assume that everyone automatically understands what we mean when we talk about diversity or what inclusion looks and feels like (we call it Spectrum & Belonging in the spirit of disrupting old ideas in the pursuit of a more innovative and effective approach), so we need to clearly articulate and embody the change we expect to see and then hold ourselves accountable for measuring progress over time.

READ: The Importance of Addressing Social Issues in the Workplace 

It’s also critical that each of our leaders find a way to embody our commitment in a way that is authentic and provides employees with a clear sense of how their contributions fit into our objectives to better serve our customers, colleagues and the community.

Meaningful action and outcomes flow from shared aspirational goals and two-way conversations between leaders and employees that help define what kind of culture we want and the steps it will take for us to get there.

HREN: How much is the conversation around organizational culture changing in your opinion right now and what would you say the biggest drivers of this are? Have we seen this type of demand for it before and how are you handling this with Audible?

AT: Our culture is inextricably linked to our business objectives and the talent we want to draw upon to meet those objectives. Our history as a mission driven company clarifies why we exist to serve others through the power of the spoken word and audio entertainment. This belief ties into how we cultivate a culture that celebrates the power of voice from both the creators we work with and our employees. When we think about building teams and experiences, we drive toward the end goal that everyone has something to say and contribute.

Naturally, culture is an organic proposition that shifts as the business changes and as people come and go, so having basic first tenets that ground us and tell us who we are collectively are important. We have a set of People Principles that establish a true north for Audible as we continue to evolve and the outside world transforms around us.

HREN: Culture is obviously an important part of talent management, but how would you say it’s impacting the way we interact with our people? Are expectations shifting and what advice do you have for HR teams looking to make the organization’s culture more attractive?

AT: The current moment has blurred the lines between personal and professional beyond what we could have possibly imagined just a few months ago. It has also increased the responsibility of organizations to step up and step into the issues that define our society and affect each one of us. Every company will have to make a decision about what that participation looks like and will need to recognize there is no right answer except the one that’s grounded in what they want to achieve and what change they want to see in the world.

The role of HR is often to act as the facilitators for employees as their career journey unfolds, by empowering managers to do the tough things that are part of day-to-day management and support leaders as they stretch and grow to meet the needs of an organization as society and business priorities shift around them. We are a partner, scanning the internal and external landscape to understand the interconnections and opportunities, we help amplify the needs of the business, managers and employees, and sometimes are called upon to envision and then execute seismic changes in the way business is done, work is achieved and success is measured.

HREN: There have been times in recent years that it feels like generations clash in the workplace. How do we create cultures that drive unity and a common sense of purpose that translates across generations?

AT: Generational differences are just one characteristic that we consider that may or may not influence one’s point of view. I think there is a perception that there are essential traits or characteristics that we can ascribe to one generation or another, but by no means does one age group own or uniformly express a fixed set of characteristics.

Today’s moment is about recognizing individual differences as much as our similarities. What I like about Audible is that one of our People Principles encourages us to lean into our differences and build a culture that is open to having respectful disagreements to reach a better outcome. Unity is important, but it is also important to have psychologically safe cultural abrasion as we bump up against ideas that may not be comfortable or interact with colleagues who don’t experience the world as we do, but that will drive us to a better place than where we started. 

HREN: Retention was long a concern, but as unemployment has rocked a lot of industries, what elements of the company culture change in terms of talent? Is the focus shifting to retention and engagement and what are the business impacts of the shifts that are taking place?

AT: As we look back at 2020, if this year has taught us anything it is that companies need to be able to throw out the playbook, be nimble, and acknowledge there are some frontiers we have never imagined before – and that is ok!

READ: Can Remote Workforces Improve Diversity and Inclusion?

The key is setting mutual objectives and having people on board who are motivated and equipped to achieve them. One thing I worry about is that as we continue to work and live remotely en masse, we lose something by not being able to interact in person. Companies need to pay close attention to the virtual space in terms of how to gauge employee’s feelings of belonging, how to create an environment for healthy debates, and how to support individuals who may be dealing with layered problems in their lives and the communities in which they live. Safety now has a more multi-pronged meaning, intermingling physical, mental and emotional elements while we exist in homes that double as a workplace. Being much more tuned into individuals’ discomforts that may arise and acknowledging those difficulties are concerns that companies will need to face.

It’s not all doom and gloom though! There are positive things we are seeing, such as people bringing deep resources of resilience and perseverance to face this task. We are hearing from people who are inspired by what is happening in the world and taking action to create a better work environment. It signals that more than ever companies need to listen to the voices and contributions from people they may not have in the past.

HR Exchange Live: Employee Engagement and Experience APAC

HR Exchange: Employee Engagement and Experience APAC includes sessions with top experts in the HR field along with applicable, real-life examples of how a robust culture supports the workforce and the company’s bottom-line.  We also provide access to some of the most well-known and cutting edge solution providers to help provide technology and strategy to enhance the employee experience paradigm within your company. This FREE to attend event allows you to dial in from the comfort of your desk and listen to HR leaders live or on demand!