Culture is King

How would you describe the working environment or culture at your company? Better yet, how would your front line employees describe your company if given the chance to do so anonymously? If your organization is like most, someone in senior leadership is touting that employees are your number one asset. The challenge is getting the employees to believe it.

Today, your organization’s culture is even more critical to its success than before. In the past, if you had poor leaders or a bad culture, the worst that could happen is that your best employees would leave and tell their family or a few friends about their poor employment experience. Today, we live in a new world where any prospective employee who is thinking about going to work at your company, can get a small glimpse of your culture. Sites like or provide anonymous comments from employees about your company, its leaders, and your CEO.

CVS Caremark has over 750 employee comments on and an average rating from those employees of 2.8 on a scale of 1 low, and 5 high. Qualcomm has 64 ratings with a rating of 3.5. WD-40 Company has a 5.0 rating based on two employee comments and a 100 percent approval rating for their CEO, Garry Ridge. We have conducted Engagement Surveys for WD-40 Company for the last 12 years and they are in our Best-of-the-Best Benchmark. Whether it is 2 or 200 employees posting, I’m willing to bet that WD-40 Company and Garry Ridge will be proud of their employee comments. After reading comments about your company at one of these employee sites, would a prospective employee be willing to risk their career and take a job with your company?

Great leaders build great cultures because they know it is the right thing to do and it pays big, long-term dividends. If the only reason you are working on your culture is to get some new positive employee reviews online, I have some bad news for you. It won’t work. Employees know when leaders are genuine in how they treat people, and when leaders are full of BS.

If you are genuine in your desire to build a culture where employees love to come to work and your customers love to do business, here are a 6 tips that will lead you on the right path:

  1. Ensure the Vision and Goals are Crystal Clear. If we asked your employees what the top three corporate goals are for 2012, what would they say? We have learned that the Best-of-the-Best companies are significantly better at communicating a compelling, positive vision and clear strategic goals than the overall companies in our benchmark.

  2. Conduct an Employee Engagement Survey. Ask employees if the vision and goals for the organization, their department, and for their individual job are clear. Ask employees about how they are communicated to and treated by their immediate supervisors. Ask employees if they are empowered to make decisions, delight customers and get their job done. Last, ask employees what they like best about working at your company and, if there was one thing they could change, what that would be.

  3. Take Action on the Survey Results. Taking a survey is key. Even more important to building a great culture is taking action based on the results of the survey. Although administering the survey may be an HR function, creating action plans and measuring the progress of the actions is every leader’s job. I recommend keeping your actions few and focused: between 3 and 5 is ideal. After 5 actions, people lose focus, making it harder to obtain significant accomplishments.

  4. Great Employees Deserve Great Leaders. If you have a manager who is not a good leader, you have options, a few of which are to get them training, a coach, or a mentor. While everyone deserves a chance to get feedback, be educated about leadership and improve, it has been our experience that only about 50 percent of the management population is motivated to take the feedback, make changes, and work hard to become a great leader. When coaching, training, mentoring, and good on-going feedback do not work, our advice is to share that manager with a competitor and screw up your competitor’s culture.

  5. Work on Cool Stuff. The Best-of-the-Best Companies are significantly better than companies in the overall PBS benchmark when it comes to innovation and continuous improvement. What are you working on in your company or department that is innovative? Are you continuing to improve and raise the bar? Most employees, when working on innovative, cool stuff or improving something will say: I love my job.

  6. Recognize and Celebrate Success. Life is short. As a leader, you should be giving people daily feedback or communicating to your entire company about what is going well or right. One of the greatest needs a human being has is to feel appreciated and valued. It doesn’t matter if it’s at work or at home; when someone does not feel valued and appreciated, they cannot be happy. When people are recognized for the gifts they bring to the organization, they tend to like their job and the people they work for. Now… I know that at least one person is asking, “What if I have an employee who has no gifts or value to add to the company?” I have the answer: that is a leadership problem, not an employee problem. If you have someone working for you about whom you feel that way, you should coach them, counsel them and, if needed, train them. When that does not work, share them with your best competitor.

I can’t emphasize it enough: culture is king, especially in today’s world. Because of new review sites online, your customers have had the ability to broadcast their experiences with your organization. Now, it’s your employees’ turn. Past and current employees can use these tools to reach far beyond immediate family and friends and influence your organization’s future candidates. What would you want them to say about your organization? By following the above tips, you will be on your way to attracting quality employees that will keep your organization competitive.

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