Champion company culture from the top. But if you want it to endure, recruit your front line.
As the founder of BerylHealth, I've hired many people for many jobs, often unaware of their hidden talents and real passions. The same has been true when I've sought a team to cultivate company culture and employee engagement.
At Beryl, I started with one culture leader, Lara, who raised her hand and wanted to help. She ultimately needed assistance and a simple shout out to the staff resulted in many volunteers, including some from the most unlikely of sources: people who previously had performance problems or even negative attitudes. While I appreciated their enthusiasm, Lara and I realized we had to have guidelines for who should serve on the Beryl culture committee because--even though people were not being paid a penny more to help in these efforts--being part of it should be an aspiration, not a given.
Recruiting a Culture Team
So Lara made a list of guidelines and interviewed everyone who wanted to participate. They had to be with the company at least a year, be in good standing, and have leadership capabilities. Lara ended up managing a group of up to 70 people who she broke into subgroups around events, community service, wellness, reward and recognition, communication and BerylCares, the program to recognize the employee life events that happen outside of work. Almost a decade later, the Beryl culture committee (often called the Better Beryl Bureau) is stronger than ever.
When I sold BerylHeatlh to Stericycle last year and then joined Stericycle as chief culture officer, I had a different challenge. Unlike the 400-person, single-site environment of Beryl, Stericycle has 13,000 employees in 12 countries with hundreds of locations in the U.S. alone. How would I find those that wanted to help create and scale our culture efforts?
The Best Culture Cultivators Come From the Field
As it turns out, the same thing I did at Beryl is working for me at Stericycle. As I started to communicate with team members the importance of employee engagement, I got emails from many offering to help. While leaders were supportive, most of the volunteers have been front-line workers: truck drivers, plant workers, call center agents, and others who want to help make Stericycle a great place to work, both for themselves and for their coworkers. Now I have a registered dietician who wants to help with the wellness program, a receptionist who wants to colorfully paint the walls in an otherwise drab office, and a plant manager who took the initiative to plaster Stericycle's new core values on the walls.
So while it is true that culture should be championed from the top, what will make the effort enduring is the voices of the front line. You need to listen to those employees, implement their ideas, and give them the credit. Be purposeful about discovering the talents and passions that reside within your organization. All you need to do is ask.