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Why Every Company Needs a Culture Chief

Lara Morrow has a knack for building caring, trusting relationships. So we made her Beryl's queen of fun and laughter.
Beryl founder Paul Spiegelman with Lara Morrow, Beryl's queen of laughter and fun, and the Beryl bear in 2008.
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You need a Lara Morrow.  A queen of fun and laughter.  (Yes, that is her official title at the Beryl Companies) She's been with us for 12 years and her full-time job is to make sure that our employee-centric culture continues and improves as we grow.  She reports to the CEO.  (That's me.) 

Why would we make an investment like this?  First off, Lara was the right person in the wrong seat on our bus.  She was a generalist in our HR department, and her strengths weren't in slogging through the details of compensation and benefits. Yet we had noticed something really special about Lara.  She had a knack for building very caring, trusting relationships with her co-workers and made our workplace more fun.  She would interview new employees by putting a whoopee cushion on their chair to see how they'd react.  She excelled at getting the most from personal relationships and we needed to capitalize on that.  

So we decided to take a chance at a time when we probably couldn't afford it.  But the ROI has been incredible.  And while we could calculate the money we've saved from reducing turnover, the biggest return is the feeling of love in the building.  Lara is the glue that holds it together in good times and in bad. 

Lara took our culture initiatives by the horns and with great passion.  She arranged fun events like dress-up days, potluck dinners, and bake sales, took people out to do community service, and drove our applications for best place to work contests.  Her effort and energy resonated in our building, and while Lara was a powerhouse for keeping our culture running, we quickly realized she needed some help to get it performing at its peak.

So Lara formed the BBB (Better Beryl Bureau) to solicit help from others in the company who wanted to volunteer time to help make the workplace better.  Do you know that nearly 20% of our 350 employees are now on the BBB?  She broke the BBB down into year-long committees to better focus on initiatives, including reward and recognition, onboarding, communication, our BerylCares program, community service, and events.  Each committee has a leader who is part of our non-exempt staff. 

Lara also sits on our strategic leadership team.  Why?  Because we want the whole company to know that we aren't just committed to culture, but that everything we are is our culture. She's our ear to what is going on in the entire company.  When morale is low, Lara knows it, and can find out why.  When something is happening in the personal life of a Beryl employee, Lara takes care of it behind the scenes.  When staffers have trouble connecting with a co-worker, they go to Lara.  When I come up with another crazy idea to help improve the culture, she has the guts to tell me it is a stupid idea.  And I listen.

Many years ago, when our company was based in Los Angeles and we had about 50 people on staff, my mom worked with us as our trainer.  She didn't just teach me business lessons.  She noticed that many of the people that worked in our call center didn't get the chance to experience cultural events like going to a museum or a play.  So my mom would buy the cheapest seats in the house and take anyone that wanted to go.  My mom reminded me of that in a recent discussion.

I mentioned this to Lara and how I thought it would be good for our current employees to be able to experience something like this.  Within a day, she had an event planned for the following Saturday and took about 20 people to a local art museum.  She now has these types of events on the calendar for the whole year. Lara's persistence and action goes beyond making the workplace more fun.  It goes toward enriching the lives of our employees.

I've written about how culture starts with the leader, and that's true.  But when it comes to execution of the culture strategy, it requires ownership, commitment, and consistent delivery.  That's why you need a Lara.  It doesn't have to be a full-time job if you're small.  But if you asked for volunteers on your current staff, I bet at least one person would enthusiastically raise his hand. 

I know our culture wouldn't be close to where it is now without our queen of fun and laughter. I'd probably smile less. I think the rest of our employees would as well. For a company and culture fueled by smiles, that means Lara's going to keep that crown for a long time. 

Last updated: Apr 17, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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