By Kirsten Blakemore, MA CPCC, Sr. Consulting Partner at Partners In Leadership
Businesses often enjoy immediate success thanks to a breakout product, a service that fulfills a previously unmet demand, or captivating approach to marketing. However, the same businesses fail quickly if they have the end-product and strategy down, but have left their culture to chance.
As of May 2019, the Workplace Accountability Index from Partners In Leadership reports that 76% of employees can connect corporate culture to business results or indicated that there was a connection. A study published by Deloitte supports this, reporting that 94% of executives and 88% of employees agree that a unique workplace culture is a crucial determinant of business success.
Unfortunately, most organizations fail to implement a thriving company culture as they spend 74% of their time, energy, and resources on developing and executing strategy instead, according to the Partners In Leadership Workplace Accountability Study. When asked, "Which has the most impact on our business results: culture or strategy?" 96% of leaders we surveyed said that culture has a greater impact.
When leaders do not intentionally manage organizational culture, internal siloing flourishes, employee engagement levels stagnate or drop, and projects suffer from a lack of accountability. Instead, when leadership teams manage culture from the top-down and refine culture in tune with organizational and market changes, they position their company for sustained success.
Here are leaders of industry who are modeling exactly that to create their best company culture:
1. Google: Supporting the Greatest Talent in Technology
For all the noise about its workplace perks -- from in-house dry cleaning services to playground-style slides on its Silicon Valley campus -- what makes this tech giant's culture exceptional is the trust among leaders and employees that Google is true to its values. This sense of mutual trust creates high levels of alignment around a single, shared mission: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."
Google centers all of its operational strategies and cultural initiative around this purpose, from attracting the brightest minds in tech through a rigorous and thoughtful recruiting process to fostering a healthy and happy workplace. In this way, Google stands out for its ability to cultivate some of the world's high-performing visionaries by ensuring they feel creatively empowered but don't suffer from burnout.
2. Redstone Federal Credit Union: A Commitment to Community
By committing to being "one of the largest sponsors of civic, educational, and charitable nonprofit organizations" in its community, Redstone Federal Credit Union cultivates a thriving culture around this ethos of community involvement and compassion that encompasses the professional and philanthropic realms.
After undergoing a comprehensive, three-year culture shift initiative with Partners In Leadership, Redstone established a culture of accountability, a main pillar of which was deemed "service." Following the initiative's implementation, Redstone employees clocked over 3,000 volunteer hours during the 2015 fiscal year and has upped its annual community investment by more than 1,600%.
As a result of prioritizing its conscientious culture, the credit union has seen a 55% growth in annual non-interest income and a 1,052% increase in loans, all while garnering honors such as Money Magazine's 2017 "Best Bank in Alabama" recognition and The National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions' "2018 Credit Union of the Year" award.
Read more about how these financial stars continue to shine brighter, year after year.
3. Chili's: Dedicated to Clarity and Alignment
Chili's emphasizes that "work is more than a paycheck...it's about living your best life." The chain restaurant offers the employee benefits to meet this ambition, including financial planning services, housing assistance, health club reimbursement, legal planning, and tuition assistance for continuing education.
However, workplace culture is more than an appealing package of perks -- culture consists of the various beliefs, behaviors, and mindsets of a group. Alignment around beliefs, behaviors, and mindsets only occurs when all members of a group are aiming toward collectively agreed-upon goals. As such, the Chili's leadership team has a set of desired organizational results that they train every employee -- from bussers and servers to chief executives -- to keep top-of-mind in their daily work.
4. Inova: Ensuring Zero Harm
The 115 Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI) and 193 falls reported by Inova Alexandria Hospital in 2015 -- which collectively incurred 750,000 dollars in fines -- served as a major wake-up call for the 150-year-old metropolitan hospital. The leadership team at Inova Alexandria Hospital realized that despite its highly-trained staff and its rich history, its culture would need to change in order to guarantee better patient experiences and improved health outcomes.
Leveraging the Partners In Leadership Lead Culture program, Inova's leadership came together to tackle culture from its roots: by creating new experiences for employees in order to promote the beliefs necessary for taking deliberate action toward desired results. By hosting storytelling seminars that encouraged every Inova employee to share personal anecdotes about the power of effective healthcare, the leadership team combated the notion of faceless, nameless medical errors. All Inova employees pledged to meet a new desired result: not just to decrease hospital injuries and medical error in the long-term, but to commit to "Zero Harm today," a daily affirmation to strive for a perfect safety record.
Since aligning around this objective, the hospital has reduced falls by 42% and central line infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infections by 72%. No patients or staff have sustained a serious injury in over 15 months, and the hospital received the 2016 Premier Excellence Award for "exemplifying the highest level of industry innovation and advancement in delivering high quality, cost effective care" across the Premier network of 3,600 hospitals and 12,000 other providers. And in December 2018, Inova Alexandria Hospital was named a Top General Hospital by The Leapfrog Group, an independent hospital watchdog organization.
5. Amazon: Pioneering at Scale
Since launching in 1995, Amazon has become the world's second largest retailer, but its mission from the beginning has remained "to be Earth's most customer-centric company."
Accordingly, Amazon has conscientiously cultivated a culture that rewards innovation and simplification. It is notoriously candid -- its leadership principles urge leaders to usher employees toward greatness by giving honest and respectful feedback, because "leaders do not believe their or their team's body odor smells of perfume." Amazon's jaw-dropping success serves as a testament to the cultural power of engaging deeply with employees, promoting open communication, and inspiring greater collective achievement through collaborative innovation.
6. Ocean Spray: Trusting Employees to Take Ownership
Juice and snack manufacturer Ocean Spray not only trusts team members to take accountability for work outside of their job descriptions, but openly encourages it. According to one employee, a successful Ocean Spray worker must "be willing to take on new challenges, new assignments, and with that [comes] a new level of ownership."
Great companies like Ocean Spray understand that hiring talent that is willing to perform tasks normally reserved for higher levels of management drives innovation, and that collective trust among employees is necessary for ensuring that employees feel empowered to do so.
7. Zappos: Self-Defining Promotes Greater Employee Engagement
An acquisition of Amazon, Zappos' company culture has broken the mold through its adoption of Holacracy, in which employees define their own titles, manage their own work, and fit into teams, rather than having a top-down model of leadership where executives manage individual employees.
This contributes to the egalitarian, service-oriented nature of the company, where each employee -- regardless of their position -- spends their first weeks working in the call center talking to customers. As a result, Zappos has carefully cultivated an engaged workforce that self-manages, works collaboratively, and takes accountability for delivering outstanding results year after year.
8. Etsy: Investing in Female Talent ?
Etsy has made great strides in hiring a representative slate of technical talent. The percentage of female engineers on its staff is 33% (double the industry average) and the data engineering team is 100% women-led with 4 women leaders. The entire company is 55% women and females make up 50% of the board and executive team. Etsy has also implemented a gender-blind 26-week paid parental leave.
Putting their money where their mouth was, so to speak, enabled Etsy to cultivate a diverse and inclusive company culture. CTO Mike Fisher says, "Diverse teams are stronger, and inclusive cultures are more resilient. When we seek out different perspectives, we make better decisions and build better products." Etsy is proof that a focus on diversity and inclusion creates a company culture of increased collaboration, unification, and drive.
Watchlist: Uber Commits to Positive Change - Hopefully Not Too Late
Uber's disappointing IPO this week makes us wonder what role corporate culture has to do with market valuation and stock price.
In recent years, Uber's company culture has suffered a slew of public faux-pas. Its leadership team has openly admitted that these falters could have been easily avoided had the right culture been in place. Uber has since shown accountability for its missteps and has taken concrete, company-wide steps to change -- from onboarding a new CEO to implementing a corporate education program for employees taught by Harvard professors (for which more than a third of Uber drivers signed up for within the program's first 60 days).
Uber has a ways to travel before it has proven itself to be a healthy, conscientious workplace, but it has demonstrated cultural tenacity by publicly accepting negative feedback and making broad efforts to correct course.
The question is, would things be different for Uber today if they had intentionally shaped corporate culture from the beginning instead of leaving it to chance?