Over the past few months I've been speaking at Glassdoor's "Best Places to Work" roadshow across the country, and this week I spoke alongside Shari Conaway, Director of People at Southwest Airlines and Adrienne King, Senior Director of Americas Human Capital at Bain & Company.
Each conversation was about how to build a great company culture, regardless of the size of the company.
What I firmly believe (and has been reaffirmed at every roadshow) is that what most companies have is not a culture problem; it's a CEO problem.
If a CEO is asked to go on a meeting with a sales person, they're excited to do it because it could lead to more revenue. If Human Resources or a manager asks a CEO to grab lunch with an employee who is in a satellite office and would benefit from the interaction, they're not as excited, and may not see the benefit. They don't want to invest the time.
That isn't a culture problem. It's a CEO problem.
When it comes to company culture, there are two types of CEOs: 1. The ones who genuinely care about employees and receive culture awards as a result 2. The ones who do it just to win awards. If it's the latter, the company culture will fall apart quickly.
During her presentation, Shari Conaway of Southwest talked about the cycle that fosters a great culture: it starts with happy employees, which means happy customers, which means happy shareholders, and happy shareholders means happy employees, and so on and so forth. Whether or not shareholders are in your equation, happy employees means revenue growth, and let's face it, without revenue growth, creating a great culture is harder to do.
No CEO is perfect, myself included. We all make mistakes, but a CEO who is genuinely invested in the culture isn't solely focused on increasing revenue. They also are thinking about how to build a sense of community, especially with remote offices. They are thinking about new ways to recognize and reward staff. And when the company is profitable and successful, they are looking for holes and flaws in the system because success can hide a lot of problems.
There are companies that don't care to be the "culture" company, and that's fine. Not every company needs to be. Culture is not crucial to success and profitability. There are companies that don't care and make a lot of money. That's okay. It's just not the kind of company I want to lead.
But, a CEO who chooses to go the culture route needs to do it for the right reasons and be invested. Otherwise it won't last.