Thanks, But No Thanks
We'll Pass on that Culture Thing

“I'm tired of hearing that I need to change the way I run my business to make my employees happy.  They can do their job or they can quit.  I should have fired most of them already”   

It’s disheartening to hear this from leaders (and I've heard similar rants many times) as this represents a clear disconnection between what should be happening and what is.

Sadly, there are many leaders who operate with this mindset across the globe.  Many business leaders feel the best way to “get good work” out of an employee is to instill the fear of god in them.  I have seen leaders scream at employees until I thought their heads would explode, spew vulgarities to no end, publicly embarrass employees, and maliciously pit employees against each other.

Some of these leaders feel that they are visionaries and think their behavior is excusable.  Others just grew up as bullies and no one ever told them to stop.  I'm not sure why this archaic and infantile behavior still exists, but it does.  And I know it well as I've personally encountered my fair share.

What is vital for leaders to understand is that your employees are not faceless drones. They are humans that have needs and desires. When you treat them well, they make your company stronger.

Our research at Ignite, as well as that of our colleagues, has proven time and time again that the more employees feel their needs are being met at work, the better they perform.  A recent Randstad study reinforces that a winning culture focused around core values is important to cultivate engaged and productive employees.

Adding more fuel to the fire, Jim Stengel, in his book, GROW: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies establishes a cause and effect relationship between a brand’s ability to serve a higher purpose and its financial performance.  Notably, investment in these companies that have clear values that are promoted, internally and externally, over a ten year period would have been 400% more profitable than an investment in the S&P 500.  Stengel proves that maximum profit and high ideals aren’t incompatible but, in fact, inseparable.

However, even with all this research out there, strong leaders and a winning culture still are not the norm.   

When you were small, you may have been told that you get more with honey than vinegar.  But for some reasons many leaders feel that being nice makes them “soft”.   An image of this angry, aggressive leader has become pervasive in the media and this often seems to be the model that others look to emulate.  Additionally, this stereotype is propagated through biographies of recent visionaries, including Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.     They are geniuses in their own right.  But have created a less than optimal work environment.   Even Walter Isaacson, author the Steve Jobs biography, writes of Mr. Jobs: “Nasty was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him.”

Thankfully, at the other end of the spectrum is serial entrepreneur Richard Branson, who is celebrated for running incredibly successful companies built around happy workforces. He shares "Your employees are your company’s real competitive advantage. They’re the ones making the magic happen—so long as their needs are being met.”

This is so vital to remember.  No organization cannot function without engaged employees.  Why not set yourself up to attain and retain the best ones possible?

The reality is that when you spend the time creating a winning culture (as Branson always does) employees are more engaged, which means they are more productive and more efficient. They tend to work harder, are more innovative, and have a lower level of absenteeism. They feel empowered, appreciated, and are more loyal. They stick around so companies don’t have to spend as much time and money recruiting and training new workers. Engaged employees are also your biggest brand advocates (in person and online) which helps to attract top talent and new customers.  

Even in a world that at times feels “leadership challenged”,  An HRB global survey of business leaders identified the following factors as most critical to business success: customer service (80%), effective communications (73%), and achieving a high level of employee engagement (71%) and strong executive leadership (tied for third place). This places employee engagement as a top-three business priority.   However, these responses feel incongruent with what we see at organizations each and every day.

Even if they're not, YOU should!

Do you find it hard to attract top talent?  Do you have a rotating door once you hire?  Are a large percentage of your employees high performing? What does your online reputation say about your business (from customers, current and former employees) and does any of it ring true?  

Here are 10 Ways to create a foundation for a winning culture


1. Develop Strong Leadership – The leader sets the tone for the organization.  Your behavior (and policies) toward your employees speaks volumes about their level of importance.  Statements about not caring for your employees makes a significantly negative impact.  If you don't care about them, why should they care about you and growing your businesses?  If you act like a jerk, then many of your employees will too since they model the behavior they see you exhibit.

Leadership is a learned skill.  There are many important facets of leadership and most leaders are not equally skilled in all areas.  Work with a knowledgeable coach to round out these skills.  This will not only improve your individual skills but benefits all aspects of your organization.


2. Have a clear organizational vision and set of core values.   Let these values drive decision making.

3.  Introduce a system for setting and communicating goals and results such as Objectives and Key Results, better known as OKR.  When employee's goals are cascaded down from organizational goals, everyone knows their part in ensuring success.

4.  Ownership:  Give employees opportunities to be involved in decision making. You’ve hired them because you think they’re the best at what they do. Let them voice opinions and lead projects that may be outside of their normal set of responsibilities. By allowing them to feel like leaders, they’ll act like them, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised more often than not.

5. Hire “talented” staff who are also a culture match.

6. Make communication consistent, honest and transparent and make sure you have robust mechanisms for feedback….and you act on it.

7. Invest in the best tools and resources your budget allows. Up to date computers and software are the primary tools for employees. Having the best that you can afford will create less stress and more opportunity to innovate and get things done in a timely manner.

8. Never underestimate the power of recognition. If employees know they’ll be recognized and valued for the goals they accomplish and behaviors that reflect your values, they’ll feel more incentivized to strive for them. Genuine compliments can go a long way, as do creative reward programs. Find out what each employee regards as the perfect benefit and tailor rewards for them.

9. Make Professional Development a cornerstone of your culture.  No strong employee is content on having the same role for the rest of their lives. But if they are great, you’ll want to keep them at your organization for a long time.  One of the best ways to do this is to establish a customized plan for their growth and development. Offer opportunities for them to deepen their knowledge and  learn the newest techniques in their field as well as other vital skills such as leadership, management and communications. Also, identify ways that they could grow within the company. When employees recognize that you have long-term plans for them, it makes them more inclined to stay with the company long-term as well.

10.  Work/Life balance must be a priority to keep your staff motivated, engaged and keep them from burning out. Being connected 24/7 is a completely different way of working than and no one can keep this pace and be productive and healthy.  Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up when your organization set no boundaries and everyone is jockeying for the “hardest working employee award”.     Leaders must model this behavior as it’s vital to recharge!  Make time off compulsory and support your staff by creating an environment that does not penalize them (officially or unofficially) for spending time with their families, taking care of their health and rebalancing their energy.

Look at your organization through an objective lens.  What are you doing well?  Where are opportunities for improvement?  Just jump in and do it, you'll be happy you did.

Let us know what culture-building measures have worked well for you!