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The Growing Importance of Corporate Culture

Waterstone's 10 Most Admired Corporate Culture award

I wrote an entry a year ago called Corporate Culture, following our award as one of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporations.  Last night the same company that hosts that award, Waterstone, had a panel discussion on the subject of culture and I thought I would share some of thoughts that caught my attention.

I think the tone was set with the title of the keynote presentation … “Culture is the Key to Success”.

Marty Parker (founder of Waterstone) was moderator for the evening and at one point talked about Peter Senge’s quote “Culture Trumps Strategy Every Time” as one indicator of exactly how important culture should be to any company.  My own perspective would be that whether culture is more important than strategy or not, it is very clear that executives need to pay at least as much attention to culture as they do strategy!

In my own experience as a company founder, one of the best things about starting a company is that you get to define what your culture should look like, and then you get to work at creating that culture.  For Eagle, as with most companies, that meant developing a Mission & Vision, and supporting them with Core Values that are meaningful.  Those core values must be “lived” first and foremost by the executive team, but then by everyone else all the way down through the organization.  This concept was reinforced by all of the panelists last night but I think it was Heather Briant, Senior VP HR at Cineplex who said something like … “people can be told about a company’s values, but they will always take their cue from what the CEO does”.  In other words, if the CEO and his/her executive team are not “walking the talk” then you are not going to get the culture you want.

Here are a few more good ideas I took from last night …

Diverse group of happy employees

1.  When talking about core values a couple of panelists mentioned a more “active” core value than just words.  Donna Pascal, VP HR for Acklands Grainger talked about their values:

i. Wow the customer.

ii. Drive for best results.

iii. Have a winning attitude.

iv. Make the team better.

v. Lead the way.

By being “active” a company can define and measure “how” these core values are being demonstrated.  This is a much better way of entrenching the ideas into a company than just words.

  1. Jon Hantho, President of Maxxam told us that his company will totally focus on one of their core values for 3 months.  They provide training and exercises so people can truly understand and buy in to that core value.  The idea is to make the core values more “real” for people.  Over the course of a year they will have brought focus and provided training on all of their core values.

  2. The panel talked about finding ways to “Feed the passion” … ways to get the people excited about what they do. Donna Pascal talked about celebrating ALL wins as one way to do this.

  3. Jon Hantho talked about his company’s “No assholes” rule … again a good reminder, that hiring people who can get the job done, but leave a big wake behind them is damaging to any culture.

  4. Sandy McIntosh Senior VP HR at TELUS was another very active and interesting panelist.  One of the thoughts from her was in convincing managers not to compromise in their hiring.  I had not previously heard her phrase, “Bad breath is NOT better than NO breath”, but it was a good illustration!

There is no doubt that company culture is extremely important if you want to be able to hire great people, and this will only become more critical as we enter a time when skills and labour shortages will become more acute.

Hope you found a nugget or two in this blog entry … thanks to Waterstone and their panel of experts.