How to Create a Culture That Elevates Your Company and Employees Pt. 3

May 10, 2021

True Growth Comes When You Learn How to Construct and Sustain

In the previous two installments of this series, our conversation centered around the research of Kevin Oakes and his most recent book, CultureRenovation. We discussed the importance of a healthy workplace culture and the preliminary “Plan” stage for your business.

In this third installment, I want to help you understand the other two phases in creating the culture you want: “Build” and “Maintain.” We will pay specific attention the toughest roadblocks you must contend with to find success.

Any Quality Build Involves Addressing Potential Problems

Oakes believes that, of the three phases, “Build” is the most critical. In his work leading the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), he’s talked with CEOs about what they did in this step to create a strong company culture and how tough this typically was.

One of the biggest issues concerns the skeptics and non-believers. You know as well as I do that, if you have senior leaders who either openly or secretly reject what is happening from a cultural perspective, your efforts will be thwarted. Thus, most successful companies will either win over the naysayers to what they’re trying to do with culture or move them out of the way.

Think of it like a garden. You must till the dirt and remove the weeds so that you can make room to sow the seeds of culture, nurture your land, and harvest your crops. Thus, that sometimes means replanting certain people in healthier soil or removing them from the company entirely. I’m a firm believer that a great business must have the right people in the right seats at all levels of the organization.

Leadership Training is Essential to a Strong Foundation

Oakes also found training to be a common element for leaders in a successful organization. Whether it’s senior management, mid-level managers, or frontline employees, i4cp learned that winning companies take the time and energy necessary to train leaders on the behaviors they want to see exhibited across their company.

With my clients, I always start with The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. More people are familiar with his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a leadership fable that explores a dynamic, five-part model of workplace dysfunction: 1) absence of trust, 2) fear of conflict, 3) lack of commitment, 4) avoidance of accountability, and 5) inattention to results. However, Lencioni believes he should have written The Ideal Team Player first. Also written as a parable, it lays out the three virtues you must possess to be an ideal team player: humble, hungry, and smart. Like Lencioni, I believe you must develop the best individual team members before you can create the best possible team.

For Oakes, training up those individuals proved most effective when married to developing company culture through stories and symbols. For example, Booz Allen Hamilton has five core values, and they literally write those them in stone. They then hand out one of those stones to an employee who exhibits one of the values. It becomes a source of pride for employees to display one or more of those stones on their desk or in their office.

The same is true of a company called BDA. This small, but very successful sports marketing company has adopted Tigger from Winnie the Pooh fame as their mascot. The energetic, tail-bouncing tiger has become a crucial symbol of company spirit. BDA realizes that Tigger wasn't the smartest cat in the forest, but he was always ready to help and had a “Let's go!” attitude.

• If Piglet was lost, let’s go find him.

• If Eeyore needed cheering up, he wanted to cheer him up!

Not only is the CEO the biggest Tigger in the company, but BDA use that attitude to exemplify what they want from their employees in the organization. The company even hands out stuffed Tiggers to employees to the point that they believe they’re probably the single biggest purchaser of that toy!

You Must Keep Your Culture Thriving

Oakes states that the “Maintain” phase often gets ignored. It’s easy to get all psyched up around building a new culture, but it’s also easy to revert back to the way things were if the culture shift loses steam. With this phase, you must implement several different talent practices to ensure that you maintain that new culture you wanted to create.

Quality Onboarding Takes Time

Most successful companies know onboarding should be a detailed exercise for a new hire. It should go beyond giving somebody a laptop, handing them a badge, and showing them where the bathroom is. Instead, onboarding should be about developing relationships. You must set up each and every new hire for success by connecting them with subject-matter experts inside the organization. It’s essential they establish a network that will help them flourish in the long term.

We've all seen the phenomena where a talented new employee burns out in one year. They typically do so because they're lonely. They never connected with anybody, and they didn't have a support network to help them.

Any healthy company culture makes onboarding about relationships. It helps you retain way more people in your organization in year one and year two than you normally would have.

Realign Performance Management

It's amazing how many debates there have been over the years about the right number for an employee rating scale - “1 to 3,” “1 to 5,” or “1 to 7.” However, most successful companies that Oakes and i4cp studied have scrapped both the annual performance review and strict scales. Instead, they have healthier practices like frequent managerial conversations about ongoing performance that is tied to context.

In fact, the i4cp website has some examples of the excellent work T-Mobile does to help managers. They created these conversation starters in the forms of playing cards and placemats that managers can use. Whether it’s an informal ongoing check-in or a deeper career discussion, they recognized that sometimes all you have to do is get that conversation going. A good manager will want to have the conversation. So will the employee.

Emphasize Talent Mobility

Oakes has seen that many high-performing organizations place put a great emphasis on moving talent inside the organization and across boundaries. Particularly, they do this with high potential employees.

Then again, it's human nature for managers to hoard talent. If somebody is making you successful, you don't want them going anywhere because you think it could be detrimental to your organization.

However, research shows that, if your company can recognize and even reward managers for moving talent, talent will flow throughout the organization and make everyone better. Managers will get known for promoting and moving talent and become “talent magnets.”

Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown uses this term in their book Multipliers – How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. They found that everybody wants to work for the manager who will help their career and get them promoted. Thus, talent mobility is a really important aspect of making sure your culture change sticks.

Get Ready to Build and Maintain Your New Company Culture

Oakes has ample resources to help remake your business at You'll find some other case studies from the book and some tools that you can use. Also, he has an area to share what’s worked inside your organization.

If you’re interested in learning how you can plan, build, and maintain a healthy workplace culture that both attracts and keeps the best people who your company can grow, contact Burst Consulting. With a free initial consultation, I can help you determine the current status of your organization and provide insights into your next steps.