Just How Important is Company Culture?

It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s another article about company culture. How to build a good one, how to avoid a bad one, how this company rocked it, or how that company completely screwed it up.

No one would blame you if you were tired of hearing about it. But here’s the thing: Company culture can literally make or break you as a business.

Who you are, how you act, and what you believe will eventually come back to you. 
Or come back to haunt you.

Very few people start a business with bad intent, and yet it’s shocking how many “good” companies end up with poor practices, corrupt leaders, and in horrific, cringe-worthy situations.

How does this happen? One (little) thing at a time.

Just about every business you can think of began with a great idea and few people dedicated to making it work. During the incubation stage, it’s pretty easy to create an atmosphere of teamwork, camaraderie, and commitment to the company goal. Start up culture is often known for being highly productive, ultra-creative and super exciting.

When new people and processes start to get added into the mix, it becomes harder to maintain that united passion, sense of purpose, and team spirit. As the business grows, so does the risk of bringing on individuals who aren’t a good cultural fit. It may be hardly noticeable at first, but over time the organization can shift from one person’s big, crazy dream to everyone’s big, crazy nightmare.

Now here’s the good news: Because company culture is created from within, it can also be changed from within.

How does this happen? One (little) thing at a time.

It all starts by clearly defining who you are and who you want to be.

  • What do you stand for?
  • What kind of people do you want on your team?
  • What are the values that will drive every action and interaction, from every employee, manager, and staff person, every single day?

Once you decide what matters most and how you will live that truth, you can start filling your bus with the right kind of people and reinforcing those values in big and small ways at every turn.

But getting and keeping the right people is only one part of the equation. To properly build and maintain the vision, organizations need to go all in on their values. They’ve got to live and breathe their core beliefs and be completely committed to demonstrating them with everything they say and do.

If you’re looking for an example of this concept in action, The Ideal Team Player is a quick read that illustrates how vitally important company culture is and how to go about finding and hiring ideal team players. The book identifies ideal team players as people who work hard, leave their egos on the shelf, and have a knack for dealing with a variety of personalities and situations. It also illustrates ways you can determine if your current and potential employees have these qualities.

But more importantly, The Ideal Team Player also paints a vivid picture of what can happen when an organization continually commits to its culture.

When it comes to culture, there’s no such thing as a little thing.

When you emphasize your company values in a strong and consistent manner in all things big and small, those who don’t share those beliefs will feel uncomfortable in the environment you’ve created.

Not only will they not fit in, they will naturally select out, taking their bad behaviors to a company that is more accepting of such things, or who isn’t as clear about how to live their truth.

And then you’ll know you’ve done it right.  


photo by Lipik Stock Media

Complaints Happen. What’s Your Policy for Handling Them?

You’re a great employer. You offer competitive wages and benefits, remote work options, paid time off, and even have an office dog. What could employees possibly have to complain about?

Maybe nothing. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a complaint policy in place just in case.

Dealing with discontent

Even businesses who try to do everything right sometimes end up in situations that cause unease for employees and trouble for the organization.

Employees could be unhappy about a number of things that are affecting their work environment or even their personal lives. Some will suffer in silence, some will simply leave, and others will gather the courage to speak up.

When thinking about these options, it makes sense to ask yourself which scenario is best for your business.

Would you rather have:

  • Disgruntled and disengaged employees?
  • Constant turnover?
  • An opportunity to learn what employees want and how to get them to stay?

You don’t know what you don’t know

Even the best business owners have seen things go awry at work. You could have a rogue supervisor or employee that’s acting inappropriately, a frustrating new technology, or a compensation structure that just isn’t keeping up.

You may think you don’t want to encourage employee complaints, but there is a big downside to a complaint free workplace.

If no one says anything, you’ll keep on trucking along, never knowing the real drivers of employee disengagement and turnover. Worse yet, if there’s some serious behavioral issues, you may be blindly heading toward a public relations nightmare and/or an expensive legal battle.

Create space for complaints

In doing so, you will also create space for growth and improvement.

The key to effective handling of employee complaints is to create a policy that is timely, confidential, and fair.

1.) Don’t wait.

If an employee lodges a complaint and nothing happens, this sends one of a few messages:

  • We don’t care.
  • Your concerns have no merit.
  • Yes, this is happening. And we have no desire to change it.

The longer you sit on these things, the more uncaring (or guilty) you appear. Whether or not that is the case.

Even if you are taking the time to research the issue and carefully respond, you’ve got to let people know. Communicate that the message has been received, tell that person you are looking into it, and provide a rough idea of when they can expect to hear back from you.

2.) Keep it confidential.

There are many reasons employees don’t speak up about sensitive issues.

  • They’re shy, uncomfortable, or embarrassed.
  • They don’t want to make trouble.
  • They’re afraid of retaliation.

A process that protects people during the complaint process is going to allow a more authentic conversation. Not only does it protect the person with the complaint, it protects anyone who might be on the other end of it until the matter can be resolved. The last thing you want is a sensitive complaint making its way around the organization before the facts have been laid out.

A good policy will provide a clear structure for how to go about lodging employee complaints. The nature and severity of issues could vary greatly, so make sure to build in multiple reporting options. Someone who feels harassed by their direct supervisor won’t feel comfortable lodging a complaint with that person. Create opportunities that allow for maximum honesty and fairness. 

3.) Check bias at the door.

You heard the part about fairness, right? With society more divided than ever, remaining impartial is becoming extremely difficult. According to Wikipedia, even Sweden isn’t truly neutral. Whaaaat?

The point is, people are picking sides on all kinds of issues and events based on personal beliefs, experiences, and what they’re seeing in the media. Many times, our “data” sources include incorrect information, rumors, or worse yet— gut feelings. And many of us are sticking to our tightly held biases, no matter what kind of facts and evidence are revealed. This isn’t good.

Life doesn’t happen in black and white. Getting to the bottom of employee complaints includes a lot of gray area. Make sure those who are handling complaints in your company are able to step back, remain objective, and look at the situation with impartial eyes.

It’s important that all complaints, investigations and resulting actions are applied fairly and consistently, each and every time.

It’s also important to recognize the opportunity for growth.

Keeping an open mind means more than just giving each employee the opportunity to speak up. It means being willing to look deep inside your company and see potential problems and other unpleasant things that may be happening, with our without your knowledge.

No complain, no gain

Hearing honest feedback isn’t always fun. It can be annoying, uncomfortable, and even downright painful.

But, if you’re able to reframe employee complaints as a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and growth, you could very well be on your way toward better communication, streamlined processes, lower turnover, and happier employees.


Photo by Dean Drobot

How to Deal with Organizational Change

Whether it’s a new sales process, revised PTO policy, different employee benefits plan, corporate restructure, or simply a new website, to the average employee it all means the same thing: Change.

And change scares the crap out of a lot of people.

Why so scary?

All change means is that the way you’re doing things today isn’t the way you’ll be doing them tomorrow. No big deal, right?


This simple idea can be terrifying to employees and leadership alike. And the longer your processes have been in place, the harder it will be to get everyone onboard. Even if your plan is going to make things infinitely better for everyone in the long run, you’ll still run into plenty of folks who just want things to stay exactly the same. “Free espresso all day? Bah! I prefer my daily 9:06 coffee break. Even if I have to walk three blocks and pay five dollars.”

So what should you do if change is in the air at your company? How can you get people to be more amenable and less cantankerous?

Evaluate it

Spend some time examining your current structure and what changes will need to be made to support the new model. The more detailed you are in this process, the better. Choose several key people to weigh in so that you get a full perspective of what the needs are in various departments and areas.  

Create an action plan and select individuals who are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic to be in charge of each step of the process, not just for accountability purposes but also to be goodwill ambassadors. If Grumpy Gary is in charge of training everyone on the new database, it might not go so well. Friendly Florence? Now that’s more like it.

Anticipate it

Recognize that people are going to react to change differently. Much differently. In fact, Friendly Flo could turn into an Angry Annie in an instant. You just never know. Be prepared to encounter any and all of the following:

  • Early adopters and change embracers who can’t wait to get started! These dynamos are planning out the details before you’ve even finished explaining the goal.
  • Naysayers who sincerely believe the whole plan is doomed. These guys are already dreading implementation and plotting the resistance.
  • Non-committal fence-sitters who are somewhere in the middle. These folks aren’t quite sure what to think and could go in either direction.

Communicate it

Now it’s time to get the word out. Don’t be stingy with the details of your plan. Explain the benefits of it and the reasons behind it. Clarify what things will change. Give time frames and set expectations to make things seem less intimidating. Talk about the end goal for when everything is said and done.

After you’ve laid it all out, you’ll be faced with a couple of choices for how to handle the reactions you’ve already anticipated.

1.) Spend your time trying to convert the naysayers and convince the fence-sitters

While attempting to win over the naysayers may seem like a logical plan, trying to convince someone who doesn’t want to change that change is a good idea can be a bit like trying to explain molecular biology to the average toddler. They just don’t get it. They don’t want to and they’re not going to try. And all the time you’ve spent trying to convince them that all of this is a good thing is time that you’re not moving ahead with your new plans.

2.) Spend your time recruiting the change agents and involving them in the process

If you decide to focus your attention on your supporters, you’ll be feeding their excitement, valuing their participation, and helping them help you. These folks can and should play a more active role in the implementation. And as an added bonus, they can help you get buy-in. You’ll start moving forward immediately, and they’ll be setting a great example for the fence-sitters, who are more likely to be influenced by their peers anyway.

Roll with it

As with any change, there is likely to be some fallout, regardless of how well you manage it.

There are some people who will flat-out refuse to adjust and would rather part ways than stay and go through the process. That’s okay. Let them go. Having people onboard who don’t support the company goals and vision will eventually bring everybody down.

Celebrate it

Once you’ve made it happen, reward your early adaptors, your hardworking implementers and your former fence-sitters for jumping on board. Review how far you’ve come and then have a little fun.

Throw a party. Order a cake. If you’re feeling crazy, give everyone the afternoon off. Why not? You’ve earned it.


Photo by lightwise

Want to Build Confidence? Adopt a Client First Perspective.

Confidence. It seems to be lacking these days. We don’t have confidence in our organizations, our government, or even in the truth. It’s no wonder consumer confidence is down as well.

In this kind of environment, it can be easy to simply lie down and accept defeat, to throw up our arms and excuse ourselves from lagging sales and negative growth. 

It’s also easy to opt out of aggressive business plans that might turn these things around.

And because so many of your competitors will choose to do just that, this is exactly the right time to take control and build confidence. Yes, there are many factors beyond your control, but all that means is that it’s more important than ever to take control where possible. Specifically, to take control over those factors that should be a source of confidence. 

There is nothing more important to your personal or organizational success than confidence. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by all of the potential sources, or all of the potential things that are working against you. Instead, focus on a few critical areas that will provide the greatest return.

1. A client focused sales approach

To be successful, you have to believe in the product, service, or model you’re offering. It’s also just as important to have confidence in your sales process. To build consumer confidence and trust, your sales process MUST be client focused. It must also be replicable and provide value.

Quit thinking about what you have to sell, and start focusing on what your prospects need and want to buy.

Start by identifying where your customers have needs, opportunities, and pain points you can help with. To be truly client focused, you will need to have a thoughtful sales process that listens more than it speaks. By asking the right questions and listening to the answers, you will be able to give your consumers a fresh/new/clear understanding of their own needs, as well as the perfect solution.

2. A commitment to providing value 

Doing more with less: It’s the reality of the business world we live and compete in. If you thought that getting someone to give you their time, money, or loyalty was difficult in the past, you’re likely well aware that these challenges have become exponentially more difficult.

The thing is, it should be a challenge. We should all be protective of our time and resources. As a business, you should have to earn the opportunity to be the product, service, or partner of choice. This means being able to articulate and show the potential value you can bring if you do business together, as well as providing value to a potential customer during their buying journey, even if they choose not to work with you at the end.

This may be the biggest challenge yet, because you have to provide value without giving too much away.

Ask yourself: Are the prospects who never became clients better off after interacting with your company and your brand? Did they get value from what they saw, heard, or learned? If you can’t confidently answer this with a resounding yes, then I challenge you to re-evaluate your sales processes. If the process is client-focused, they will leave the interaction with positive feelings. Perhaps you provided some helpful information, a new idea, or a great collaboration. Perhaps you simply gave them a smile.

But maybe, just maybe, you also gave them a little bit more confidence. In themselves. In your organization. And in what you have to offer.

When you operate from a client-focused point of view, you’re not just helping people solve their problems. You’re building consumer confidence in your business and your brand. Which, in turn, will help increase your confidence as well.

Now that’s what you call a win-win.


Photo by xtock

The Powerful Recruitment and Retention Benefit You’re Not Offering

Employers who want great employees are having to work harder and harder to find them, and to get them to stay.

This has many innovative organizations and Human Resources departments re-thinking their employee benefits strategies as a way to attract and retain talent, which is good. But there can often be a disconnect when it comes to perceptions about what employees really want. And too many employers are missing the elephant in the room.

Crushing Student Debt

The elephant metaphor works all too well here. Student debt is a huge issue that weighs heavy on your employees. And yet few employers are recognizing the extent of the problem.

Many people associate student debt with a particular subset of the workforce, namely fresh college graduates and junior employees. But a riveting study by CommonBond tosses those ideas out the window.

The reality is that student debt affects a huge portion of your employee base. Of 1,500 workers surveyed:

  • 72% reported currently having student loans or having had student loans in the past
  • 59% of employees aged 22 – 44 currently have student debt
  • 21% of employees over the age of 45 currently have student debt

But that’s not the end of the story.

  • 21% of respondents said they plan to take on debt in the next five years to finance someone else’s education.
  • And 10% of respondents said they are carrying their own student debt, plus that of a friend or family member.

With the total U.S. student loan debt sitting at 1.4 trillion dollars, there are far reaching consequences, both for your employees and your business.

Debt rolls downhill

Employees starting their careers with massive amounts of debt are less willing and able to “put in their time,” “work their way up,” or “take one for the team.” It’s not that they don’t see the value in some of these things. They simply can’t afford to do them. The days of “paying your dues” are over. For today’s workers, it’s all about paying your loans.

If you’re wondering why job hopping seems to be the new normal, it’s all related. Research shows that the best way for an employee to get a significant pay raise is to get a new job. In this kind of employment environment, those with sizable loan debt won’t think twice about accepting a more lucrative offer somewhere else.

Debt-ridden workers in all stages of their careers are delaying important life decisions because of student loans. For many employees, things like getting married, having children, buying a house, and retiring are concepts that seem far out of reach.

In the meantime, their debt is seriously stressing them out. Between 46 and 53 percent of workers with student debt reported worrying about their personal finances “most of the time” or, worse yet, “always.” If you think this isn’t affecting workplace productivity, you’re still not seeing the elephant.

Here’s the deal

Your employees took out loans to improve their skills and make them more valuable to employers. Now that they’re employed, they want financial stability. But their student loans are getting in the way. And they need help.

And it’s not just recent graduates who feel this way. The CommonBond study showed that the vast majority of employees want to see their employer offer student loan benefits.

Here are the percentages of employees who have (or plan to take on) student debt that want their company to offer student loan tools and resources, broken down by age:

22 – 34            81%

35 – 44            77%

45 – 54            75%

55 +                 65%

But it doesn’t end there.

Across every single age category, these numbers jump significantly when those employees were asked if they would be more inclined to stay at their company if they were receiving student loan repayment benefits:

22 – 34            87%

35 – 44            88%

45 – 54            83%

55 +                 78%

If you’ve been searching for that magic employee attraction and retention tool, look no further. It’s right in front of you.

But you’re not offering it

SHRM research has revealed that only about 4% of employers are offering some kind of student loan repayment benefits. With demand being what it is, this seems downright silly. Especially in a tightening labor market.

One reason that helps explain why student loan benefits aren’t more common is that employers haven’t quite caught on to the fact that this is a top concern for their employees. Perceptions of company leadership and HR are often quite different from those who are actually working within the organization, on everything from what motivates them to what attracts them and makes them want to stick around.  

If you want to attract and retain the best employees, you need to start thinking like them.

  • What kinds of things are they looking for in an employer?
  • What values do they care about?
  • What issues are they struggling with?
  • What’s holding them back from being the best employees they can be?
  • How can you help?

Still not sold? Here’s one more statistic for you:

The American Student Assistance survey found that with all else being equal, if a prospective employer offered a student loan repayment benefit, 80% of respondents said it would have a considerable impact or be the deciding factor in the decision to accept the job. Talk about a hiring advantage!

If you haven’t thought about finding ways to help your employees with student loans, now is the time. The sooner you get on board, the more you can differentiate yourself as an employer of choice. And start helping your employees become, more productive, more financially stable, and more likely to stick around.


Photo by  Elnur Amikishiyev

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