For our Summer 2018 issue of Utah Valley BusinessQ, we invited local experts to share the ins and outs of creating a corporate culture.
Jeanette Bennett, BusinessQ: Let’s start by defining corporate culture. What does that term entail?
Lauren Walker, Young Living: It’s all about who you are. It’s the foundation and the core between beliefs and systems. No doubt culture plays a part in results.
Ed Axley, Davies Development: It’s the unwritten, undefined way you interact with each other. It’s also how you treat clients. It’s the warm fuzzies you leave each other or the lack thereof.
Dave Daines, Nu Skin: It’s the “what” and “why.” What are beliefs and morals that drive behaviors, attitudes and stories that are told? Companies often have programs and events, but that’s not what defines a culture. What do people tell about the company and experiences they’ve had? It’s not what he or she said in a presentation — it’s what he or she did privately or how they treat people. Culture is passed on or modified through stories.
Josh Boshard, Four Foods Group: Culture is driven by the roots of the organization. The leadership in a company makes choices every day. It can be as simple as personally pulling money out of their pockets to help someone or just maintaining a belief system. Culture is built on the passion of leadership.
Christian Brinton, Provo Beach: It’s important to remember that culture is built on the passion of leadership as well as the lack thereof. It can be intentionally or unintentionally created. Companies have to decide if they are going to be intentional about creating a culture through actions, words and interactions.
Logan Wilkes, Corporate Alliance: One of the best ways to measure a company’s culture is how they react to adversity. What story are you going to tell after a bump in the road? One of my favorite stories demonstrating culture is about Culinary Crafts. They were catering a six-figure wedding at a golf course. No one checked to see if the sprinkler system was off. In the middle of this wedding, the sprinklers came on and the Culinary Craft staff ran and placed cookie sheets and their aprons over the sprinklers, while everyone else moved. That’s culture. They knew what to do and still maintained their values in a hectic situation.
Brinton, Provo Beach: They knew what to do for their guests because the staff knew their purpose. They’re there for the people. Had the staff come in with more of a selfish purpose, they wouldn’t have done what they did.
Daines, Nu Skin: That’s one of those stories that will be repeated and define their culture.
Wilkes, Corporate Alliance: And the story will get better every time it gets told.
Bennett, BusinessQ: Who is in charge of creating the culture?
Walker, Young Living: It starts at the top with leadership and how they interact and engage. It’s also how they communicate with those they’re over and how they help them see their contributions to the overall business. It’s internal and external. The story Logan told about the sprinklers and how the employees acted was an external-facing experience. It shows they valued customers first.
Axley, Davies Development: In our company, corporate culture starts from the top and improves from the bottom. There have been cases where project managers have unmet expectations in superintendents. My question to them is if they’ve done what they’ve expected from others. In other words, a leader has to exceed what they expect others to do. They have to live up to the standards they’re placing as well.
Boshard, Four Foods Group: I’ve always believed change is manifested through the first follower who does what the leader implemented. They create that sense of urgency and tone in following what the leader is doing, ultimately creating a wave of change. Anyone can be the first follower.
Wilkes, Corporate Alliance: There’s a good TED talk called “How to start a movement” that mentions a guy dancing by himself at a park. The person who gets everyone to join isn’t the first crazy who initiated the dancing — it’s the second guy who makes it look cool to buy into what the first person is selling.
Brinton, Provo Beach: So the power of two can influence a third.
Bennett, BusinessQ: What should entrepreneurs/executives understand about how to allocate budget for corporate culture?
Axley, Davies Development: We often overlook it, but we can’t afford not to. The few times we’ve budgeted for it, it’s come back to us tenfold and we still seem to forget all the time. You can’t afford not to do it.
Daines, Nu Skin: There are two types of investments. One is time, and for this to work, companies have to have the time to build the type of culture they want. The other type of investment occurs with events and initiatives. I’m not a big fan of cultural pushes because I don’t think they’re cost-effective nor do they work. Cultural evolutions are either through evolution and revolution. According to research, evolution takes seven years, so one-off pushes are often a waste of money.
Wilkes, Corporate Alliance: Throwing money at things is trying to take a shortcut. Sometimes you hear about food cart Fridays, which is a cool perk, but it does nothing to build loyalty or trust in a team. The No. 1 tactic in war is the same as the No. 1 tactic in loyalty building: be unexpected. As soon as it becomes expected, you’re in trouble.
Walker, Young Living: We try to ask ourselves how we can complete every task with a level of surprise and delight. The inherent nature of a direct sales organization is to reward and recognize leaders. We do huge recognition trips, and it’s all budgeted. We are farmers first, so we base a lot of our activities on farming, which helps everyone feel connected to one another and to the company.
Brinton, Provo Beach: Culture is developed when people connect with each other on a human level. I believe in the power of recreation and how it can break down walls and give people the opportunity to be authentic. There’s a theory in recreation called core and balance. The core is the everyday interactions within the home or office, and the balance consists of the trips and adventures that take place outside the home/office. Oftentimes, businesses put more money and time on balance activities instead of core ones. Relationships are solidified if more focus is put on everyday interactions with employees, and then add in a few balance activities.
Axley, Davies Development: Investments require money, time and effort. Of the three, money is the least valuable. The efforts at our small company have more to do with time and effort. It’s the simple text message or lunch that can change everything.
Boshard, Four Foods Group: Employees are looking for the best companies where they can make a difference. Employees look at companies the same way they look to book hotels. They look through reviews, photos and ask friends. Employees are looking for a place, not just a paycheck.
Bennett, BusinessQ: What does it take to change a culture?
Wilkes, Corporate Alliance: Sometimes we throw around perks and parties and pray that employees know how to do a better job, but the key to changing culture is giving employees the resources to win. Clear communication and clear expectations are important.
Axley, Davies Development: It takes humility from the top and willingness to change from the bottom. If the top doesn’t realize there’s a need for change or if they aren’t humble enough to do it, nothing will change. You also need a group willing to follow.
Walker, Young Living: Creating connectedness from the very top to the bottom and all the way throughout is important. At Young Living we recently announced a profit share. As the company succeeds, employees are rewarded. It’s amazing to see how connected employees are becoming now because of this. It’s engaging employees, causing them to really want to do their job because they know their success is the company’s success.
Daines, Nu Skin: We often talk about culture as this uplifting good thing, but some companies don’t want that. Cultures can range from an uplifting environment to a brutal, cut-throat environment. Neither is right or wrong, they’re just different, attracting different types of people. When you talk about culture change you need to decide how immediate are the needs and which direction are you trying to go. Changes are revolutionary or evolutionary, which we are trying to go through right now. Some of our key leaders want to see changes from our current culture.
Bennett, BusinessQ: What are the differences and challenges in creating a corporate culture in small vs. large businesses?
Axley, Davies Development: A couple times a week, I try to grab somebody for breakfast or lunch to see how they’re doing in their personal life and how we are doing as a company. We take into consideration their suggestions. Because we are a small group the culture can change very quickly. We can be happy very fast or unhappy very fast.
Walker, Young Living: In a big company, it’s easy to lose the message. In some cases, it’s like playing telephone where the message gets modified. Having strong communication skills is important. In my huge supply chain team, I try to be as involved as I can. I have breakfast with them, communicate, spend time with them and find out what’s important. I know something personal about almost all of the people working in my team. With a big company, it takes more effort to show employees you are engaged and that you care. I try to be on the floor in the warehouse, and I expect my leaders to do that as well.
Christian Brinton, Provo Beach: We have seven on our management team, and then we have about 40 floor staff employees who are high schoolers. For a lot of them, this is their first job. One person can have a major impact on the culture. A small company is like a small pond. One rock can have a huge ripple effect. In a bigger company, the ripple still goes out, but as it goes out, the ripple gets smaller and smaller. We are small enough that if a big boulder is dropped, everyone feels it. We have to be careful with who we hire on our management team because the way they treat our employees is how our employees treat the customers.
Daines, Nu Skin: I wouldn’t underestimate the impact of one person in a large company. Although the speed of the ripple differs, an individual’s impact can either be destructive or supportive. Organizations have to be aware and conscious of each hire.
Walker, Young Living: I cringe when I hear companies say they are hiring for “cultural fit.” Often when we hear that, it describes the mentality that people are hired because of the similarities they have with someone on the hiring team, rather than the emotional intelligence they have or the right behaviors.
Daines, Nu Skin: I agree. You can’t hire someone because they golf and you like to golf. That’s not “cultural fit.”
Bennett, BusinessQ: How can one corporate culture fit the needs of millennials and baby boomers? Men and women? How can diversity be part of the culture?
Boshard, Four Foods Group: At Four Foods Group, we acquired a restaurant group last year out of Alabama. We saw so much diversity after we added them to our team. They’ve helped build our culture, creating awareness on both ends. Diversity strengthens culture.
Daines, Nu Skin: Culture comes down to a common set of beliefs and values. One key element of our culture is that we are going to be a force for good throughout the world. This can be expressed in different ways. Personalities and individual preferences don’t matter if they all have one purpose. We don’t need to be homogeneous in our expression, just similar in our core values and beliefs.
Bennett, BusinessQ: What role does physical space have on creating culture?
Walker, Young Living: I love an open environment. I have a stand up desk, which allows me to interact with others when I have a problem or question. In previous roles, we had an open environment and at first people weren’t fans of it. After a while, people began to love it and it and interact more with others.
Boshard, Four Foods Group: We grew into a second building, and it’s been interesting to see the differences in culture between the two buildings. We are trying to bring collaboration and interaction to the new building that matches that of the other building. In the future, we’ll be back together in our new headquarters in Pleasant Grove.
Daines, Nu Skin: If you are trying to create collaboration, then your structure and office should reflect that. If you’re focusing more on individual relationships, then maybe open spaces aren’t for you.
Axley, Davies Development: I compare office spaces to kitchens. How are you going to cook in your kitchen? Are you a cook or a baker? That defines what type of appliances you’re going to use and where they’re found. You can’t look at another successful company and simply adopt their office design. Your work space has to fit how you work and your company culture.
Bennett, BusinessQ: How does the culture of companies affect the community? Why should the rest of us care that businesses have strong corporate cultures?
Daines, Nu Skin: I’ve noticed Young Living is really active in the community, and in that sense, we are partners. I love seeing the projects Young Living does. I’m proud to be part of the industry that supports community involvement. This breaks down the boundaries of competitiveness. Communities benefit when they have companies that care about where they live. Companies that have a consistent culture yield employees who are far more productive. Utah County is growing because we attract people who are attracted to the environment we create.
Walker, Young Living: We become the average of the five people we spend the most time with. That same principle applies within a corporate community, too. If I see Nu Skin doing something good, then we want to be part of that as well. This mentality lifts everyone in the community.
Daines, Nu Skin: Back in the day there was a significant concern that the Salt Lake City Olympics wouldn’t be able to happen. Nu Skin was one of the companies to donate a significant amount of money to pull off the Games, and then many companies followed. A community benefits when companies are successful.
Brinton, Provo Beach: The culture of a company impacts individual employees, which then affects families, communities and individuals.
Boshard, Four Foods Group: Our CEO Andrew Smith always says positivity breeds success. He set up a training program where he talks about having a positive mindset. This empowers our employees to be advocates in our communities and to make a change.
Bennett, BusinessQ: At what stage should a startup create a culture strategy?
Daines, Nu Skin: They should think about culture the day they start. They need to think about what it is that they want to build. It impacts who they hire and what they’re doing.
Wilkes, Corporate Alliance: Your hygiene needs have to be met before you think about somebody else. The most common mistake startups make is thinking they’re going to go from their basic hygiene needs to the IPO. They’re not thinking of steps two through nine and everything in between like a team, a culture, a talented group of people.
Bennett, BusinessQ: Can each of you share specific aspects you love about your company’s culture?
Walker, Young Living: At Young Living, we value speed. We also value wellness and abundance. Our culture is fast, agile and nimble. Sometimes mistakes do happen and we fail, but what’s important to remember is to fail fast. Learn from it and move on.
Boshard, Four Foods Group: Our culture has always been built on growth. There’s a lot of opportunities to empower employees. As you help them see that, they start seeing it in themselves. This creates a great environment, because employees start feeling like they can reach their potential both personally and in their position at Four Foods Group.
Wilkes, Corporate Alliance: We had a recent trip where 30 executives and business owners went to Mexico for a service summit to help build an orphanage. We had one of our team’s brand new event managers there, and she observed the situation where they wouldn’t be able to finish the cement wall until they could raise $1,500 in cash. Our Corporate Alliance members came together, combined their money, and came up with the needed amount. Our event manager saw our culture at work as our members rose to the occasion. Now she is bringing that same culture into our office and working toward doing something similar with us.
Brinton, Provo Beach: I love that our culture is fun and young. In today’s world, we hear businesses complaining about dealing with millennials, but we love it. As a business, we have the opportunity to help our high school employees learn, develop and grow. We can look at it in two different ways. We can either give them the type of experience where they’ll say that they had fun and goofed off or where they really learned. These young people bring a lot of light and excitement to our business. This is a huge opportunity to develop these high schoolers so they’re ready for the next chapter in their life. We’re teaching and training all of your future employees.
Daines, Nu Skin: I joined Nu Skin thinking I’d be there for two years. Twenty-two years later, I’m still here because of the culture and our purpose. One of the aspects of Nu Skin’s culture that has kept me here is that we believe we make a difference in the world. Our CEO often reminds us what our role is in the community and how we represent others. We have almost a sacred obligation to represent people who can’t be at this table.
Brinton, Provo Beach: I have a job because of Nu Skin’s culture. The Nu Skin owners wanted to do something for the community and saw that the Shops at Riverwoods needed a change. They bought it out, not because they wanted to make money but because they wanted to make a difference in the community. As a result, I have a job, many other people have a job and we have a fun place for the community to come and play. Provo Beach is a place where businesses build relationships.
Boshard, Four Foods Group: It’s funny how Nu Skin’s owners have also impacted our company as well. Four Foods Group is coming to the Riverwoods with R&R Barbeque.
Walker, Young Living: Our community is strong when our businesses are strong. I love working for a company whose values align with the culture. The culture is what shapes decision-making at all levels. When you can have core values align with the culture, it’s bliss.
Bennett, BusinessQ: Thank you for teaching us about corporate culture today. I’m inspired to elevate the culture here at our magazine publishing company!
During our one-hour conversation with corporate culture experts, they mentioned these resources. Consider this your BusinessQ homework. Due by the end of the summer.
- Derek Sivers TED Talk 2010
- “How to Start a Movement”
- Jim Collins “ Good to Great”
- Jeffrey Marx “Seasons of Life”
- Darren Hardy Seminar