How to Improve Your Company’s Culture

CONIFER, CO—How do you improve a company’s culture? It starts at the top. When thinking about leadership, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell may have said it best: “You have achieved excellence as a leader when people will follow you anywhere, if only out of curiosity.” You have to look in the mirror first, according to S. Chris Edmonds, an executive consultant, author, as well as founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. And there lies the challenge: What needs to happen for real systemic change to occur?

“If employees aren’t seen as the core of the business, it would be remarkable if the business thrived because they’ve got strikes against them,” said Edmonds. “It’s not that leaders don’t want to have an environment where customers are wowed and employees are engaged, but leaders are rarely held accountable for employee engagement and the emphasis on customer service has only been decent.”

As a consultant since 1990, Edmonds has gone beyond the carrot-and-stick approach and has focused on leadership development and trained executive teams for more than 20 years.

“It’s interesting, as I got more deeply into helping leaders change their culture and educate them on how to do so, I realized that leaders have rarely been asked to do that. Most leaders don’t resist the idea,” said Edmonds. “As I worked with small teams, I stumbled upon a duplicable process and my clients are responding well to it. It’s about culture consulting.”

Adjust the alignment

To achieve a purposeful culture, a core piece of Edmonds’ process is an organizational constitution and getting companies onboard with these rules. The purposeful aspect is about serving customers and for every team leader, employee and property manager to understand that, he noted.

“The work is in the alignment. The purposeful piece is about helping leaders get very clear that every hotel has the same purpose,” he said. “They want to have loyal customers and if a leader in a property is hitting employees over the head about making money, that’s true and important and can sustain the business, but it’s not meaningful to the frontline employees. What’s important is ‘How are we improving the quality of life for these guests?’” 

A servant’s purpose

Once the ground rules are established, Edmonds brings in another layer: values and behaviors to help achieve a positive outcome. He’ll pose the question: “How do good citizens treat their peers and customers?” Cultivating a positive customer relationship is paramount in hospitality, but creating strong connections with staff are also vital to the business.

“If employees don’t feel trusted and respected, the customer experience is going to be immensely inconsistent,” he said. “We take the expertise that leaders have in measuring results and performance, and now we get 10 behaviors that have employees serve each other well and craft a brand experience that customers will talk about. For example, if an associate remembers my name or puts extra water in the room, I’m on Twitter tweeting about it. It’s about employees feeling honored, trusted and respected to give their very best.” 

Get the job done

Edmonds recommends his clients be willing to invest the time and energy for the turnaround. While he’s crafted a template approach, Edmonds conducts interviews of senior leadership, next-level leaders and customers to get a snapshot of how the culture operates and then will modify the next steps in the process.

“The leadership has to decide if this is something they want to pursue. I’ll tell them ‘If you go through this, you’ll need to spend half of your time managing your teams’ culture.’ The first phase is a two-day process, which helps me get them into creating values and behaviors so they can have citizenship and values be measurable,” he said. “I did an interview summary for La Quinta almost five years ago. I spoke to 32 people, a lot of hour-long interviews; I culled that and got the keys.

“That is the part leaders look at before the face-to-face meeting and moving on to the next phase,” he continued. “We spend a lot of time talking about service, the company’s reason for being and how it can be a culture that works. In my experience, good bosses invest as much time and energy in the relationships and their teams as they do the money.”