Category Archives: Culture

Culture vs. Morale

I’m working on my notes for a session on organizational culture I’ll be facilitating and thought I’d take a moment to share my predominate thought here.

Culture and morale are not the same thing.

They are certainly related, but it’s a mistake for leadership to treat the two realities as interchangeable.

A company’s culture is characterized by the attitudes, behaviors, world-views, values and perspectives of its employees. It’s the innate self of the organization.

The morale of a company reflects the feelings of the employees at a particular time.

Generally, an establishment with high employee morale will also have a strong culture.  But strong cultures can withstand dips in morale. More negative cultures may have moments of employee satisfaction, but it’s not sustainable.

If you’re interested in participating in this conversation join us at the Austin Leading Ladies Power Hour and you can check out more of my thoughts on corporate culture here.


Creating Culture Enthusiasts: Part 3

In the past two posts, we’ve identified our culture and discussed three opportunities to help create company enthusiasts. Today, we’re going to talk about why it’s important to your bottom line.

Over the past few decades, both academics and practitioners have spent time focusing on the issue of corporate culture and whether a company’s culture does, in fact, impact its overall performance and effectiveness. In 1983, a study of organizational change called The Change Masters, Innovation for Productivity in the American Corporation demonstrated how companies with progressive HR management practices outperformed those with less progressive practices. In 1984, using survey-based measures, another study by the name ofCorporate Culture and Organizational Effectiveness showed that apparent involvement and participation on the part of a company’s employees predicted current and future financialperformance. And then in 2005, a book entitled The Future of Human Resource Managementnoted, based on research, that culture not only drives behavior and unites employees but that 46% of a business’ financial performance results from corporate culture. That’s impressive. Your leadership will think so, too. Show them this isn’t just feel-good stuff. More and more companies are starting to believe it. And why wouldn’t they? Look at this graph from a 2009 Towers Perrin study. It shows clearly that companies that scored high in employee engagement had greater financial success.


In 2011, research out of the UK reported 96% of employers interviewed would hire someone who did not have a complete set of skills but displayed the right attitude over an applicant with the perfect skills but who lacked the right mindset. That’s a corporate attitude I can get behind.

Ron Finklestein is an author and business coach and I recently came across this quote of his that I think sums up this post nicely.

“When you take the time to define and create your corporate culture, you are telling others what kinds of people will flourish in your company; it tells the market the companies you want to do business with, and it defines the behaviors that will be accepted in your organization.”

I’ll go one step further and say it creates enthusiasts, from both within your company and in the marketplace.

And that, my friends, is win-win.

Originally published February 9, 2012, on

Creating Culture Enthusiasts: Part 2

In the previous post we talked about utilizing your culture to ignite enthusiasm in your employees. Let’s get into three key opportunities I see as critical to accomplishing this goal through recruitment, onboarding and continued career development.

First, I’m a big fan of just putting it out there. Be authentic. Through all of your recruitment efforts speak about not only the skill requirements, but also the qualities needed for success at your organization. Be honest about expectations from the beginning. Tell your company story. More importantly, have other employees—other company enthusiasts—tell the story for you. Give candidates the opportunity to interview you. Let them talk with others on their potential team or department. Make this part of your recruitment process. Our economy has not yet fully recovered, but it is recovering—and talent placement and retention is going to become more competitive. As such, you need to take every advantage. Genuinely being able to set your organization apart based on your culture is a huge plus. Beyond just getting the hire, you’re setting this employee up for greater success in the long-run because you’ve kept the organization in its entirety in mind. Again, you’re hiring in addition to a specific skill set. You’re also looking to make a culture match.

From the beginning at SicolaMartin, we would talk about Mars and Martians. We’d talk about summer days and being a best place to work. We’d give tours to candidates and let them meet lots of people. We may take them to lunch. We may meet for drinks. It does take time. And it is an investment, but it can pay off. We had an average tenure of 7.5 years. The average in the advertising industry is a little less than two. Two years is all most in our field get out of talent. I wanted us to be an exception. We were an exception. We had an attrition rate of less than 5%. This came from my strategic goal of making SicolaMartin a career destination for really smart, really creative people. And I would tell everyone who came on board that it was a commitment I’d make.

The next step in creating culture enthusiasts is to onboard all new employees with a consistent company message. I would take new hires through a two-day orientation. Not training… training comes from the departments and teams and that goes on quite a bit longer than two days. But we would specifically orient for two days. All teams, all managers know they don’t get their employee until orientation is complete. Included in this process, of course, is all of the paperwork, policy overview and benefit information that HR has to do. But that’s not the meat of it. What’s more important is that we’d take every new hire through the “great 8”. It’s an eight-slide presentation that sets the foundation for “making the complex compelling.” It’s a capabilities presentation, one that we would give to new clients, and so every Martian on day one could tell that story. We’d go through the history of SicolaMartin. We’d talk about our leadership and our departmental organization. We’d define our recognition programs, get them enthusiastic about receiving an award and let them know how to nominate their co-workers. We’d talk about our communication channels—like our blog, our twitter and FB feeds, our intranet, staff and department meetings. We’d discuss schedules and expectations. We’d review the performance planning process. And every new hire would sit down with our Leadership Team. They’d sit down with representatives of every department. Every department. Because every agency, every company’s process is a bit different and we wanted to educate from day one on how we operate. There are several benefits to this: 1) we’re setting the employee up for success. They are going to know how to do their job. 2) Because of that, there aren’t any excuses. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but we’re decreasing it exponentially. 3)By placing current employees in the position of representing SicolaMartin, and specifically their department, to new hires, they are organically becoming company enthusiasts. Yes, you have to keep your company in mind and, granted, you may have to scale this, but it can work. Think about how this type of submersion orientation may benefit your company.

Ok, so you’ve hired with your culture in mind and you’ve fully saturated them with your company story, now comes the follow though. You have to do all the things you’ve promised. You have to be who you said you are. Education is going to be crucial. Continued training through the department, ongoing performance conversations with managers, outside development opportunities to build skill sets. And theseare important, not just for those recently hired, but for all employees. I would argue they’re even more critical for those that have been with the company for an extended time. Don’t lose sight of your super stars. Don’t get complacent. If you are enthusiastic about them, they will continue to be enthusiastic about you.

I know you all can agree with me that this is good practice. But will all of your management teams agree with me? And that’s the trick, I know. Getting your leadership on board with these practices. Next, I’ll conclude with some statistics that may surprise you and help you impress your boss.

Originally published February 8, 2012, on

Creating Culture Enthusiasts: Part 1

Who do you believe more? The paid spokesman telling you that “Brand X” is the best or your neighbor who spent the entire dinner talking about how she can’t live without it? Enthusiasts influence.

So, how do we go about instilling enthusiasm for our brand within our workforce?

Let’s look at what enthusiasm is: 1) a lively interest 2) something inspiring zeal or fervor 3) strong excitement of feeling.

Can you imagine if all your employees had zeal for your organization? Not just for their specific job—although job satisfaction plays into this. But real fervor and excitement for your company. For your mission. For your story. Just think about what could be accomplished if employees became an advocate of your brand.

It’s truly win-win. Employees are happy, productive and committed, which leads to great success for the corporation.

So, how do you get there? First things first, you have to have something people can get excited about. There has to be something they can rally around. Maybe it’s your product that drives it. Maybe it’s your leader. Maybe it’s a service you provide. Those specifics can vary. But all of those things go into making up the culture. And that, we all have. Whether it be good, bad or stagnant. Your company culture is there. In the most simplistic of terms, the culture is simply the personality of the organization.

The cultural core of a company is composed of the beliefs, values, standards, worldviews, moods, and communication of the people that are part of the group. These are the invisible manifestations of culture. They are the really powerful stuff. Some of the tangibles, or visible manifestations, that your culture may help define are the dress code, the work environment, the benefits and perks and so on.

Take a moment and think about your organization. What are the intangibles? The tangibles?

My judgment would be that if you immediately had several responses come to mind, that were positive, then you have a pretty healthy culture. You’re in a good spot to continue building. If you had to struggle a bit, think a little bit harder, then a culture exploration might be a good initiative for you and your leaders to work through. I’ve blogged on that before.

Once you identify your culture components, how do you make sure those on staff are aware? Because even though something exists, that does not mean that people are actively aware of it—engaged and enthusiastic.

The first step is this exercise. Putting concrete definition around your organization’s culture. It can be pulled from internal attributes or taken from the public mission of the company, or both. Again, this is examined more closely in my blog. I also know you can find other resources to help in this process. The culture at my agency SicolaMartin certainly represents both—internal and external components. Every single employee will tell you that SicolaMartin make the complex compelling. It’s the positioning statement. But they’ll also talk about the Flying Saucer, the Ninja Awards, the 3 I’d Martian, the core values of respect and honesty, monthly staff meetings, the People Team and the fact that the President kicked everyone else’s ass in Wii Olympics.

You want to make sure that whatever your culture is, you have people on board who will embrace it. This concept has to be a key point of strategy in recruiting, onboarding and throughout career development.

I utilize three key opportunities for culture installation. Simply put, be authentic, be consistent and follow through. We’ll dive deeper into how to make each of these work for you in the next section.

Originally published February 7, 2012, on

Communicating Culture: Part 2

Hello again. If you’re new to my blog postings, may I suggest you take a couple minutes and check out Part 1 of this topic exploration on corporate culture. In it, I talk about what culture is and suggest ways to help define your company story. It sets this post up nicely (I think).

Here, I want to discuss the concept of culture change. I say “concept,” because each organization is so unique in its practices and goals that there’s really no easy formula to guarantee a positive culture shift. But I will attempt to lay out a broad roadmap that those not faint of heart might want to travel. But I warn you, it’ll be fraught with danger. Ok, maybe not danger (there’s really no need to be that dramatic) but it will be hard, frustrating and possibly take a long time.

The first thing I suggest is to get buy in from management. This can be tricky, depending on if the leadership agrees or not with your assessment of the culture. If you feel you might have a challenging time effecting change—due to roadblocks from above—then do your homework and build a case. You don’t want to walk in unprepared. Create informal focus groups and talk to employees and trusted members of your industry. If you can solicit information anonymously, then great, as folks tend to be a bit more honest in that format. Once you feel like you’ve got a good cross-section of data, analyze it with an eye towards specific improvement projects. And wear your skin thick. You asked for this, so don’t get bent out of shape at all the negative comments. Then buck up and advocate an action plan. Sell it into leadership and move forward, openly communicating with employees. Be as transparent as possible, communicating often and consistently on how these changes will benefit the WHOLE. I can’t stress the importance of this enough because you are going to face resistance. Remember, your culture is a reflection of your people. There’s a reason your culture is what it is. This is why it’s so hard. But change can happen, as long as you and your management teams are persistent and consistent. You just have to keep moving forward and repeat the exercise with the entire organization in mind. Broaden your focus groups. Get those that are resistant to change in your core group of change drivers. If you can get them on board, the rest will come easier. Continue to analyze your data and stay focused on a few items that will have the biggest impact. There’s most likely no need to start from scratch, and in fact, trying to do so will probably alienate the very folks you’re attempting to motivate. So, stay focused and take it chunk by chunk, story by story. And if you can, evolve your stories. Get people telling a different, more positive narrative about your organization. In time your culture as a whole will evolve, as well.

Originally published June 7, 2010, on

Communicating Culture: Part 1

I’m HR and so I tend to talk a lot. Communication is a big part of what I do and knowing how to best communicate in a given situation is key. And although most of my conversations are done one-on-one (how I like it), I had an opportunity recently to share our company story with a larger audience… and it was enlightening.I was invited to speak at an HR conference on corporate culture and to discuss ways that companies can learn to tell their story (I had it pretty easy, because SicolaMartin has a great story to tell). I also met folks from other great companies, like Rackspace and St. David’s, who—like SicolaMartin—score high on the culture scale. But I was a bit shocked to hear from so many whose companies seem to be suffering from an identity crisis. So I thought I would contribute a blog post (or two) on this topic of culture from HR’s perspective. It’s an area I am extremely passionate about. A passion inspired and nurtured by the leadership of SM. And it will also finally get that “she’s a slacker and has not written anything yet” statement off my page of the website.

Culture, in its most basic description, is your organization’s personality. Personality can be defined as the visible aspect of one’s character and develops over time based on preferences, choices and exposure to different experiences.

Your company has a personality. A culture already exists. Whether you like it or not is the question.

Before I go any further, let me tell you my point of view on HR’s role in an organization’s culture. We are there to support it, cultivate it, manage it and recruit into it… we make suggestions, offer insights and (if it’s a positive culture) use what the culture offers to inspire. BUT, we don’t create it. Or, in my opinion, we shouldn’t. Culture, at least long-term successfully sustained cultures, is created by the top leadership of the organization. If your C-levels aren’t exemplifying the culture you hope to communicate, then it’s going to be an uphill battle to get the employment force to believe in it. We’ve all experienced that, right? Without buy-in from above, it’s very difficult to get a program off the ground. It can be a challenge, though, selling it up because so much of culture is intangible. Sure, there are the things you can see that give you a quick read about a firm. The dress code. The work environment. You can ask about perks and hear about the benefit offerings. But that’s pretty surface.

It’s the things you can’t see that are usually the more powerful, but by nature, harder to define. And it’s these things that truly make up the cultural core of a company. It’s the values and beliefs, the attitudes and standards, the moods and worldviews of the people in the group.

And much of these views are created organically. I’m a big fan of organic growth and it can be an extremely positive thing. But, granted, there are some risks. On the “pro” side, organic implementation gives ownership to those instigating the change; it allows leadership to be perceived as open to new thinking and ideas. It can create loyalty among employees and most importantly, it creates its own story.

But you want that story to be a good one, so it’s HR’s role to support positive cultural momentum and redirect practices that could lead to opposing the company’s values and goals. And that’s the risk. If you just let it go with no management or cultivation, there’s no telling where your company’s story may end up. So, first, you have to know what the values and goals are. Does your company have a mission? Do you know what it is? Do your employees? This is how you can support a positive culture—by asking the right questions. Look to your industry. Advertising is fun and creative. We work hard, but we can also have Martians and critters (check out our website if you don’t know what I’m talking about). We make the complex compelling. That’s our story. Every employee knows that we turn marketing complexity into compelling ideas. But what’s your story? That’s the most important thing. Knowing who you are. Identifying your key talent and asking them what they like about working there. Where are they getting their motivation? Talk to clients and vendors. Get their perspective. Just make sure you’re being authentic with who you are. If the story you’re trying to tell is at odds with the reality, it’s going hurt your culture, morale and perception more than help.

But it’s not good enough to just know it. It has to be practiced and supported by management. If a core value is RESPECT, but a manager is disrespectful to an employee they supervise, and no action is taken on the part of HR or leadership, that value diminishes. That’s why it’s so important we stay engaged with our employees. Don’t ever underestimate the impact of word of mouth.

You’re not always going to be able to keep what’s repeated about your organization positive. I get that. But as HR, we can certainly manage it with that goal in mind. Even in exit interviews you can do your best to manage the transition and shoot for a positive result. You see, culture can’t only be good in the good times. Often, it’s in the down times that our true selves, our true culture, are revealed. In fact, it’s a strong culture that may help your company pull itself out of a downturn. That’s another experience SicolaMartin has had. We’re 25 years old…we’ve pretty much seen it all.

And although we have had to tweak our business model over the years to evolve with the times, we really haven’t had to make many changes to our core culture—thankfully—because culture change can be difficult and require a great deal of perseverance. But, if you find yourself at an organization in need of change, we’ll talk about some of the things you might be able to do to get that going in Part 2. Stay tuned.

Originally published June 2, 2010, on