Developing Corporate Culture

June 30, 2016

With everyone touting corporate culture as the only truly sustainable competitive advantage, many executives are asking “how do I develop a corporate culture?” The answer is you already have one. But is it the one you want?

Change Corporate Culture by Defining and Embracing It

A desirable corporate culture is comprised of two elements: a healthy and positive work environment and a strong sense of collective identity. While these may sound like organic qualities that a company either has or doesn’t, here are seven systems and processes that can be designed to cultivate a positive culture:

  1. Benefit design – A thoughtful suite of benefits and resources to support an employees’ overall well-being. This may include onsite healthcare, coverage for family and dependents, financial counseling, educational grants, etc.
  2. Environment design – A physical work environment that support clear thinking, collaboration, and provides access to healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity during the day.
  3. Role design – Responsibilities that match skills and passion, with opportunities to experiment and grow; thoughtfully assembling teams based on natural strengths.
  4. Performance review and advancement decisions – Rewarding individual growth and mastery of skills, rather than competition; consistency and transparency around expectations and value of work contributions.
  5. Leadership style – Strong emphasis on how leaders are selected, trained, and coached to reinforce the values of the organization in day-to-day supervision.
  6. Company communication – Fostering a shared sense of ownership with honest information about business performance; providing opportunities for employees to take part in the conversations–feedback to managers, discussion boards, idea generation, and celebrating successes.
  7. Sense of purpose – From a constant focus on the organization’s “Why” (see Simon Sinek’s talk here) to stating a purpose for every project, work must be meaningful. Why we work determines how we work.

While each employee may be motivated by their own sense of purpose in their daily work, together they can rally around a collective sense of identity. Whether it’s innovation, customer service, creativity, edginess, technical accuracy, or deep knowledge, there is probably one thing you’d like your organization to be known for. This simple theme should be reflected in the mission and behavioral code of an organization, attracting individuals who identify with it and creating a sense of belonging and cohesion that leads to effective performance.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but organizations can build high-performing cultures by aligning systems and processes with a focus on people and what intrinsically motivates them: the desire for mastery and achievement, connectedness with others, and a strong sense of purpose.

Culture is a Strategic Priority at Marathon Health

In 2014, leaders at Marathon Health took stock of our organization’s culture, noting that the passionate, trail-blazing spirit of our origins had been diluted over ten years of rapid growth.

Our focus on culture began simply and organically…First, we changed our terminology to call all employees Ambassadors—on a mission to deliver a better healthcare experience. Then we set out to discover our core values, by listening to Ambassadors around the country talk about why they do what they do. The six values that emerged—Integrity, Compassion, Respect, Exceptional Service, Teamwork, and Living the Mission—became the Ambassador’s Code, enthusiastically adopted across the company.

Other culture-building initiatives included new professional growth opportunities, a company intranet with discussion boards, a community service and giving program called Well Together, and a series of friendly competitions around health and activity with company-sponsored Fitbits.

What has come of these efforts? A quick glance at the discussion boards makes a compelling case for increased employee engagement. In April 2016, Marathon Health was ranked #2 on Best Places to Work in Vermont, our first attempt to make the list. The recognition resulted in unsolicited resumes, improved brand recognition, and a lot of organizational pride.

Cultivating positive culture is a work in progress at Marathon Health, and the job will never be over. But in an increasingly competitive marketplace, we’re convinced that being a great place to work will keep us ahead.


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