Many times when company culture is mentioned, people get a visual of the Google HQ campus of their employees riding company bikes or dropping their kids off at the company provided daycare.
Then a couple of years ago, you started seeing tech startups Instagramming their office kegerator while wearing jeans and a beanie with a retro-style, picture-perfect office complete with a yoga ball chair.
Now don’t get me wrong, we definitely have our fair share of virtual happy hours and Instagram worthy boomerangs of team members going head to head on the ping pong table in the office game room. But if you take away the “stuff” and the break time moments- it’s the everyday happenings and interactions that truly define the culture.And while this glamorized, sexy, new laid-back hipster office style did attract the new talented workforce to apply for the coveted openings... something else also started happening. It’s the realization that the office swag and posed Instagram shots doesn’t tell the full story of a company’s core “culture”. This became the photo definition of what many said was “company culture”.
It’s like the difference between that guy you dated in college and the forever partner/best friend you married. While the freshly polished and chivalrous dreamy college boyfriend took you out on the town sparing no expense on your first date, by week 5 you realize that the ex-girlfriend was right about the temper.
When you find your forever partner that stayed with you the whole 6 days you had the flu 🤒 and looked like death warmed over... and then showed back up next week with a truck to help your mom move into her new house, that takes someone who really cares about you. Not just anyone would volunteer to help move that Hutch up a flight of stairs! 😬
True Brand Culture is just like that! It’s the person that cares for you when it’s hard, messy, and sometimes even inconvenient. Culture is the core personality of the brand behind closed doors, in front of everyone, online and in-person, to the top revenue earning client to the team member who just needs 6 extra weeks to stay home with their newborn baby. Culture is the heart of your brand and starts from the inside-out.
Who you are and what you truly believe will set the tone of the environment, policies and service of everyone you come in contact with... and this will become the lens to which your team, clients and community view the brand identity... and ultimately the judgment of what experience to expect.
Culture - It’s Not Just A “Big Tech Company” Thing
Culture isn’t just for Google and Facebook HQs. Starting from the inside out means that each and every person you hire enhances or changes your company culture. And that’s why it’s so important not to hire on skill alone- companies must hire the whole person because energy, personality, community building, CARE, relatability and authenticity isn’t something you can train but you can model it and attract more people to your brand. @JessikaPhillips (click to tweet)
It's super sad to see companies still operating in the old mindset ideals of just hiring for tasks and not soul. They need to understand that today hiring (and firing) is a HUGE decision that will make or break them in the next 3 years. Every single relationship your brand encounters will either add culture credit or culture debt. Brand culture above all today is king.
Companies must hire people that believe in the company culture, it MUST be mutually beneficial or it will not work. The world is watching what a company does not what they say. Nothing is just simply behind closed doors... clients, team members, and future clients talk publicly and privately within dark social channels.
People are watching to see how brands treat their team as a reflection of how they will be treated by their team and the company as a whole. If team members don’t have the right culture fit or if the brand doesn’t create a great culture- the writing is on the wall as to how many days that company can survive when customer experiences are the #1 reason someone chooses a company today.
Not to mention that Word of Mouth (now world of mouth) is how the believable rumors (aka not marketing messages) about a company experience spread.
Brands should really take note of this:
- Hire for culture fit above all. Hire people smarter than you. Encourage your team privately, publicly, and frequently! @JessikaPhillips (click to tweet)
- Provide ongoing training for them to continue to uplevel! If a team member outgrows your organization that’s an amazing thing, not a threat! They’ll be loyal if they know you really care for them as a person vs them as a task list.
- LISTEN and encourage your team to try new ideas, get creative! Let them lead! Building leadership is not a threat, it’s being a team. @JessikaPhillips (click to tweet)
- You can’t get mad at team members that don’t help when things are going bad when you’ve never allowed them to have the confidence or a voice. You create the atmosphere of just doing the job, no more/ no less when you do that.
- Let them be themselves and have their side passions.
- Understand and have grace for your team and they will for you when you mess up. Don’t discourage and demean a team member for making a mistake. If your culture is right, then they’re already beating themselves up about it for you.
- If you as a brand beat someone down for making a mistake... guess what, you don’t eliminate the mistakes.. all you did was ensure no one ever shares the mistakes with you and when that happens more mistakes are made without the opportunity window you may have had to use it as a learning opportunity for everyone as a coach would do. (Of course, the only exception to this is if the situation had to do with integrity or putting someone in harm’s way)
- Brands must be flexible with how their team works: ie- the where/when/how they can deliver their best work at the highest level. If you’re unsure of what they need to accomplish this, ask. And I don’t mean just ask and wait to hear everything is great, really ASK- how can we be better and do better? When they share how to improve- take action on it!
- And listen to their ideas!! -Many times it’s the team members that understand what your clients and community want and how to deliver it wayyyyy more than their owners anyway. @JessikaPhillips (click to tweet)
As a brand, your message is bigger than your product or service.. and nothing speaks louder than how a company treats those that are the closest to them.
One Of The Hardest Lessons I’ve Ever Learned
I learned these lessons first hand when I worked for a telecommunications company. Working my way up from customer service rep to sales executive, store manager, and ultimately a Distribution Partner across Ohio and Indiana.
I thought I had my forever job!
I loved Interacting with the clients I served and I was often top sales performer which I knew because of the weekly performance emails our managers in the corporate office would send out. If you’ve worked in a sales position for a corporate company, you most likely know exactly what I’m talking about and currently are feeling the familiar anxiety that these emails delivered.
I mean, all emails would start out the same way:
“Daily Report = X%... then it quickly followed with an ALL CAPS or bold red font listing where we need to be by EOD- end of day."
Slightly highlighted in neon green would display the names of the few of us that are on target to have hit or exceed our personal goals for our store or then the district personal performance reports would stack below. In many cases the names of the reps, managers, and districts below target or just at target highlight in red with a special note just for them calling out of the names of the people who weren’t at their goal.
Now keep in mind, this went to everyone! There was no context around if the person had been on vacation, or had been ill or if they had one new location added on to their list of stores in a new area in which they just opened and even IF they were over last month or the day before ... they were only as good as their report today.
No other context mattered but the numbers. It was as simple as pass or fail and seeing a green highlight across your name was the prize to win. Everything about the numbers beside your name dictated what your daily work environment and overall office energy would be until the next email released.
How you would be treated as a human by your management team and ultimately seen by your peers was at stake after the send button was pushed for your worth to be publicly displayed to thousands.
This push/pull uncertainty created an environment of extreme stress and competition vs collaboration. I’m talking about team members afraid to take a break because while they were out for lunch one of the potential new clients they just invested 30 minutes of their precious time with the day before could potentially return and another sales rep may take their sale. Which this meant- they were a great sales rep for closing the sale and you failed because they didn’t purchase with you yesterday.
It was the hunger games of a sales environment and survival-based not always ethical tactics to do whatever it took to close the sale with the highest ROI possible on day uno. Even if you knew the customer really didn’t need the smartphone with unlimited talk, text with the Bluetooth headset for her 7-year-old daughter- somehow the sales team had to convince themselves and the client,.. they really did...And the hundred dollars a month over budget would mean nothing compared to seeing all the videos they could watch on YouTube while in the living room with another show playing in the background,
In my role as a distribution partner, my responsibility was to support local small businesses that sold our products. I noticed that each quarter that I stopped into their retail stores that I didn’t recognize any of the sales team.. there were all new faces.
My role was to help educate the sales team on new products and services so they could help the customer. But really this just meant make sure that location hits their sales targets and also while you’re in that area, find more potential stores that would be willing to sell for us as well.
This created more competition between the stores and in-turn would put the pressure on each location, and their team members. The locations that sold the most were the locations that would receive the best treatment. Corporate would give them the best prices, early heads up on promos, and ultimately more coveted attention and approval.
But here is where this went wrong- and why it has everything to do with company culture.
Ultimately whatever is happening on the inside will ultimately affect what’s happening on the outside (ie: your customers, potential customers, and overall community perception). @JessikaPhillips (click to tweet)
The constant pressure from the sales team created shady sales practices for the new customers and ultimately the sales reps getting sick from the stress and leaving their jobs (or being fired for simply not producing enough) this would affect the customers who just purchased their phone plans $100 over budget came back to the store to complain.
They didn’t remember really agreeing to the upgrade or even know there was a $39 activation fee… they would come into the store with rage as a result of the sly sales deception and by this time the excitement over their new phones had worn off. When they came back in to complain the original sales rep wasn’t there anymore and team members didn’t want to take time to handle the issue because it would affect their time for new sales. So a nonchalant, “sorry, they no longer work here so we can’t really help you but our customer call center may be able to do something” would come from it.
Let’s just say directing an already upset customer to sit on hold for the customer service center listening to their polyphonic background music with sales messages in-between for 25 minutes didn’t exactly calm them down.
The once excited and curious customers turned into the company's biggest word of mouth anti-company advocate in their community.
Many would shell out $250 to get out of their 2-yr contract but if they couldn’t the more they made it their personal mission to ensure everyone that “could hear them now” knew how this company treated them.
This cycle would just repeat itself over and over again.
The new team members were ill-prepared with training and just told to sell and keep selling, rinse, and repeat. Every promotion, sales pitch, and marketing dollar effort was all directed at just getting new sales. That is until social media rolled out and the local word of mouth advocate was able to spread their WORLD of mouth first-hand experience to more people instantly... and once one story and a review were shared, others quickly joined in.
Now there was nowhere to hide because everything that was being done behind closed doors was now perfectly open for the world to see and the customer was now in control. But back to why I thought I had my forever job at this place (yeah, it sounds silly to me too after thinking back to the toxicity that it really was).
While I could never understand why they wanted me to spend more time with the stores that were always doing well, instead of the stores who needed some extra help... I was lucky in the fact that for me my numbers were the only thing being tracked so I was able to focus my time at each location that needed help.
I loved helping the business owners who were just providing great business and my sales approach was always focused on spending more time in discovery with each client and earning referrals vs sales. I helped other stores I worked with do this as well and when social media opened for them. They were receiving great reviews and people started visiting the small guys who would provide a better experience with a familiar face.
Relationships between sales reps and customers were formed and nothing felt better than watching customers stop back in with baked goods to say thank you to their sales rep for helping them set up their email on their phone and lower their bill.
The managers at these locations treated their team like family and often worked side by side with them to help the team not feel rushed and help the customers feel seen right away. Finally, the good guys are winning and I loved that I could be a little part of helping them grow by focusing on doing the right thing and build a culture of delight.
Then Things Went From Good To Bad...
I was 6 weeks pregnant with my third daughter and suddenly became super sick. Not just morning sickness sick... I’m talking about PICC line in the hospital 8 out of my 9 months pregnant sick. I was devastated enough to be in the hospital and not able to do what I was passionate about but then I received a call from my manager during my third week into the hospital stay. I answered the phone excited to see that she was checking up on me, I mean after all, I was a top sales performer and had been in the industry close to 10 years at this point.
I quickly asked her how my clients were doing and she responded with a pause … and “about that ….”, I knew by the tone in her voice and the awkward silence this wasn’t going to be good, but nothing could have prepared me for what came out of her mouth next. She said, “about that…. we understand that you have not received a discharge date yet and that you may be in the hospital for your entire pregnancy and then I am assuming you will take your six weeks off after that, correct?”
Not sure if I was supposed to answer that or not but I’m not sure it’s legal or safe to go back directly back to work after a c-section especially when your role requires you to be in the car an average of 4 hours a day… but I said, “I hope to be back as soon as possible, I miss everyone… how are they?”
Again she said, “about that... We feel that it’s best for us to move on with another representative that can cover the territory in your absence. And we are going to have to let you go because we only have a budget for one rep per territory”.
I think I went through several emotions at the same time when I heard the words... “move on”.
Confused, anger, sadness, and biggest of all, disbelief! There are still times where I can’t believe any company could let someone go after 10 years of dedication and loyalty especially when they were a top performer AND it was for something outside of their control.
All I could mutter was... “Whaaaa..?”
And believe it or not, she actually responded back in a positive tone and said, “but don’t worry, you know how our company policy is usually that we can’t hire anyone back that we fired?… Well, I talked to HR and they said once you’re better you can come back!”
And it was perfect timing for the nurse to come at the moment and to allow me the opportunity to say… “Sorry, I have to go.”
I had no other words... I mean...what the actual what…. never in a million years did I think I would ever be fired from a job. Work has always been the place I feel most comfortable. I was definitely devastated for a good while..it wasn’t just the health insurance and steady income that was gone the moment I was no longer considered valuable to this company … to them once my numbers were no longer showing up in the green highlights, I was disposable.
One thing I did have in the hospital was time and that gave me just enough quiet to really reflect on the culture I had not only known to be toxic but allowed myself to think it was ok and it will be ok if I hit my numbers. I finally was able to wake up and it was almost as if I was seeing the world and humanity again from a new lens.
But honestly, this was the best thing to happen to me because it opened my eyes to the fact that no one can succeed in a company that doesn’t align with your personal intrinsic values. So instead of going back to the bureaucratic toxic work environment, I decided to launch my own business that simply focused on serving over selling, and building a culture of delight. The sole mission is to help brands love more, give more and be more!
And guess what, we don’t have any sales reps yet we grew to a million-dollar agency in under 18 months simply by focusing on turning our followers into real fans, clients into advocates, our committing to collaborators and our team members into evangelists.
Don’t get me wrong… It’s hard to focus on growing a business culture of delight. The right way can take longer, but I promise you it’s the only sustainable and profitable way to grow your brand. In here's why.. In the super-connected world we live in, there is no hiding who you really are at the heart of your brand.
It always concerned me how companies could just let someone go who gave their all to a company. I could never understand the "it’s not personal, it’s business" line I guess. The worst thing honestly is that many jobs still operate like abusive relationships - keep the “cogs in the wheel” (aka employees) small, out of sight, beat them down enough to where they start believing they can’t do anything better than where they’re at. Oh and if you do start shinning as an employee, there is no cheering you on...there's an eye roll, backed by the wrath of jealously. They consider you property.. so don't even think of trying to gain attention , recognition or value from anyone else but them.
This is not ok at all and the good thing is people are taking notice and the ones who are are launching their own brands or working for companies who get the "Culture of Delight"
It's time more than more than every for companies to open their eyes to embrace true culture and community today. This one area will result in the growth or painful death of a business.
Do you have a Culture story to share? We’d love to hear what you think is most important in company culture today. Let us know in the comments.