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Why leaders should care about their company culture

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

"Employees are your most valuable resource." It's an idea so trite that it yields 212 million hits on Google. And yet, it also demonstrates that employees are important.

But how do you create a workplace culture that makes employees feel valued and part of something bigger? By making culture a priority.

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Culture is often overlooked as a business driver because it's an asset without a dollar value. But those who neglect it do so at their peril. When I became general manager at Edelman five years ago, I made culture a priority. We changed how we worked together. That attention to culture has yielded measurable financial results: improving our retention rates, attracting the smartest talent¸ and helping to triple our revenue.

The model we used can be replicated. It's based on four Cs:

1. Core values: Successful organizations have identified their core values, and those values provide the guideposts for how employees are expected to behave and do business. For Edelman, a core value is entrepreneurialism. We encourage people to take risks. Whatever your core values, employees need to be aware of them and, more importantly, see them reinforced daily.

2. Co-create: Ask your employees – not just leadership – what kind of culture they want to be a part of. You'll be amazed at the ideas that flood your inbox when you bring them into the process. At Edelman, we set our annual employee engagement priorities only after seeking employee input through a series of brainstorm sessions.

3. Communicate: Regular communication – not just top-down, but bottom-up and peer-to-peer – within your company is essential to building the right culture. A key element to this is a commitment to transparency with your employees, which builds their trust.

At Edelman, we hold quarterly lunches for peers across our practice groups to ask employees for feedback on how we're doing, and where we need to improve. That information is then shared back with the leadership team, and where it makes sense, we will adopt or incorporate their feedback into our initiatives.

4. Celebrate: Look for opportunities, both big and small, to let your employees know their work is recognized and valued by leadership. In our client-driven business, people often have to sacrifice their weekends or cancel dinner plans at the last minute. We take the time to celebrate their successes, whether it is a new client win, a remarkable campaign, or something exceptional a team member did to support his or her colleagues.

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Each of the four Cs demands authenticity. This isn't something you can fake, cover off with an e-mail or a staff meeting. It takes a long-term commitment to be different. Make sure anyone who walks through the door knows what your values are and that they are prepared to live them. Relentlessly seek input from your employees to refine the vision and bring it to life.

Your employees, of course, are your most valuable resource, at least when you are in the consulting business. The trick is to make them feel that way.

Lisa Kimmel (@lisakimmel) is general manager of Edelman Toronto (@EdelmanTO). Edelman (@EdelmanPR) is the world's largest public relations firm. Lisa has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada by the Women's Executive Network.

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