Telling Your Company’s Culture Story
Editor’s note: Recently, DaVita was featured in a Forbes article that focused on companies with well-known cultures and companies that do things a little differently. With permission from Forbes, we reprinted it below. The original Forbes article can be found here.
Have you ever read an article about a company that made you think, “Man, I’d really love to work there,” or networked with someone who told you about their company while gleaming with pride, which made you think, “Where the heck do they work?” Experiences like these are the reason why companies that focus on cultivating an infectious culture and communicating that culture externally drive excellent business results, retain employees and generally enjoy a thriving work environment.
While thousands of companies and organizations develop culture and do their best to communicate it, there are three common themes that companies that are known for their culture and loyal workforce do differently.
1. They are intentional.
Companies that discover increased success ensure everyone within the organization is aware of the aspects of the company culture and go out of their way to prioritize keeping that culture alive. For example, Southwest Airlines has been making headlines with stories of its engaging culture for years. Southwest’s core values include: warrior spirit, service heart and fun-loving attitude, and prides itself on perpetuating its culture through the company’s greatest asset — its people.
Employees at Southwest can participate in the company’s Companywide Culture Committee (CWCC). Southwest’s CWCC is made up of employees all throughout the company — from flight attendants to individuals who work at its headquarters. Amy Thornton, culture and employee engagement communication specialist at Southwest, told me, “These individuals are culture advocates who go out in the community and encourage our employees to own, strengthen and promote our legendary culture.” This includes any activity — from appreciation events on the ramp to cleaning up an aircraft on behalf of the flight attendants and crew of an incoming flight.
Companies also create intention around their culture by honoring employees who exemplify or live out the aspects of their defined culture. Our company, for example, recognizes teammates by presenting individuals with core value awards. These awards are named after the company’s seven core values. Teammates celebrate together and intentionally recognize examples that vibe with the mission, vision and values of the organization. These defining aspects of the culture drive every business decision the company makes, as well as the hearts and minds of over 70,000 teammates.
2. They honor where they came from.
Another important common thread that culture-centric companies weave into their day-to-day is celebrating their roots and defining bonding rituals. For example, in 2013, famed global mountain resort operator, Vail Resorts, owned a whole lot more than ski mountains. Their business was fairly diversified with resort properties in the Caribbean, various hotels and other ventures.
Despite great success, leadership in the company decided to focus their efforts wholeheartedly on what they felt deeply passionate about and could be best in the world at — their core business, ski mountains. According to Jeff Klem, vice president of talent development at Vail Resorts, “Our culture goes back to passionate people, the outdoors and our mission of creating the experience of a lifetime for our employees and our guests. We decided that’s the area we focus on.” Today, this story is told and the unique culture is celebrated among the company’s more than 30,000 employees.
3. They don’t force it.
One major theme among all of these organizations is that the culture is not rigidly defined. Rather, employees exemplify what “living the culture” looks like to them. At Southwest, the culture has a different meaning to everyone in the Southwest family. According to Thornton, “There are consistent trends and we have core values around how we live the Southwest way, but each employee has their own way of showing culture.”
At DaVita, teammates take ownership of the culture. After understanding the company’s history, mission, vision and values, teammates are asked to reflect on whether or not they want to invite living the “DaVita Way” into their leadership and lives. If so, they can choose to cross a bridge that is both a literal and figurative symbol of a commitment to this mission.
Vail Resorts manages others by committing to developing deep understanding and practice in each of the company’s core competencies through unparalleled focus and development on leadership at every level. “We strongly believe that our focus on developing leadership as the prominent characteristic of our culture has directly contributed to our success — financial and otherwise,” said Klem. “All this is in alignment and support of our vision to reimagine the mountain experience around the world and of the amazing communities in which we work while providing significant return to our stakeholders.”
To sum it up, groups that are intentional about creating their culture, honoring their history and encouraging their employees to incorporate the organization’s missions and values in their own unique ways, create a solid foundation for how culture is communicated externally.