How to Create a Corporate Culture of Excellence


Workplace culture is more important than ever. A corporate culture of excellence is a competitive advantage, enabling employers to attract and retain top talent and drive employee engagement, leading to high levels of corporate performance.

Research shows:

Corporate culture is “the way things are done around here.” It exists in unstructured, unspoken and even unconscious ways reflecting beliefs, rituals, behaviours and processes. Culture trumps strategy and can enhance or undermine success. Maintaining a high-performing culture requires constant self-assessment and improvement.

A culture of excellence isn’t an accident; it must be created deliberately. Changing corporate culture is complex and takes time and commitment.

Start With Your Strategy

First, you must be clear on your business strategy. Your desired culture must flow from your strategy and contain elements that will be critical to your success.

Your organization’s ideal culture must be uniquely yours. You can’t copy another organization’s culture and values and expect them to work for you. Netflix’s original Culture Deck went viral online and describes their culture in depth. Some of their practices are unconventional (such as unlimited vacation time); they work well for Netflix but could cause chaos in other organizations.

Companies spend an average of $2,200 dollars per employee on culture improvement initiatives annually, yet only 30 per cent of CHROs believe it’s a worthwhile investment, according to Gartner Inc.’s Culture Conversations Every CEO Must Have With Their Head of HR working paper. These efforts may not work well because employees aren’t clear on what is expected of them.

Employees should feel connected to the organization’s purpose and see how their role fits into the bigger picture. The better you articulate your strategy, your desired culture and the behaviours required for your organization’s success, the more engaged employees will be, improving performance. It’s important to establish your “why” and remain accountable. A sense of urgency is also crucial to provide the impetus for change.

At BlueShore Financial, we communicate our vision and goals, expectations of employees and what they can expect from us, ensuring a basis of purpose, trust and teamwork. Our values statements describe our commitments and they are ingrained in how we operate. We follow a framework that provides an action-oriented translation of how to demonstrate the key behaviours contributing to BlueShore’s success, customized to every stage of employee development. For example, accountability is one of our values; to further support this, our core competency of “results-focused” includes an expectation that employees take initiative to create solutions and overcome obstacles.

Foster Ownership for Culture Throughout the Organization

Although HR leaders are often custodians of the culture, senior leadership must drive the desired culture. They are familiar with the strategic plan and what’s required for success. Leaders must be exemplars of the culture and model desired behaviours, creating a collective sense of unity.

Managers can improve culture with every new hire. While skills and experience are important factors, consider how an applicant would add value to your culture and the team. Don’t compromise attributes that make your desired culture a reality, even if it means hiring a less-skilled individual. You may also find some current employees no longer fit. A key element of a high-performance culture is acknowledging that and dealing with them respectfully.

All employees are responsible for corporate culture. They contribute to it through attitudes and actions. Encourage the true leaders at all levels of the organization: those who take ownership and accountability for upholding the culture and take action when something detracts from that culture.

Align All Elements of the Employee Experience

All elements of the workplace experience, including structure, processes and policies, must be aligned. These should support the expectations you have of employees in order for culture change to take hold.

Reviewing all elements of the employee experience can be daunting. Take a systematic approach and involve your employees as they have first-hand experience of any inconsistencies. Inviting them to participate in the evolution of your culture will increase their ownership of and commitment to it.

There may appear to be a disconnect between the ideal state and the current reality. It is important to acknowledge this and be clear on limitations. For example, many traditional organizations want to evolve to a more digital culture, a key value of which is autonomy, empowering employees to do what needs to be done rather than relying on formal policies. However, autonomy may look different in a startup than in a company in a highly-regulated industry. In the latter case, leaders must clarify the desire to increase autonomy while operating within the regulatory framework.

When shifting the culture, consider the values and practices that made you successful in the first place, and whether they need to be tweaked rather than abandoned; for example, continually focus on results if your previous practice was to conduct performance reviews only annually.

Assess, Strengthen, Celebrate, Repeat

Even a strong culture is, and will be, a work in progress as culture is always changing. Employers must not become complacent. Especially in large organizations, leaders can become disconnected from the front lines. It’s important to ensure strong communication mechanisms are in place so leaders truly understand the culture. Leaders can solicit employee feedback on their experience of the culture through regular surveys, pulse checks, face-to-face meetings and town halls.

Since culture and strategy are closely linked, you should check in to ensure employees continue to have a good understanding of your direction and where they fit in so they can continue to co-create and improve culture consistent with your objectives.

As the culture shifts, celebrate successes, large and small, to maintain momentum. Examples of employees embodying your desired culture and the impact on your business go a long way to encourage and motivate others.

A culture of excellence is key to long-term business success. It’s a journey that begins with small steps toward improvement that can make a world of difference.



Marni Johnson, CPHR, is senior vice president, human resources and corporate affairs at BlueShore Financial. In her 23 years at BlueShore, she has held several different portfolios and has collaborated with remarkable teams to develop a high-performing, award-winning culture and deliver exceptional organizational results.

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