Culture and Shoes

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) Conference. It’s always a highlight of the year and chocked full of inspirational speakers, industry leaders in engagement and real-world applications that can be put to use immediately. This year was no different.

I like shoes, so I headed to the session featuring the very authentic Jamie Naugton, from Zappos. Her title in the promotional materials was “Speaker of the House,” and her comments made it clear that it’s not your typical house. Her role is creating the dynamic culture to ensure that Zappos stays relevant to its employees and its customers. We all know that Zappos is constantly making headlines for its unique and audacious culture, and she’s a big part of making that work.

What struck me most about her presentation was how she answered a question about measuring culture. Her off-the-cuff, sincere response was something like, “If the CEO wants to know the ROI (return on investment) for employee engagement and corporate culture, you’ve lost the war.”

I couldn’t agree more, and we’ve seen our clients struggle with that conversation internally. While metrics and data can be useful tools for running and managing the business, culture and engagement hover above that spreadsheet and are usually best answered by the “gut feeling.” It’s a tough answer for shareholders and finance gurus, but it’s the only way to see the big picture. A simple number or score can’t indicate how well it’s working and guiding the organization.

Most organizations have defined mission, vision and value statements. They are available to all employees. They are printed on the walls. HR will hand them to new hires on their first day. In the case of Zappos, the company is well-known for producing its “Culture Book.”

From my perspective, culture is complex. It’s a hybrid of workplace habits that are formed over time because the behaviors are rewarded and recognized. And, when it’s done well, culture can be taken for granted … it becomes so natural that you don’t consciously recognize it. You could say, it’s the equivalent of wearing a great pair of shoes. You shouldn’t really notice that they are there.

When you select your shoes every morning, you pick them to complement your purpose and mission for the day. They probably match your outfit. Ideally, they fit comfortably and offer the support you need. Corporate culture isn’t much different, in that aspect. It needs to be thoughtfully selected and well-cared for, and it should bolster the corporation.

Just because the shoe label says it’s a “9” doesn’t always mean that it fits. And, culture is the same way: Any engagement score is just a number—only living in the culture can tell you whether or not it really fits.

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Ann Camden is Managing Director, Client Service, G&S Business Communications. As a business strategist, Ann believes that strategic planning is the foundation of all communications. Ann plays an integral role in developing strategies to build and enhance corporate reputations and strong brand identities for clients in agribusiness, advanced manufacturing, technology and professional services. She also manages external and internal communication efforts on a broad array of organizational needs ranging from change management and employee outreach to marketing programs. She has led GSU, the G&S internal management training program, and is a member of the Midtown Raleigh Alliance and the International Association of Business Communicators. Ann is a long-term member of the Advisory Board of Communications at Elon University, and an active board member for EarthShare NC. Ann was honored as a Triangle Woman Extraordinaire by Business Leader in 2011 and received the Horizon Award from National Agri-Marketing Association in 2012. Ann has a degree from Purdue University. Ann applies her life philosophy of “go above and beyond” to both her client service and her training for road races.

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