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Being the Best: Cultivating a Winning Workplace Culture

by Jessica Palm | Feb 16, 2017

This morning, TeamKC hosted an interactive event featuring Kelly Reed, Ph.D., VP and Kansas City Market Leader at CMA. Below are key takeaways from the discussion on cultural practices to help attract, retain and engage talent: 

By: Kelly Reed, Ph.D. and Kaitlyn Erb, M.S. (ABD)

What’s the big deal with workplace culture and engagement?

  1. It matters. It may seem like soft stuff, but it drives hard metrics. A report by CEB released last year showed workforce engagement predicted future financial performance and customer satisfaction across industries.
  2. We know that some companies harness people and culture as a competitive differentiator better than others.
  3. It is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all, single “best” company culture. The practices that make one company a great place to work can fall flat at another company, even in the same industry.
Reflecting on these ideas drove us to the question: What are the common themes seen in workplace culture “all-stars” that we all can learn from, and that can help every organization?

So, we set out to identify all-star companies that are consistently recognized as being the best places to work, with the intention to learn from their successes to better inform our own cultural practices. We used archival data from the programs that grant these types of awards to examine trends across awards. Trends since 2011 were tracked from both the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For and Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work. Our final list of all-stars includes companies that were recognized 3+ years in the top 10 winners of either list. Interestingly, Google and BCG were the only two organizations that were recognized 3+ times on both lists, and are thus given particular attention in our report.

Having identified the “who,” we turned next to the “what.” We examined these companies’ most-loved practices (the things employees rave about, the habits that win them the awards) and found four factors that continuously emerged among the group of all-stars. Pulling from employee reviews, summary documents from the awarding organizations, and the many press features of these winners, we share our findings on these disciplines and a few illustrative stories that were particularly impactful along the way.

4 Disciplines 

CMA Graphic

Create an Intentional Culture:
At its core, this is about being authentic and true to the company’s mission. Organizations that do this well know who they are and who they are not. Their engagement practices align with their employment brands, and their employment brands align with their customer brands, strategy, mission, and core values.

  • Ex: Purina1 is known for being a company of pet lovers who “aim to enrich the lives of pets and the people who love them.” They stay true to their sense of self and “walk their talk” with their Pets@Purina program, which allows employees to bring pets to work each day. Purina says #PetsAtWork lightens the office mood, decreases stress, and increases productivity.

Provide a Sense of Purpose: This is all about tapping into people’s desire to do something that matters. Cultivating a belief that work is more than just a job means making it clear to people that their contributions are meaningful and important. Everyone wants to feel they can make a difference using their own set of skills and strengths.   

  • Ex: Facebook2 provides new employees with a quick indication of their purpose and the meaningfulness of their contributions right away: "The instructions are, go find the place that you're going to make the most impact, and think very, very carefully about what that means for you and for the world. Think about where you're going to have that impact, and go do it. People say all the time when they're starting here, ‘That's a really serious set of instructions to receive on my first day.’ But it's reflected in the culture of the company. We're here to try and help bring people closer together, and that's what we do.” 

Encourage Communication: This discipline comes down to making the workplace transparent and seeking collaborative input from all levels. Information sharing and multi-way feedback are particularly impactful in emphasizing these values and ensure employees feel they are informed and have access to all the information they need.

  • Ex: Google’s3 executives hold weekly “TGIF” meetings, in which employees can ask about anything going on in the company. Laszlo Block, Google’s SVP of People Operations, describes their office culture as “default to open,” reinforcing transparency and information sharing.  

Value and Respect Employees: People thrive when they feel valued and respected as individuals. Our all-star organizations manage to communicate their emphasis on mutual respect by focusing on trust, flexibility, involvement, and recognition. Every employee matters, not just for the value they bring to the company and customers, but for who they are as human beings.

  • Ex: Boston Consulting Group4 emphasizes personal and meaningful relationships between employees by hosting the BCG Worldwide Soccer Tournament and other cross-office events. They also emphasize inclusive staff affiliation networks, including: Women@BCG, LGBT Network, Veteran’s Network, and Disability Network. 

Examination of these “all-stars” reveals it’s not enough to excel at just one or some of the disciplines, but that there has to be some level of mastery of all four. Truly outstanding companies are always striving to keep getting better. The disciplines are simple, but require intentionality, effort, and support from top leadership to translate into outstanding cultures.

Remember: there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter, “ideal” culture that applies to every company, and playing the imitation game is not likely to give you a competitive edge. However, by cultivating these four disciplines in ways that align with your organization’s mission, values, strategy, and customer brand, any organization can be a great place to work. 

Begin a self-audit of your organization’s cultural practices. Where does your company excel and where does it fall short? What can you do today to move your company’s culture needle in a positive direction? Does your organization…  

  1. …have a clear and consistent culture that aligns with the organization’s mission, values, and strategy?
  2. …help employees live out their purpose at work in ways that align with the organization’s purpose?
  3. …foster communication, feedback, and information-sharing?
  4. …make people feel trusted, respected, and valued as human beings, as well as for what they contribute?

For media inquiries, more information on this topic, or requests for an advance copy of the forthcoming white paper, please contact Kelly Reed, Ph.D. To access the Winning Workplace Culture presentation worksheet, click here


  1. Glassdoor 
  2. Fast Company
  3. Huffington Post
  4. Great Places to Work

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