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Culture as Foundational


Building Culture From the Start is a Strong Driver for Business Success

The announcement of our annual Best Small and Medium Workplaces list always comes with a few delightful surprises, and 2012 was even more exciting with a wealth of new companies as well as the lists’ publication by Fortune. We welcomed 16 new companies to this year’s list, learned new and innovative people practices, and saw a few intriguing themes emerge. One theme in particular that resonated with me was the number of winning companies that are led by their founders. In fact, over half of this year’s 50 Best have a CEO who is also a founder of the company. How does this relate to being a great workplace, or to the success of the business? It suggests that when leaders take an active role in shaping the company, and incorporate their personal values and individual goals into their business model, an exceptional workplace culture and business success are sure to follow.

#1 Best Small Workplace, Ruby Receptionists, is a great example. The company set out to bring “friendly” back to “receptionists”, and this commitment to a culture of friendliness and exceptional service is a critical factor to their success. The services provided at Ruby Receptionists, their mission statement, value system and unique way of relating to one another are all integrated, making for one cohesive, award-winning culture. Eileen Fisher, ranking at #5 on the Best Medium Workplaces list is another great example of a well-rounded culture. Eileen Fisher has always had a strong brand and products that are targeted to the needs of women. Her people practices are in line with these same values, and her business excels because of it. Similarly, CEO Brint Ryan of Ryan LLC, ranking at #6, started his company as an alternative to “big four” accounting firms. His radical approach to monitoring employee productivity is an anomaly within the industry (you can read more about the hugely-successful Results-only Work System at Ryan in our recent blog, A Model to Decrease Turnover & Increase Revenue).

What this data tells us is that starting out with a strong focus on culture that is aligned with business goals can be a powerful driver for success. This isn’t to say that success is a lost cause if a business doesn’t establish culture right at the start- there is always room for improvement, and plentiful examples of workplaces that have found success from coming together after an upset. Scripps Health was on the verge of bankruptcy when CEO Chris Van Gorder came onto the scene. Van Gorder understood that he needed to work within the unique framework of the healthcare industry in order to achieve his business goals. By uniting healthcare providers and stakeholders, and by creating a culture where they valued one another, he was able to lead the company to unprecedented success. This serves to remind us that it’s often the things most easily put aside that can be the greatest drivers for success; strong company values, a heartfelt mission statement, and a well-integrated culture that are all in line with business goals.

To learn more about the Scripps Health journey to becoming a 2012 Best Company to Work For®, I invite you to check out this brief video featuring CEO Chris Van Gorder.

For more information on how your company can better leverage your culture, contact one of our expert consultants today.

Susan Lucas-Conwell is Chief Executive Officer and Board Member at Great Place to Work®.  An accomplished business leader, Susan provides keen perspective on how building and maintaining great workplace culture drives business success.


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