Award-winning corporate cultures about values, feedback, communication

A look at 3 employers selected for Waterstone Human Capital’s annual list
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/28/2013

Two years ago, the Rocky Mountain Soap Company decided it needed to better define its corporate culture. While the natural products company had a culture centred around the personal values of its owners — kindness, generosity, compassion — it now had 10 stores and 500 wholesale accounts.

“We realized that the perception of our culture was changing as we grew, and we really wanted to make sure that we managed how the culture evolved so that we stayed true to our original values and ideology,” said Jules Tough, CEO of Rocky Mountain Soap Company in Canmore, Alta.

“I’m a firm believer… in the value that having a great culture can bring to an organization. When you’ve got team members who are engaged in the company and the company’s purpose and company’s values, it creates alignment. And the power of alignment and engagement shows up in all parts of the business, not just in productivity and efficiency but in all the aspects of our business. So we truly believe it makes us a much more powerful and strong organization.”

That respect for culture helped put Rocky Mountain on Waterstone Human Capital’s 2012 list of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures (in the “growth and small cap” category), which recognizes best-in-class organizations for having a culture that has helped enhance performance and sustain a competitive advantage.

To better define its culture, Rocky Mountain came up with a list of 10 values and presented them to its 150 employees.

“We got lots of feedback through the process — it was tremendous — and it actually shaped the final five values that we came up with,” said Tough.

These are “positivitude” (a positive attitude), being kind, giving it a go (having courage and enthusiasm), cultivating team spirit and customer service is an extreme sport (reflecting the company’s mountain setting).

The values are communicated and reinforced through various methods, including core value stories presented at meetings, a reward program for above-and-beyond behaviour and posters at every location featuring a story for each value. Rocky Mountain also completed an employee “happiness survey” to see how people felt about the organization on a number of different levels.

Acklands-Grainger a winner in enterprise category

Also a winner was Acklands-Grainger, a 123-year-old distributor of industrial, safety and fastener products that placed among the 10 employers in Waterstone’s enterprise category.

The 2,600-employee company integrates performance drivers into all of its people processes — from hiring, performance, succession planning and training to rewards and recognition — to ensure it attracts, promotes, develops and retains exceptional talent who model the company’s culture, according to Donna Pascal, vice-president of human resources.

And it starts with clarity for team members, so they understand what is expected of them.

“Our performance drivers help to really drive a lot of the engagement that you see today,” she said. “Starting with clear expectations — what we need from people to be successful — and linking that in terms of how we reward them and recognize them, has been key.”

The five performance drivers are: wow the customer, have a winning attitude, drive for the best results, make the team better and lead the way.

“This is how our leadership team build the legacy and build that culture for every team member, so they link it in their performance reviews,” said Pascal.

“Being very transparent on these expectations creates that culture and creates that trust in our leadership team and drives that engagement for our team members.”

Culture has also been integrated into the recruiting processes, said Pascal, which means looking beyond just technical skills.

“The difference with (our interview process) is really the focus on the questions around the performance drivers and questions around fit and culture, and trying to find that team member that comes in with that passion about the business, the resolve and the determination to support our customers and do the right thing at all times.”

To help reinforce that culture, leaders go through extensive training while employees participate in regular “let’s talk” sessions, similar to town hall meetings, with leaders of the company.

There is also a “let’s talk” email program where team members can send emails to executives on any topic that is a burning issue for them and receive a response within 24 hours.

“You’ll see a nice diversity of all different levels in the company that use the system as a way to also get access to top leaders in the company to hear their viewpoints or get resolution for something,” said Pascal.

Eagle soars with winning corporate culture

As a staffing company, Eagle Professional Services has always tried to focus on its culture, which helped place it on Waterstone’s 2012 list among the mid-market winners.

“The staffing industry is a pretty high-paced, high-stress… micromanaged kind of environment. When we formed the company, we wanted to try and do things a little differently,” said CEO Kevin Dee in Toronto.

The organization has three core values: team, integrity and excellence. More recently, it added innovation to reflect the industry, he said.

“They’re not things we stick on the wall and say, ‘Aren’t they nice.’ Whenever we have management meetings, we try to tie the core values back to any decisions that we make, and we won’t make decisions that are not aligned with our core values.”

The values and culture are communicated to employees in a variety of ways, said Dee, such as an onboarding program with a fairly structured set of modules for new employees that include learning about the history of the 16-year-old company and its culture.

It’s also about trying to create a meaningful environment people want to be in, said Dee. On that note, Eagle is working with the University of Calgary and Calgary Economic Development, a corporation funded by the City of Calgary, in developing a pilot for a flexible work program.

“The idea is to create an environment where people will be able to work with their managers to come up with a structure that works for them,” he said, citing the ability to work from home as an example.

“(Employees) have to sign up to a set of metrics that they’ll meet, so we expect some productivity gains from them getting these perks.”

As for the high-stress industry, Eagle tries to alleviate the pressure for its 100 employees by treating them as adults, said Dee.

“We’re not going to measure you on every little single piece that we could measure you on. If you’re delivering and doing it in the right way, maintaining the quality and the process that our company expects you to maintain, we’re going to give you flexibility.”

And if people are struggling, the company’s philosophy is to help them be successful, either through internal training programs or mentoring, said Dee.

A supportive culture is also endorsed with regular social events and monthly celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries.

The Waterstone awards help Eagle to be a better company, said Dee.

“They’re very focused on internal, our culture and... the better our culture is, the better chance we have of attracting the best people and keeping the good people we have, so it’s important to us from those perspectives.”

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