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Seth Stein shares his key takeaways from the insightful discussions held at The Culture Forum. 

Recently, I attended The Culture Forum in San Diego, where I engaged in a variety of conversations with other business leaders on how they’re building a strong culture within their companies and the results they’re seeing. Business leaders gathered at the Forum from organizations large and small, from all over the world, all at various points in their culture journey. There was genuine energy and excitement about building company culture at the leadership level because of its many potential upsides.

These conversations included practical strategies to build culture, some of which I discussed beforehand with event founders and speakers Garry Ridge, former CEO of WD-40, and Stan Sewitch, former CHRO of WD-40 and Founder of Sewitch Etcetera. But throughout the course of the talks and individual conversations I participated in, a few key themes stood out to me.


Successful Leaders Are Engaged With Company Culture More Than Ever

There is a greater emphasis now in shaping culture in ways that will engage employees as well as grow the bottom line. This heightened focus has been fueled in part, not only by research demonstrating the correlation between culture and results, but also by the pandemic and remote work changing the face of work, as well as by newer generations entering the workforce with new expectations.

Workers just entering the workforce want work-life integration, which Davin Salvagno, the Founder of PurposePoint, discussed in detail. According to Davin, the essential ingredients for a great culture include purpose, mission, vision, and the why. Companies need to clearly define each of these elements, and leadership must model those values every day. When a worker’s personal purpose aligns with that of the company they work for, they can have an impact on issues they care deeply about. This is empowering for the employee, which in turn, benefits the employer.

Regardless of recent events or generational differences, leaders are waking up to the fact that an engaged workforce and strong company culture are no longer just for tech startups or non-profits; companies across many industries and of many sizes are realizing the benefits.


Building Culture is Harder Than it Looks

There is a recognition on the part of business leaders that building an enduring company culture is a complex endeavor that takes careful planning, constant attention, and thoughtful revisions. In other words, it’s hard work. It’s a common misconception that company culture means superficial niceties like free lunches, bean bag chairs and foosball. But discussions at the Forum really brought home the point that building successful culture needs to go deeper.  

As Chester Elton, Partner and Founder of The Culture Works, put it, “the soft stuff is actually the hard stuff”. Building a strong company culture based on shared values means embracing the work involved in promoting transparency, empathy, honesty, opening channels for employee feedback and even failure, across the company. Additionally, it’s not easy as leaders to admit to making mistakes, but it is vital to modeling company values, and to building a transparent and supportive culture. We can embrace mistakes as learning moments as Garry Ridge has said, and become stronger for it.

A critical component of building company culture is having the right people. Rachelle Snook, a former Eastridge employee, now the Global Head of Talent at WD-40, discussed the importance of fit criteria and values alignment in building company culture. This means clearly identifying and communicating the values that underlie the culture you seek to build, so that employees can see themselves in it, and to help attract candidates that have the right characteristics to build it further. I’m proud of the work that we’ve been able to do at Eastridge in this regard, leveraging our core values and Eastridge DNA to help identify future team members on top of their skill sets. It’s been a key part of our growth and it was gratifying to hear other leaders are finding success with similar initiatives.


Strong Company Culture Drives the Bottom Line

Company culture can be seen as a luxury only large, successful companies can afford, or that involve investments that take away from the bottom line. But I was struck by conversations and presentations again and again that tell another story: culture is essential to bottom line success.

Virtually every speaker agreed that values and purpose alignment form the foundation of company culture, and when coupled with coaching rather than managing, the combination can have a profound impact on empowering an employee. This is not something that can only be taught, however; it also comes as a natural extension of being in a company culture that values innovation, solutions-base service, and partnership. I have seen this in action at Eastridge, where our workforce experts will go the extra mile to formulate recruiting plans that challenge clients’ status quo, digging deeper in order to source not just a larger pool of candidates but the right candidates. 

There were so many different facets of The Culture Forum; many more than I can address here.  But the key takeaways really point toward a future of successful leadership rooted in purpose and values. Winning companies today are the ones that can leverage a strong company culture, engaging their employees, who are responsible for delivering the best products and services to their customers. As Garry Ridge said, “If you have a highly engaged workforce and a pretty good strategy, the outcome will be a lot better than if you only have a great strategy.”


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