Creating a Values-Driven Culture that Works

Written by Michael Sternklar | December 30, 2017

Values are just words unless backed by behaviors.

2016 was a year of positive organizational changes for benefitexpress. An investment from LLR Partners brought new leaders and a new drive for growth. Not 6 months later, we acquired Sacramento-based benefitsCONNECT, expanded our leadership team, and began the process of integrating our two organizations. Though 2017 may have seemed quieter, we've been hard at work to create a scalable framework for success.

With organizational changes already underway in the company, we had an exciting opportunity: we could start an entirely new organizational culture. With help from a volunteer Culture Committee, the executive leadership team could redefine our company values - and how we expect those values to show in our work - for the company going forward. Here's what we did, how we're doing a year on, and what you can do to replicate our results.

Our community pillars at benefitexpress - Accountability, Creativity, Empowerment, and Engagement - are important indicators of what we value in our organization. Values mean nothing unless supported by actions. Saying we value accountability means nothing to our clients if we miss a deadline. Putting the word "empowerment" on our hiring materials doesn't help our users; giving customer care representatives the ability to address issues without consulting multiple managers does. When identifying our core pillars, we linked each value to a concrete action that would support it.

Sometimes, those concrete actions are unpopular; it's easy to excuse high performers from upholding your corporate culture. When you're seeing the results you want, it's tempting to avoid reinforcing the way you want employees to achieve those results. Again, though, values are meaningless unless backed by behaviors. This is as applicable (if not more so) for an organization's leaders as it is for employees. We have been consistent in enforcing our community pillars across both offices and every level of our business. If every executive and manager isn't aligned in promoting and guiding a company's culture, a culture initiative won't be successful - and it may backfire.

Promoting culture isn't just in the behaviors you dissuade or enforce; one of the best ways we cultivate a winning corporate culture is in the way we reward employees. Our Cheers for Peers and Standing Ovation programs reward employees who go above and beyond in embodying one or all our community pillars. Cheers for Peers is a small, everyday way for employees to publicly recognize their coworkers for going the extra mile. Standing Ovation is a $2,500 award given quarterly to two outstanding employees who change the way we do business through our core values. One of last quarter's winners streamlined our processes to save one of our departments over 20 hours per month. The other winner started an email campaign to increase engagement on a small scale, which has since expanded across our client teams. Our culture is the driving force in the ways we pay, promote, and reward employees.

Culture plays a large part in the way we hire, too. In an organization of our size, every employee can have a direct impact on the direction of our business. That's an exciting position to be in, but it also means culture fit needs to be a major part of the decision for each employee. Our hiring team makes our values and expectations clear from the beginning. Having a defined culture helps us continue that culture going forward - and avoid making the wrong hires.

So, what does the data say about the success of our culture initiative? When it comes to the effect on our bottom line, keeping our top talent means the clients we work with are happier. In fact, our client referenceability and retention rates have never been higher. In addition, our growth is picking up pace.

Through combining the values important to our business with the behaviors that drive them, we've truly created a culture that will drive benefitexpress forward into the future.

 

Topics: Company Culture