A Positive Company Culture
A strong company culture is essential to providing world-class customer service and keeping employees focused, happy and on the job for the long term, several experts say.
"A company’s culture plays a huge role in excellence," said Travis Aggson, branch manager and associate certified entomologist at American Pest Management, a Rentokil company.
Communicating company culture begins before an employee comes on board, said Amanda Forrestall, co-owner and chief financial officer with Pest-End, a family-owned business that has grown from about 55 employees in 2016 to over 80. Pest-End’s decision to add interview questions to determine if an employee is a good fit with the company culture has proven successful in reducing hiring mistakes that lead to employees leaving.
"Even before we get to the technical questions during the two-part interview, we are looking at the person and asking ourselves: Do you mesh with our core values?" she explained. The first part of the interview focuses on core-value questions that "have nothing to do with pest control. We are asking situational questions such as, what would you do if this happens? We try to get a sense of how they live their everyday lives. A lot of it is gut intuition, but we’ve found that the three- or four-member hiring team usually gets it right."
While the extra steps in the hiring process "do not make it easier to hire, they do make it easier to retain employees, and that works better in the long run. Once we get employees on the job and integrated into our company culture for a few months, they tend to stay a long time."
AJ Treleven, director of operations, for Sprague Pest Solutions, a family-owned business whose nearly 300 employees service commercial customers across the West Coast, agrees. "We highlight our values when screening applicants, during the interview process and, once hired, into the employee’s quarterly performance reviews. We are not just going to look at quantitative results, but we want to know and reward people based on the qualitative—how they are living up to the core values."
All three said engaging employees in the creation of an organization’s mission and core values is essential to ensuring that they embrace those values. "You can’t dictate it from an office," Treleven said. "Culture is where the employee meets the customer. Leadership can help shape it, but everyone has to live it."
For leaders, "being intentional, being curious, learning about what is it like for the person who gets in the truck every day" are key tools in shaping a culture. "A technician may only see a senior manager once a month, but that technician needs to be able to make decisions in the field that reflect our company culture," said Treleven.
As it formulated its core values, American Pest asked long-term employees to tell a facilitator "what American Pest means to you," Aggson said. It also surveyed its clients about their impressions of the company. "We threw everything up in a word cloud and were able to identify our culture," which helped it "come up with our core values as a team," he said.
Just as it does during the hiring process, American Pest vetted the company it chose to acquire based on its core values. "We wanted to make sure the company matched our core values and our goals," he said. "If there isn’t a culture match during an acquisition, it’s not going to work."
Teaching and reinforcing corporate culture can become difficult as a company grows or changes ownership or senior leadership, all three said. They suggested evaluating the culture and goals frequently. "Core values evolve," Treleven said, noting that Sprague reviews and updates its core values at least every two years with the help of a consultant and insight from employees.
Forrestall said her company surveys employees at least every six months to understand their concerns and routinely reiterates core values and tests staff on them. Aggson said it is important to ensure that the existing mission and core values align with current circumstances.
Recognition Programs Can Reinforce Core Values and Company Culture
While developing core values and company culture, rewarding employees for exemplifying those values is a great way to retain personnel and improve morale.
Sprague Pest Solutions reinforces its company culture through regular interaction with employees, including frequent visits to branch offices, ride-alongs with technicians and ensuring that every employee "feels seen and heard," Treleven said.
Every year the company hosts a two-day event to discuss company culture and ideas for improvement, culminating in an annual gala to recognize employees for excellence. The meetings are "our main culture event of the year, allowing us to discuss our long-range vision and expectations, and hear from the employees about what is working and what is not." Numerous coveted awards are presented during the gala, including Technician of the Year, Branch of the Year and Salesperson of the year.
Pest-End recognizes its employees each week, month and for the full year with its Shining Star award. The award goes to an employee who professionally or personally exceeds job expectations. Employees can nominate each other, which helps "nurture a collaborative environment and reinforce weekly the need to embrace core values," Forrestall said.
Quarterly awards feature a prize of the winner’s choice valued up to $500. The Shining Star of the Year award recipient receives an extra week of vacation, two round-trip tickets anywhere in the continental United States, five nights in a hotel and $1,000 in spending money. "We believe this award system keeps our culture at the forefront of their minds," Forrestall stated. "We are reminding our employees that they are not just words on the wall; we are paying attention."
American Pest awards, promotes and honors the employees that "live by our core values," Aggson said. Each month the company issues a "challenge coin," the highlight of the company’s monthly meetings, he noted. The size of a silver dollar, the coin features the company’s logo on the front and its seven core values on the back.
Employees identify actions taken by a colleague that exemplify the company’s core values and nominate them for the coin. "This is particularly important because if you can’t recognize when someone is embracing our core values, you probably don’t understand the core values," Aggson explained.
Suggested Reading List
Our experts highlighted some books about developing, teaching employees about and supporting a company culture:
Traction by Gino Wickman was recommended by both Forrestall and Aggson. "The model presented in the book allowed us to work through the six components of business [that Wickman outlines] to create a weekly cadence that holds us accountable," Aggson said.
The Core Value Equation by Darius Mirshahzadeh helped us "to dial in on choosing the right words as our core values and identifying if they reflect who we are as a team," said Forrestall. "It also reinforced the importance of keeping our core values at the forefront of all that we do in hiring, firing, rewarding and recognizing team members."
The Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street allowed us "to define how to include our core values as part of the interview process," Forrestall said.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is a fictional account of a company working through dysfunctions that a team can encounter, Aggson said. "This easy read follows a new CEO who has to make tough decisions to make the company work as a team and prosper."