Whether you are trying to change culture or to create it, our panel agreed that leaders are responsible to walk the talk and set the tone. It requires strategy with deliberate actions and guidance. “A pizza lunch is not culture,” said Jim Estell, CEO Danby Appliances.

Walking meetings, mentorship, listening to staff, instilling confidence and embracing diversity are all components of creating positive culture according to the panel:

Jim Estill // CEO, Danby Appliances

Jill Fisher // Owner & CEO, Lighthouse Lemonade

Tom Hughes // President, EarthFresh Foods

Martha Van Berkel // Co-founder & CEO, Hunch Manifest/Schema App

Jodi Van Dam // AVP, HR Consulting Services, The Co-operators

Rob Villapiana // Operations Manager, Hammond Manufacturing

Values are tied to culture

Be Excellent to each other

Honesty Transparency Integrity

Do the right thing

Overarching value statements that are integrated into leadership, expectations and operations provide guidance and can set the cultural tone. Van Berkel said their staff embrace being excellent to each other, whether it’s doing the little things like emptying the dishwasher or how they treat each other.

Transparency is a critical value to EarthFresh Foods. “Transparency is apparent in our building; [intentionally] where office and board room walls are glass,” said Hughes.

“Do the right thing,” is printed on Danby business cards according to Estill. If people do the right thing, “I’m okay with failure,” he said. “We need to always try something new. Having a failure, doesn’t make us a failure.”

The panel agreed that values also need to be integrated into hiring practices to affect positive culture.

Change is hard and it takes time, said Villapiana. “Communicating values, in many different forms, reminds us of who we are.” He added Hammond Manufacturing’s culture is about creating a sense of family. In fact, they even subsidize tuition for children of employees.

Some of the panel’s suggestions for keeping culture in mind when hiring included: designing interview questions based on the company’s values, focusing on whether the candidate will be a good team member vs if they have all the skills, hiring based on values-alignment and off-boarding when values aren’t aligned.

“Fit is important,” said Van Dam. “But you want to be careful to include diversity. You don’t want ten people just like you. Diversity of thought reflects our clients too.”

Diversity enriches

Embracing diversity in age and all areas is important to Van Berkel. “We employ new grads and those who may be planning retirement. It’s beautiful. I manage people differently, not ages,” she said.

Some panelists suggested mentorship to leverage diversity encouraging two-way learning and easing onboarding for new employees. Some match new employees with senior ones. Fisher said she asks new employees train newer ones, so they feel part of the team. Another panelist is using a third-party coaching strategy to elevate skill sets in certain employees.

Perks & Benefits

In addition to listening to employees, providing benefits and supporting mental health were common themes among the companies represented on the panel. Onsite yoga, fitness trainers, healthy food and encouraging employees to speak about their mental health are some of the strategies discussed. One leader starts her conversations with staff by asking, how is your head and how is your heart?