When organizations embark on the journey to establish an intentional corporate culture, they generally start by establishing clarity on the bedrock of an organization’s DNA: values and behaviors. I’ve worked with many people who roll their eyes at this notion, thinking that selecting values is “stupid” or “a waste of time.” In some cases their thinking may be right (though I’d quibble with the choice of words), depending on the organization.

But let’s be clear, the vast majority of organizations — either enterprise-wide or within large business units — benefit greatly from meaningful dialogue around organizational beliefs and expectations. The important outcome: clarity about what the organization stands for; who they hire, promote and retain; and where they invest their talent dollars.

When should organizations go through this effort?

  1. When everything is going great– and you can’t imagine why you’d ever need this clarity.  When things are going extremely well and it feels as if the organization is running like a tight ship, it’s still important to memorialize what got you there. All organizations go through periods of disruption, and it’s important to have those guiding principles at hand to serve a framework moving forward.
  2. You’re hiring a lot of people. You’ve grown a lot, but now you’re about to grow at a more accelerated pace. You’re no longer able to hire friends or friends of friends and now you’re hiring strangers (gulp!) — and sometimes those strangers are now managing employees. Corporate values create clarity about hiring and expectations on the job, streamlining onboarding and increasing the likelihood your new hires will work out.
  3. Significant executive leadership team member turnover in the past two years.  These values should create an essential foundation for how teams operate and interact with one another. If you’ve had significant turnover, it’s worth either revisiting your stated cultural values or freshening them to represent where the companies stands today.
  4. Retention and low employee engagement are real issues. These metrics are signals that something is off– and starting with either affirming or updating your corporate values creates both clarity and alignment for any organizational health initiative designed to address the root cause(s).

The effort to clarify your corporate values is a big one and when done well, there is brainstorming, rigorous debate, prioritization and alignment. These values should be aspirational and honor where you’ve been and where you need to go This usually involves facilitated and structured meetings to lead to a healthy outcome that everyone can buy into.

Unfortunately, most companies do not understand how to clarify the values unique to them. Many times the fault lies in a lack of ongoing commitment and communication. When working with companies in cultural distress, I’ll see the values on walls– and usually even in performance reviews. But when speaking with employees, they feel the values are an “HR” thing, and don’t represent either the current reality or where the organization is looking to go. Of course, this lack of alignment can cause skepticism or disillusionment, and employees can feel disconnected, which can drive turnover.

Companies committed to establishing their values must also have a strong commitment to living them. This can be done by ensuring that hiring and promotion criteria are aligned, employee communication is robust to ensure clarity with organizational purpose and managers are prepared to lead according to your bedrock values.

Catherine Malloy Cummings is a breakthrough human resources strategist known for her ability to transform HR teams into champions of revenue and agents of business growth. She is also a speaker and author, serving as a passionate advocate for HR’s potential to drive corporate strategic advantage. Follow her on Twitter at @ChiefHRChampion.

Professional success isn’t achieved overnight. A career is marked by years of actions taken around goals: setting and re-setting them, failing to reach them, hitting small milestones that together mean big gains, abandoning the ones that take us down unproductive paths and revising our strategies to accommodate changes. This goals journey, so to speak, is what shapes our lives in our chosen professions.

Our newest infographic walks through an employee’s professional journey in the context of taking a flight. Just as a pilot must navigate the steps and sometimes challenges of getting to a final destination, so must an employee to reach their objectives.

To learn more about the process being achieving our goals, download our eBook, What Famous Quotes Teach Us About the Goal Pursuit Journey.


You’ve spent time and energy developing a new employee engagement strategy. You get the green light to implement new processes. Now here you are, 30, 60, even 90 days in, and you still haven’t seen the results you expected. Here are five reasons your new strategy isn’t working:

  1. Your executive team is hands off. It is HR’s job to care about employee engagement, right? Wrong. The CEO and senior leadership team set the tone for how the company values are carried out, how employees interact and even how often your employment engagement tools are used. This article from Forbes says, “The engagement of an organization’s executive team is the starting point and is the most critical element in the engagement of any organization.”. If your senior leadership team doesn’t take your engagement processes seriously, neither will anyone else.
  1. You think it can be “achieved” and then checked off the list. Engagement isn’t something that can be measured during one point in time and then taken off the list. It’s a living, breathing, continuously changing part of your company culture. Sure, there may be certain times where it moves up the priority chain (times of transition, M&A activity, particularly high or low sales levels, etc.) but it should always – always – be on the list.
  1. Your managers aren’t holding up their end of the “two-way” conversation. To make manager-and-employee interactions truly valuable, you need to re-frame how they view feedback. Encourage an environment where employees initiate feedback and give managers the tools to be better coaches and mentors. Before implementing a new performance management process, conduct proper training for your managers and communicate the benefits of real-time feedback.
  1. You expected too much, too soon. A new culture isn’t born overnight. Whether you’re looking to overhaul your culture or make small improvements to a positive one, no one change will “solve” your problem immediately. For a new strategy to be truly effective, employees must incorporate it into their daily lives, which takes time.
  1. You aren’t course correcting your strategy as you evolve. Change inevitably happens. An engagement strategy isn’t static and should be continuously evaluated for effectiveness. Conducting regular surveys will go a long way in allowing your employees to help shape the processes that make up your company’s culture.

The right employee engagement strategy will give you the wrong results if you don’t consider these potential challenges. How you implement your strategy is just as important as developing one.

While seemingly a fairly straightforward process, there are a lot of places where an employee survey can go wrong. The distribution list is too broad or too narrow. The survey itself is too long or too short. You don’t give respondents enough time to answer, or you don’t give them an incentive to respond at all. There are many variables when it comes to the survey process, and they are all important to get right.

All things considered, we’d argue that the most important part of the survey – and should take you the most time to complete – are the questions themselves. Even if you’re already conducting surveys regularly, if you’re asking the wrong questions, you won’t be getting the right answers. A good place to start is this list of do’s and don’ts.


The most critical “do” is first on the list. Go into the process with a goal in mind. What are you trying to uncover, and what are you going to do about it? Not following up on survey results can alienate employees, lead to distrust and lessen the likelihood of participation in the future. Before jumping into a survey project, meet with your leadership team to set the clear expectation that action must be taken. It will go a long way in creating an open dialogue with employees through surveys.

As for the “don’t” – don’t be a grammar stickler. While we don’t deem this most important, it will help you get off on the right foot. If you are using an online template to formulate your questions, chances are the language is more formal than what’s used around your office. If you want honest answers, ask straightforward questions. Match the tone you would take if you were asking these questions in person.

If you want to learn more about crafting employee pulse and benchmarking surveys that yield insightful, actionable responses from employees, download our Shift Your Employee Survey Approach whitepaper.

From the moment candidates enter your office, they are getting a front row seat to your company culture – whether you can see it or not. When people talk about culture, the often discuss the tangible things like casual dress, free lunches, company-wide happy hours, etc. But there is much more to a culture than the physical. From how the receptionist greets candidates, to what they overhear while walking past your employees’ desks, to the types of questions they are asked – everything gives them a sense of your organization.

Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes and ask these questions to better understand the interview experience at your company. If you find yourself cringing at the responses, you might have a culture problem.

  • Is there anyone in the common areas of the office interacting?
  • In a group interview with a team, are the co-workers at ease with each other or is there tension?
  • When you ask questions about their experiences working at the company, do current employees hesitate before responding?
  • What kind of general feeling do you get while in the office?
  • Ask questions about how employees are evaluated on performance. Is there a clear process in place that seems fair?
  • Does the company host any social gatherings or annual parties for employees?
  • Is the interviewer asking any questions that seem to have a negative bent to them? (It could be a sign that they’ve had a bad experience with an ex-employee in your role.)
  • Could you imagine yourself celebrating the successes of your would-be manager and team?
  • Does the team seem to have an open report with each other, or do they act as though they work more in silos?

Employees are the heartbeat of your company culture so if there’s an issue, it’s going to be hard to cover up during the interview process. No matter how attractive the tangible benefits might be, candidates can sense when something is off.

So what do you do when you realize your culture is in trouble? Find out why. Take a pulse survey of your employees to understand if different departments, teams or locations are more unhappy or engaged than another. From there, you can dig deeper into the underlying causes so you can formulate a solution.

The employee experience starts in the first interview and savvy candidates (the ones you want, right?) will immediately know if your company culture is a selling point, or a reason to run for the door.

“People are our most important asset.”

“There is no ‘I’ in team.”

“Our talent is our competitive advantage.”

We’ve heard them all, and (ideally) in every company we’ve been lucky enough to work in, the leadership team truly believes each statement. But rarely do I meet the CEO or head of HR who have taken the painstaking (and worthwhile) time to answer the critical questions about the organizational culture they intend to set:

  • WHY should someone work at your company?
  • WHAT can they expect from their team and organization?
  • WHO are they?

Companies aspiring to be a compelling place to work while simultaneously preparing for scalable and profitable growth spend time asking themselves those questions — and creating a unique career value proposition for talent to thrive. Sure, there may be a poster on the wall with values crafted at an offsite leadership team meeting, but that doesn’t mean the words on the wall mirror the day-to-day reality. And even worse, rarely are those values then used as a foundation for organizational culture decisions.

Why should executive teams take the effort to create an intentional culture?

  1. If you don’t, it gets created for you. Without clarity of expectations and norms, your team will react to each situation without context. The results? Perceptions of favoritism or special treatment and before you know it, you’re cleaning up people problems that were completely avoidable.
  2. Culture frameworks minimize mistakes in hiring, promoting and structuring teams. You’re more likely to both attract and select talent that will thrive in your organization, improving retention and likely discretionary effort. The confidence in your hiring process and low turnover then fuels scalable growth — a win-win.
  3. Clarity is king.  Ambiguity is the enemy. In the absence of information, people will make assumptions and handling thorny people issues becomes even more difficult. When there’s clarity around who you are as an organization and how you expect your team to collaborate, accountability is vastly improved.
  4. Culture frameworks streamline all human capital decisions. Where (and how) you invest in your talent requires thoughtful consideration. For example, Some companies waver for months (or years) on the best approach to something as straightforward as a time off policy or tuition reimbursement. With a framework in place, the decision and tradeoffs become far more clear.

So what should be included in the cultural framework of an organization? Stay tuned in the next few weeks as I’ll share what it takes: values, behaviors, standards of excellence, communication and protocol.

Catherine Malloy Cummings is a breakthrough human resources strategist known for her ability to transform HR teams into champions of revenue and agents of business growth. She is also a speaker and author, serving as a passionate advocate for HR’s potential to drive corporate strategic advantage. Follow her on Twitter at @ChiefHRChampion.

What kind of team award ideas does your company have on tap?

Think about it: You might be recognizing individuals doing great work every day, but what about an entire team, department, or office that’s just pulled off the impossible? Does it feel like they’re getting little more than a quick shoutout at the occasional all-hands meeting sometimes?

When done right, team awards have been shown to increase trust and cooperation among co-workers, fostering collaboration, teamwork, and motivation in the long run.

Recently, we got inspired by a few Kazoo customers’ success stories and new research on team motivation. After a late night in the employee engagement lab, we emerged with 11 Affordable Recognition Awards for Teams!

11 Affordable Team Award Ideas from Kazoo

Download here!
Inside this download, you’ll find a few categories of affordable team award ideas, including:

  • Awards with personality: When recognizing a team’s success, pats on the back or low-value gift cards are fine, but why not put a little more pizzazz in your awards? The ideas here do that at next to no cost.
  • Awards that give back: A significant number of employees are motivated by more than money. Research has shown that charitable giving is more impactful than ever on employee engagement. These ideas allow your team awards to give back.
  • Awards as fun team trophies: Actual plaques or trophies are nice gestures, but often they’re quickly forgotten. These awards acknowledge team achievements with fun items or experiences that may inspire others to step up their game.

So if you think your team award ideas have been lacking to date, feel free to tap into these, and be sure to let us know how they work out.

About Kazoo:
Kazoo is a SaaS HR technology platform that redefines the way companies engage with their employees. By providing tools to connect, reward, reveal and report in real-time, Kazoo can consolidate employee engagement initiatives into one, easy-to-use mobile platform for teams of all sizes. Since launching in 2012, Kazoo has delivered its flexible software to small enterprises and Fortune 500 brands across several industries. Visit youearnedit.com for more information or schedule a quick demo here.