How Putting Employees First Creates a Winning Culture

Employee Experience4 min read

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How do you create a culture where people stay longer and customers are happier?

Especially with today’s young workforce in many technology companies, where the grass may seem greener on the other side or the next big career move is around the next corner, how can you retain top talent?

It starts with two important aspects of employee life, and life in general, for that matter:

  1. Meaning
  1. Connection

Pete Hess, CEO of Lithium Technologies, recently chatted with us on the What Culture Could Be Podcast, and his first-hand insights into creating a culture of teamwork and long-term tenure were valuable for teams large and small.

From his first major promotion to a management position after proving himself to be a high-performing salesperson to serving as CEO at two successful software companies, Hess shared valuable lessons in managing people and creating a culture of putting employees first.

Amazing Employee Experiences Lead to Happy Customers

While working at Advent software, Hess was faced with leading a team and wisely sought the advice of the then CEO, Stephanie DiMarco.

His desire to find some direction on what it takes to manage people was met with sage advice:

Focus on the success of your team and the success of your customers, and the results will follow.

Hess learned that focusing on the people working for him and beside him created a tight-knit team that lead to long tenure among the management team (and the entire organization) at Advent. When relationships were developed deeper, people tended to stay longer.

How Do You Retain Good Talent Today?

In the fast-paced workplace today with current generations in the workforce often switching jobs and companies every 3-5 years, is it even possible to achieve the type of tenure Hess and his team at Advent were able to realize?

Despite what others might say, there certainly is reason for hope.

Hess compared their approach at Advent to that of a farm system used by Major League Baseball teams. They hired young, invested a lot of training into new hires, promoted internally as much as possible, and tried to minimize outside hires at the executive level.

He shared how he often pointed out to his younger employees that staying put a little longer can actually be a good thing for their careers. By learning and growing within a company and a team that they have become familiar with, their development will actually increase at an even faster rate.

During the Dot-Com Boom (and Bust), Hess saw many employees leave Advent and eventually come back when their new opportunity didn’t exactly pan out.

It was there he learned a valuable lesson in putting employees first and what it means to the brand of your organization:

How you treat employees (and even former employees) affects your business, your culture, and your brand.

Hess described a phenomenon that became known as “boomerang” employees that left and then came back to Advent (even multiple times).

By treating employees who left the company with respect, even holding regular alumni events that celebrated current and former employees, the company was able to bring back top talent that went searching for a better opportunity elsewhere.


Creating a Culture Where People Want to Stay

There are three key components to creating a culture where employees have a strong desire to remain a part of the team:

  1. Help them feel like they’re progressing in their career

Provide opportunities for promotion, added responsibility, and a vision for their personal future, as well as that of the company.

  1. Keep them challenged

When team members become bored, they lose their passion for the work and their team.

  1. Make recognition a regular habit

Even more than recognition for the task at hand, any time you can tie recognition to the daily work being done and the overall mission of the company, you’ll create an environment where people want to stay. Feeling connected to the mission of the organization and feeling like they are contributing to that mission gives your team members a deeper sense of meaning.

Listen to "What Culture Could Be," a podcast by Kazoo

How to Connect Meaning and Mission

All too often, companies (especially those in a high-growth mindset) begin by focusing on the what of their brand:

What are we going to offer?

What is going to be our value proposition?

What are our differentiators?

With this approach, company culture ends up happening by accident.

It may turn out to be a good culture, if there is strong leadership at the top for others to emulate, but it is never well defined or communicated.

You can end up with some pretty good cultures, depending on the circumstance, but it’s accidental. And very often you don’t end up with great cultures…

— Pete Hess, CEO, Lithium Technologies

A better approach, in which you’ll be more in control over the future culture your team will produce is to start with the why and the how of your company, then get to the what.

Hess shared how they tactically approached this concept at Advent.

He created a team of leaders, not just by title, but by responsibility and those with internal influence within the company culture. Through somewhat of an internal think tank, he saw the team discuss the purpose of the organization, including:

WHY they existed

HOW they were going to make a difference

This lead them to define the values that were going to be critical to carrying out the mission that they had come up with together. The flushing out of the mission was not something that happened by the C-Level executives and was simply sent out in an email to the entire organization.

Listen to "What Culture Could Be," a podcast by Kazoo

It had been discussed with passion and open dialogue by various team members at all levels of the organization.

All of this informed the ongoing what of the organization as they approached their day-to-day work.

Continuing to Stoke the Fire

Hess cautioned that even when leaders initiate this healthy sort of internal discussion about the company’s mission and vision, it cannot be a one-time event.

Repetition and continuing to create opportunities for open discussion among the team were critical for his team, Hess shared.

It also took a lot of hard work at being vulnerable.

To passionately discuss sometimes emotional topics like mission, purpose, and meaning, team members have to have a level of trust with one another. This doesn’t happen without everyone on the team having a baseline of understanding and genuine care for one another.

These aspects are what make the real conversations possible about deep topics that impact company culture.

By allowing your team to contribute to the vision of the company, finding ways to connect that to their daily work, and fostering a sense of closeness within your team, you will begin to build a culture where people put forth their best effort.

There is no way this sort of culture will produce unhappy customers.


Your culture, in some ways, enables your whole business to take on the persona that you want, which is your brand.

— Pete Hess, CEO, Lithium Technologies

Then, happy customers will build your brand and your business for years to come.

This post is based on an interview with Pete Hess from Lithium Technologies.

To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to What Culture Could Be: Cracking the Company Culture Code.

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