Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Ten Elements of a Winning Culture

A winning culture

I have been working for the last several months on two new book projects, one of them is a “strategic life planning workbook” called Strategies For Success – the keys to success in school, career and life —  and the other is a compilation of advice I’ve given to senior executives, CEOs and mentees that I have coached over the years. As part of working on that second book, I took a very serious and long look at all of the research I have on how to build a winning culture – the Great Places to Work study, a huge national Gallup poll, the Firms of Endearment study, the new Harvard study on the best places on earth to work and much, much more – and compiled it down to this new list I just created of what I saw as the pattern across all of this research. I thought you might find it interesting, I welcome any feedback, questions, suggestions.

Ten Elements of a Winning Culture by John Spence

  1. People enjoy the work they do and the people they work with.
  2. People take pride in the work they do and the company they work for.
  3. There are high levels of engagement, connection, camaraderie and a community of caring.
  4. There is a culture of fairness, respect, trust, inclusiveness and teamwork.
  5. The leaders walk the talk, live the values and communicate a clear vision and strategy for growth.
  6. Lots of open, honest, robust and transparent communication across the entire organization.
  7. The company invests back in employees; there is a commitment to learning, coaching and development.
  8. There is a bias for action, employees have an ownership mentality and always strive to give their personal best.
  9. There is high accountability and a strong focus on delivering the desired results.
  10. There is ample recognition and rewards and mediocrity is not tolerated.

PS – this list would probably act as a great internal audit, so if you want to you might try scoring it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being excellent and 1 being terrible, and I would be concerned about any scores to drop below a 7.

John Spence

The Cost of Disengaged Employees (and What You Can Do About It)

A guest blog from Sean Conrad

The Human Capital Institute lists some interesting financial consequences of employee engagement/disengagement:

  •  Fully engaged employees return 120% of their salary in value
  • Engaged employees return 100% of their salary in value
  • Somewhat disengaged employees return 80% of their salary in value
  • Disengaged employees return 60% of their salary in value
  • Gallup estimates that a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 of salary.
  • Disengaged employees cost the American economy up to $350 billion a year due to lost productivity.

You can find more about the dollars and sense of employee engagement in this blog post and infographic.

The point is, employee disengagement is costing your business money — every day. And it’s preventing your organization from achieving its potential.

So what can you do about it?

Hire the Right People

On some level, engagement is a character trait. People who are passionate about their work and about life in general, and who take pride in what they do will naturally be more engaged at work. People who can leverage their skills and experience and bring their “best selves” to work are more passionate and engaged. Those are character traits that you can’t “manufacture” or develop in your staff. They have to be there from the start. So make sure your recruiting and hiring processes screen for passion and fit with your organizational culture. You want people on your team who care about the same things you do. Look for a “spark” when candidates talk about their previous roles and the new opportunity.

Articulate and Communicate Your Organization’s Mission, Vision and Values

Of course, you can’t hire like-minded, passionate people if you haven’t yet figured out your organization’s mission, vision and values. And you can’t impassion your current staff if there’s nothing for them to rally to. So think about mission vision and values, agree on them, articulate them, and then communicate them to your employees over and over again. Make sure they’re reflected in your organization’s core competencies and strategic goals. Make your mission, vision and values part of your everyday work conversations. Make them visible and accessible to employees. And hold all employees accountable for supporting them.

Give Employees What They Need to be Engaged

Gallup and others give us fairly consistent lists of what employees need from their employers in order to be engaged in their work.

In essence, they need:

  • Clear expectations and direction for their work
  • Regular feedback on their performance
  •  The opportunity to use their knowledge, skills and experience, and “be their best”
  • The opportunity to develop further and advance their careers
  • Recognition and rewards for their contributions

These seem like such simple things, yet they can be hard for leaders and managers to provide. We often think we’re doing them, then find out that from our employees’ perspective, we’re not.

That’s why having a formalized performance management process that regularly prompts managers and employees to have conversations about goals, performance and development is so important. And doing employee reviews once a year certainly isn’t enough. Most experts now agree that quarterly reviews, especially for progress on goals are critical.

But you need to really build a management and workplace culture where discussions about expectations and performance are a weekly or even daily practice. And employee development needs to be actively encouraged and supported, both through informal, on-the-job training along with ongoing coaching and feedback, and through more formal development activities.

You also need to ensure that employees are recognized and rewarded for the contributions. Recognition can take many forms, from praise to public “thank yous” to company wide communication about team or group accomplishments, and even regular communication about organizational accomplishments that acknowledge team and individual contributions. It should also take the form of appropriate monetary rewards. It’s important to make a clear link between compensation and performance, whether that’s in the form of base pay increases, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing or some other scheme.

Make Engagement a Leadership Priority

Leaders need to not only endorse these management practices, they need to lead by example and charge HR and their management teams with engraining them in the organization’s culture, using formal and informal means.

While you can’t make your staff be engaged in their work – only they can do that — as a leader you can create a work environment and management culture that encourages and supports employee engagement. The research indicates that that is just good business.


Sean Conrad has helped countless organizations improve their employee engagement and talent management practices. He writes and speaks regularly on the topics and is a regular contributor to Halogen Software‘s Exploring talent management blog.

The Ten Biggest Issues in Business Today

During the past 45 days I have presented workshops to more than 1,000 CEOs, business owners and senior executives in several states in the US and across New Zealand and Australia and have been amazed to see an extremely clear pattern emerge about what this widely diverse group of businesses all agree are key areas they must focus on more intently in their organizations. 

Read this list carefully and consider whether these might also be areas that you need to spend more time, effort and resources on in your business.


  1. Lack of a vivid, compelling and well-communicated a vision and strategy for growth.
  2. Lack of specific, measurable, binary metrics that support the vision and strategy.  
  3. Lack of disciplined execution / culture of high accountability.
  4. Do not truly listen to, and deeply understand, the voice of the customer (VOC).
  5. Do not understand our “Moments Of Truth” and therefore do not have processes in place to execute them flawlessly every single time, with every single customer.
  6. Do not do a superb job in talent development.
  7. Do not deal decisively with mediocrity and poor accountability.
  8. Have not invested enough time and energy in building a high-performance/winning culture. 
  9. Not focused enough on innovation.
  10. Lack of trust and true teamwork across the entire organization.

I would say that in the last year, talking to literally thousands of business owners and CEOs that nearly every one of them struggled with at least a few of the things on this list.  It would be my suggestion that you sit down with your top people and score the above items on this scale:

1 = Strongly Agree that this describes our organization.

3 = Agree Somewhat that this describes our organization.

5 = Not Sure if this describes our organization.

 7= Disagree Somewhat that this describes our organization.

10 = Strongly Disagree that this describes our organization.

Anyplace you score a 7 or less should be an area of concern and any score below a 5 should get you very worried.

As you look at this list you might think the items I’ve listed are fairly mundane –just fundamental business practices that you know are important, however there is a big difference between knowing something – and actually doing it every single day.  Most business people I talk to clearly understand that on a scale of 1 to 10 they should be a 9 or 10 on all of the items I’ve listed above, yet very few truly are.  While having lunch with a client yesterday in Auckland, he asked me why this was and I replied that from my experience is because most people are too busy putting out fires and taking care of emergencies to focus on these critical fundamentals, or they do not have the will to enforce them as non-negotiable standards of performance across every part of their business.

Look for more blogs on these topics in the coming months as I will be building several new training classes to address these issues and adding them as chapters in the new book I’m writing.  If you have any specific questions on these issues please send me a note or post it here on the blog and I will do my best to address them.

Hope you are doing fantastic — John


PS – all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy, so I did make sure to take a few days off to go fly fishing while on the south island of NZ!! (And yes, I released it – I release ALL of the trout I catch)

John Spence

The Power of a 3 x 5 Card

Guest post by Mark Miller – I just read his new book: The Secret of Teams – it is excellent!

There’s something extremely powerful in a shared purpose. This may seem obvious to any of you trying to build a great team. But you’d probably be surprised how often teams do not have a common sense of purpose.

man holding index card, focus on card









One of the more vivid illustrations I’ve seen was a non-profit organization I was working with many years ago. It was an organization more than 100 years old! This fact alone seemed to imbue the leadership team with a false sense of clarity. “Of course we know why we’re here,” was their tone as we talked.

I decided a simple exercise might help.  I passed out 3 x 5 index cards and asked each member of the team to answer one question: “Why are we here?”

I collected the cards and read each one. None of them contained anything bad, but you can see where this is headed. Not surprisingly, there was virtually no agreement.

Here’s the point: teams that excel start with a clear sense of purpose. Each of the members of the group needs to understand explicitly why the team exists.

But there’s more… high-performance teams are also able to quantify this. They have a specific goal or goals they are pursuing. They often have a scorecard of key metrics that the team manages.

One additional observation on this – the best teams often have a reason for being that goes beyond performance – it is performance plus something. One of my favorites is the idea that some teams strive to grow performance and grow people. I’ve talked with many leaders that embrace both these as criteria for success. You might even argue that without growing your team members, growth in performance will be more difficult.

Why does your team exist? Does everyone on your team understand the purpose? You may want to pass out some 3 x 5 cards and find out.

I’d love to hear from you on this! Let me know if you try it – and what you learn.

Mark Miller, well known business leader, best-selling author, and communicator, is excited about sharing The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do with those who are ready to grow. You can find it on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere. You can read Mark’s blog at

Some Advice on Hiring

Advice on Hiring from John Spence on Vimeo.

 Click below to connect with me on LinkedIn









Radical Transparency

Recently I did some work for client in the healthcare industry where one of the employees is suing because she said it was an “abusive and aggressive environment” within the organization. After looking into the situation more closely I realized that what she was characterizing as abusive and aggressive was merely that she was being held 100% accountable for doing her job – and she did not like it. When she was told she was not meeting goals, not meeting deadlines, and not delivering the results she had agreed to – she took that as her manager being overly aggressive. I sat in on several mediations with this employee and her senior staff and at no time could I discern that she had actually been treated poorly, rudely, aggressively or abusively – she simply did not like being held accountable for actually doing the work she was paid for. It would be almost funny if it weren’t for the fact that I see this over and over again – in company after company – and in this particular company there’s a lawsuit being filed because an employee felt that  “pressuring her” to get certain projects done by a certain date was… unfair!!!!!!!!!!!!

Then I came across this Harvard blog article on “Radical Transparency” which to me is just another way of saying that it is critical to set exceedingly clear goals and then be 100% transparent in sharing that information with everyone in the organization so that everyone knows exactly who is pulling their own weight, getting the work done and delivering the results that will keep the entire company moving forward. I, personally, think this is absolutely the best way to run a business and the very foundation of creating a high-account ability culture – but I’ve also seen many, many employees fight back tooth and nail to keep anyone from ever knowing exactly what level of work they are actually doing.  To me this is an exceedingly important issue – here is the link…

 Hope you find the HBR article of value – take good care — John

**** I have been working on seminars and workshops on this topic for last several months and have partnered with a company called who has a dashboard system to achieve exactly what this article is suggesting; radical transparency of all key goals and objectives to everyone in the entire organization – I recommend them VERY highly if you need a dashboard system. Let me know if you need any help from me in this area – as I truly think this is critical for long-term business success.


As always, if you have not connected with me on LinkedIn — please send an invite!

Click here to connect on LinkedIn

Three Levels of Leadership

In the last week I’ve had the opportunity to work with three great organization on leadership development. I started the week at Duke University with the National Association of Federal Credit Unions for their Management Development Institute, then spent two days with the Florida Recreation and Parks Association for the Abrahams Academy Leadership School and finally I ended the week with the wonderful folks from the Florida Hospital for their Leadership Development Institute.  I learned a TON of great things and wanted to share them with you… this video is a little long (25 minutes) BUT – it has many very powerful ideas for being an “Ideal Leader” — how to be a great self-leader — and what you need to focus on in order to be a superb organizational leader. I hope you enjoy that video and please share it with everyone you feel might find value in the ideas I share.

Three Levels of Leadership from John Spence on Vimeo.


 PS — if you have not connected with me on LinkedIn – please send me an invite!!!

The Five Keys to Accountability

To connect with John on LinkedIn – simply click on the logo below…







Accountability in a “Nice” Company

If you found this video helpful, I strongly recommend you watch this one too:

The Biggest Problem In Business Today