The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable. In hundreds of studies carried out in thousands of companies, looking at millions of employees, the facts are clear. Highly engaged employees are the single greatest driver of customer satisfaction and loyalty, which is, in turn, the number one driver of organizational profitability and long-term success. Put another way: happy employees lead to happy customers and higher profits. How much higher? The findings range from 104 to 320 percent higher, but no matter how you look at it, taking good care of your employees so that they can take good care of your customers is a brilliant business decision.


Just what is it that creates highly engaged employees?

In a word, culture. Much like the concept of talent, understanding culture in a business context can be a slippery issue. To me, corporate culture represents the written and unwritten rules of behavior, teamwork, values, ethics, and priorities that permeate an organization. Culture can be nurtured, supported, encouraged, and guided but never mandated or controlled. It is immediately evident when you walk into an organization with a great corporate culture. People are happy, the place hums, and there’s a positive energy flow and excitement at every level. There is a strong sense of camaraderie, esprit de corps, and evident pride in the products they build on the services they deliver.

In organizations with a negative culture, you find turf guarding, finger-pointing, politicking, and rumormongering. Even if the financial benefits of a positive corporate culture weren’t enough to convince you, it just makes sense that no one who is truly talented would want to work in an organization with a dysfunctional corporate culture.

During my career, it has been my great pleasure to work inside a number of organizations with strong positive corporate cultures, such as State Farm Insurance, GE, and the Mayo Clinic. Most recently, an organization with an achievement for having one of the best organizational cultures in America, Genentech.


Based on all of the research I have studied about positive corporate culture and my years of experience working inside these leading organizations, here is a list of the key things you must focus on to build a culture that attracts and motivates top talent:



More than anything else, perhaps, talented people want to feel that their work makes a positive difference in the world. Being number one, maximizing shareholder value, and doubling profitability are not key motivators for talent. Great people want to be in an organization where they can be proud of the challenging and important work they produce. To them, work is much more about purpose than positions, power, or profits.



I have been teaching classes inside different organizations for over fifteen years, and until two years ago, I never heard this word as the main component of building a strong corporate culture. Yes, respect was important, but it was nowhere near the priority it had become. Talented people want to be respected for their work and treated fairly. They want to feel that their voices will be heard and their opinions valued. A culture of respect and dignity is now a non-negotiable minimum standard for talented people to have options.



An outstanding corporate culture gives clear direction through a vivid, compelling vision and focused strategies. This sets high standards for performance and supports people with the training, mentoring, coaching, resources, and authority needed to succeed. Then get out of their way and allow them to excel by exceeding the standards and achieving the vision. Two extreme counterexamples are micromanagement and mushroom management (keeping people in the dark and covering them with manure). Both drive away talent.



Here is one of my favorite business maxims: “People without access to information do not have to take responsibility for their actions.” The hallmark of any great corporate culture is high levels of open, honest, robust communication. In today’s world, information is not power; sharing information gives you power. People communicate with candor, directness, and empathy in a positive culture. Honesty and frankness are key values, and EQ (emotional quotient) is just as important as, if not more important than IQ.



This doesn’t mean there are whoopee cushions under everybody’s chairs and a rock-climbing wall in the lobby. It means that people enjoy their work and the people they do it with. The organization feels like one big family. People are working with folks they genuinely like, people they consider real friends, and sometimes even their best friends. Sure, they enjoy their weekends and time off, but they also look forward to coming to work and having fun doing rewarding work with cool people.


In other words, the people who work for you are looking for two critical items: opportunity and appreciation. The opportunity to do meaningful work on important projects with talented people. Then, sincere appreciation for their contribution.

If you want to get in contact with me, I’d love to hear from you. Please visit my site at and let me know how I can help.

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