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 corporate culture lie

The Big Lie about Corporate Culture and Leadership

Establishing a positive corporate culture and strong corporate leadership is essential in creating and sustaining a successful company. Research compiled over 30 years by noted author David Sirota shows that companies who have high morale outperform their industry counterparts by 20%, despite a down market.

The Blogosphere, Twitterverse, and LinkedIn bombard information seekers with messages advocating building a corporate culture. In digesting these messages, the reader comes away thinking the responsibility for happiness and well-being in the modern workplace rests solely with the business and its leadership.  This is not  the case.

In the modern workplace, there is an overemphasis on the company leadership as owning sole responsibility for maintaining corporate culture. What is completely left out of the equation is the employee. The employee carries equal responsibility for a successful workplace. This begs a question:  What is the responsibility of the employee in building great corporate culture?

Corporate Leadership has a responsibility to create the conditions necessary to produce a positive corporate culture, but it is the individual responsibility of each member of the team to own and live the culture in everything they do. Without individual responsibility and ownership, there is no way for the culture to proliferate.

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The Fringe Mistake & Entitlement Mentality

People in today’s workplace often mistake fringe benefits as corporate culture.  The tech industry is famous for stories like Google or Zappos. These well-funded companies provide lavish fringe benefits, such as; unlimited time off, total flex time, work at home policies, food bars, massages, and sleeping alcoves. Employees come to expect the company to cater to their every need.  I even know a CEO, who was once asked to provide razors so the employees could shave at work.
Have you seen the movie "The Internship" with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson? While watching, I asked myself: When does any work get done? I realize this is a Hollywood movie. Unfortunately, stories like this while entertaining, perpetuate a big lie. They lure team members into a trance of entitlement. A trace that obscures them from core reasons a company exists.  Yahoo is a great example. Yahoo is a company that has overridden their purpose with an entitlement mentality.

Lauded fringe benefits are equated as "great culture." Yet, they are actually eccentric benefits. Benefits that only a billion-dollar company like Google can afford. They are not the norm. Nor are they realistic for the typical bootstrap startup, small, or medium business.  This has created an entitlement mentality in the workplace. People have substituted these stories as the expected norm. Moreover, employees, many times forget that without actual work being done, a product or service being created, and profit being made a business cannot continue to exist. These things are not corporate culture. In fact, an entitlement mentality in the workplace can kill a corporate culture.

In a 2014 article about Zappos Insights, author Erica Spelman stated: “The truth is no organization - not even Zappos - is immune to the virus of entitlement.”  Even, Zappos, who is renowned for their company culture, faces this issue. So what can be done? I’ve learned to look for people to hire in my company that possess certain traits. 
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Exceptional Corporate Cultures and the 6 Traits

What are the key traits of employees required to create exceptional companies? With 15 years’ experience running a successful company and having spoken with hundreds of leaders in other successful and not so successful companies, I have identified six traits of employees that contribute to and build positive corporate cultures. Employees with these traits are necessary to create a great workplace.

1. Intrinsically Motivated

Intrinsically Motivated people are the ones that take responsibility for their lives and their outcomes. They do not blame other people or outside factors for success or failure. They realize they are the master of their destiny, and they make things happen. People who are intrinsically motivated do not let their environment shape them. They shape their environment.

2. Positive Attitude

Positivity breeds positivity. People who possess a positive outlook, help foster positivity in others.  They see the bright side of any situation. Often, life in a technology company is stressful. It requires a high degree of creativity and collaboration. Filling your ranks with people who are generally positive can help you move mountains. It often helps reduce stress and build a cohesive team. The success that comes from moving mountains breeds pride and more positivity. People with this trait exponentially increase the positivity of any team.

3. Solid Work Ethic

Possessing a solid work ethic is a trait that cannot be over emphasized. Employees with work ethic are self-managing. People that have a great work ethic care about what they do and exercise great thoughtfulness in everything they do.  They embrace responsibility with a sense of discipline and integrity. This kind of work ethic breeds quality in employees' work-product. Their work ethic often exudes a social pressure. This social pressure breeds a work ethic in others.  It creates an “esprit de corps” in teams as their collective output builds on each other’s work.

4. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. People who have EI are in touch with their own emotions and how they affect themselves.  Likewise, they possess the ability to perceive and assess emotional effects in other people.  Their cognitive awareness of emotions enables them to guide and shape team members. EI has not only positive effects on the individual but also the cohesiveness of the team. People feel genuinely valued and cared for and this is a self-perpetuating condition within teams.

According to Travis Bradberry, co-author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0: People with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time. Why is that? Studies done by 90% of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence while only 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence. People with high emotional intelligence are more likely to be top performers.

5. Takes Initiative

UPS has a motto: Moving at the Speed of Business. Business moves at an accelerated pace. A good culture encourages people to take calculated risks and not be afraid of failure. People who are situationally aware and willing to take a risk, incite others to do the same. Especially if the environment they work in rewards initiative. Environments that celebrate success and learn from failure without penalty promote a powerfully positive corporate culture.

6. Balanced

Balanced people understand and control work/life balance. They are self-regulating. They instinctively know when to apply extra effort. They know when to take a vacation or use the fringe benefits a company provides in a responsible way. They communicate to others when they need help.  They are not afraid to communicate what they need. While at the same time, they balance the needs of the business alongside their own.
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Ask Not What Your Company Can Do for You…

President John F. Kennedy famously stated: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” As an employee and team member of a company; remember that a rising tide floats all boats. It is not just what your company can do for you. What can you do for your company to proliferate a great corporate culture? It is a shared responsibility.

As an employee and a member of a team, you have an individual responsibility to do your part to create the tide that floats all the boats. You should incorporate these six traits into your psyche.  They will not only help create the tide, but it will float your boat while accelerating your career.

If you are a leader in a company, you need to hire and keep people that possess these traits. If you do, it will accelerate and fortify the environment you foster.  Most importantly, it will be sustained by the individual members of your team.

As the CEO of a company that has ranked in the top 10 for six years as one of the 50 best places to work in the state of Florida, there is no doubt in my mind that establishing positive corporate culture and strong leadership is an essential element in creating and sustaining a successful company. Building a team of people who are intrinsically motivated, positive, have a great work ethic, possess high emotional intelligence, understand balance, and take initiative will proliferate the environment you create. As a result, your team, customers, and company will prosper.


Vincent W. Mayfield, Chief Executive Officer
Vincent W. Mayfield