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Leading to a Great Company Culture

April 24th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

We hear a lot about the importance of company culture and its role in attracting, engaging and retaining employees. But what is company culture, and how do you go about creating a “best-place-to-work” caliber of culture when there’s so much other stuff to get done?

First of all, a great culture is more than fun after-work events, casual dress, and catchy slogans. It’s how employees, customers and the outside world perceive an organization based on its attitudes and behaviors. I can’t imagine that many of us perceive the skies to be as “friendly” after that paying customer was dragged from his seat recently on a United flight from Chicago to Louisville. If that’s how they treat customers, how do they treat their employees?

Culture is synonymous with behavior. And it stems from leadership behavior at all organizational levels.

To build a great culture, start by becoming really clear about who you are as a leader. I call this “developing your leadership mantra,” which I wrote about in a previous blog.

Once you’ve done this, the next steps are:
Be sure that everyone understands the Vision and Mission of the organization. Define them. Communicate them. Post them. Refer to them in employee meetings and other communications.

Establish and communicate clear Values. Model them with employees, customers, vendors, job candidates, everyone. Recognize employees who go above and beyond to model the values.

Ensure that expected leadership behaviors at all levels align with the Vision, Mission and Values. Coach leaders who do not meet these expectations.

Develop and communicate a clear and consistent definition of the culture. Make it easy to describe. Make it real. Test the definition with employees, with customers.

Recruit and hire great people who fit the culture. Use your tested definition in job postings and interviews. As part of your hiring process, determine what a “fit” is, and what it isn’t. Train hiring managers, and develop behavioral interview questions that will help determine fit.

Ask for feedback and adjust accordingly. Once you feel you’ve developed a great culture it’s easy to get complacent. But workplace cultures can shift – changes in leadership, business downturn, overly rapid growth, or external pressures, etc. Do a periodic check-up to ensure that all parts of your culture are healthy and if not, review, adjust and get back on track.

How would you currently rate your company culture? Here’s an idea: Interview a cross-section of your employees and see whether they all describe it the same. If not, go back to the steps above.

Till next time,


company culture, Engagement, Leadership

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Don’t Give Up, Give Back!

April 10th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

It seems that everywhere I go these days, people tell me that they’re not feeling like their “best selves.” In some cases, it’s winter fatigue – tired of the rain, tired of the cold; in others, it’s a feeling of being overworked and overwhelmed (so ready for a vacation!); and in others it’s just a general malaise brought about by the uncertainty of our world today. It feels like one…big…collective…SIGH out there.

I get it. And…I’m proposing that the way through these doldrums is not to just sit back and wallow in them. Don’t give up, give back! Help yourself feel better by helping others.

Most of us try to give back in some way during the holiday season – we write our annual check to our favorite charity, or we volunteer at a food kitchen. The fact is, though, that organizations who serve need volunteers all year long. Where can you carve out a couple of hours in a week or a month to help those in need? What skill/knowledge do you have that you could share? What issue or need touches your heart?

For me, it’s helping other burn survivors. I was burned by hot water at the age of two. This experience has impacted my entire life, and inspired me to get involved with the Phoenix Society, which provides support and resources to burn survivors and their families. After volunteering for many years, I joined the Board in 2014 and am now Board Vice President. I’ve conducted workshops for volunteers, I’ve run for Team Phoenix in the Big Sur Half Marathon for the past 3 years, and I’ll be a featured speaker at the World Burn Conference in Dallas this fall.

There are myriad volunteer opportunities available. Here are a few of them.

BUILD is nonprofit organization in the San Francisco Bay Area that matches volunteers with high school students in under-resourced communities to help the students learn the fundamentals of business while developing critical 21st century skills. “Entrepreneurship is the hook. College is the goal.”  BUILD has volunteer opportunities that range from 2 hours a week to 2-3 hours a year.

One Brick provides opportunities to make an impact without a long-term commitment. This nonprofit has 8 chapters nationwide – San Francisco, Silicon Valley, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Seattle, Boston, and national. Their model is to build local communities of volunteers that support other nonprofits “by creating a friendly and social atmosphere around volunteering.” Volunteer activities are usually followed by a gathering at a coffee shop or restaurant.

If you live or work in San Jose and enjoy reading with children, Grail Family Services is a local nonprofit that is always looking for Reading Mentors to help kindergarten and 1st grade students with their literacy skills. For an hour a week during the school year you can help launch an early elementary school student on the path to school success.

VolunteerMatch has opportunities all over the Bay Area for a variety of interests, including the environment, hunger, education and literacy, immigrants and refugees, crisis support, homeless and housing, and more.

And sometimes to give back you need look no further than your own organization. Do they have a mentoring program? Become a part of it. If there isn’t a formal mentoring program, start one. Or simply let it be known that you are interested in helping others move ahead on their career paths.

Most people who volunteer will tell you that they get back as much or more than they give. That has certainly been my experience. I am forever grateful for what I have received from the Phoenix Society. I signed up to 'give back' and I have gotten way more than I could ever give!

Often volunteers get to use or develop skills in a volunteer role that they may not have the opportunity to use or develop at work. They learn to better appreciate what they have by feeling the appreciation of those who have so much less.

Volunteering warms the heart and heals the soul. Not only that, according to an article in The Atlantic, people who volunteer live longer and healthier lives!

So what are you waiting for?

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Till next time,



Gratitude, Health, Life, wellness

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