Creating Great Employee Cultures

I attended a panel discussion this week featuring three fast-growing, award-winning firms that have company cultures that engage all employees for company success. Put on by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of CommerceCreating a Culture to Attract the Creative Class was moderated by David Burney, CEO of New Kind, and the panelists included Zach Clayton, CEO of Three Ships Media, Heather Hesketh, CEO of, and David Morken, CEO of

Morken of (a 12 year old firm with about 150 employees and $100MM in revenue) attributed his firm's great culture largely to an attitude by the founders of treating others as they would like to be treated - between them they have nine children, so 100% employer-paid health insurance for all employees was a must. The founders also love physical health and so the whole team is encouraged to exercise at midday. But Morken goes further than that. "Culture is the result of consistent behavior over time," he said. "Key values like integrity resonate if you live by them." 

"You can't get great people or great performance if you don't treat people well," added Clayton of Three Ships Media, a newer firm with 25 employees, including a number of ex-investment bankers wanting more meaningful engagement at work. "My top priority as CEO is to attract and retain the best employees and build a great culture." He added that the old command-and-control model of running companies is outmoded in the new world where everyone has access to information (for a great article on this topic, see "Execs get ready: Workers will soon be running companies"). Three Ships knows where they are going, and they want all employees to be engaged and empowered to help them get there fast.

Hesketh of dislikes the term "work-life balance." "You're still living when you are at work," she says. A useful exercise her firm recently undertook was to spend a few months revamping their 360-degree review process to ensure that everyone is clear on what is expected from them - and from their leaders - and how it is evaluated. "The process made everyone a leader," said Hesketh, because they all took ownership and embraced accountability. This is important because competitive businesses demand creativity from all employees - not just those deemed "creative" such as writers and artists. "Creativity is any time the human brain is engaged in solving a problem," said Hesketh. One of her firm's most successful - and creative - products came from an administrative employee who wanted to stop spam. 

You can learn more about how to build a great culture of engaged employees to keep your company competitive in the new economy in SJF Institute's recently-released report, Employees Matter: Maximizing Company Value Through Workforce Engagement.