The Importance of Company Culture from the Inside Out

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At the beginning of last summer I quit my job at Walther’s Golf & Fun to move to Fort Collins, CO. I’d been working there for almost ten years. I wasn’t even old enough to drive myself to my very first shift.

Walther’s was a big metal building on the north side of town with indoor and outdoor miniature golf courses, a Lazer Tag arena, a full cafe, and over 50 arcade games. What I liked most about that place wasn’t the unlimited free lazer tag or the or the discount on pizza and mozzarella sticks, but rather all of the fun times with my co-workers and the irreplaceable memories made.


Mack has a saying (well, she has a lot of them, but one specifically that relates to this post): Culture is the heartbeat of a company. And I realize how true this is – the importance of genuine company culture – more and more everyday. The heartbeat keeps blood and oxygen circulating in the body. Culture drives everything a company does.

It’s both intensely personal and completely obvious. Your culture is unique to you and if it’s healthy, you thrive. And that vitality attracts people who align with the culture. It draws them in and keeps them coming back.

Any company that can earn a decade’s worth of loyalty has this kind of culture. Though we always called it Walther’s for short, Fun is in the name of the company, and there’s a reason why. It’s what keeps the company alive and drives everything they do. It’s their heartbeat.

At Walther’s, we had permission and encouragement from upper-management to have a lot of fun, all the time. If we were having fun, then that meant our customers could have fun. If we were bored, well, our customers probably wouldn’t enjoy their visit quite as much. Sometimes this looked like a quick demonstration at the prize counter of how a sticky hand or slap bracelet worked. Sometimes it meant letting the employees stay late after the building closed to play our favorite arcade games or a round of employee-only all-building lazer tag. Of course no job is perfect, but for the most part we all loved coming to work because we knew we were going to have a great time while we were there. And because of that, our customers had a great time too.

This culture-from-within concept worked really well at Walther’s. As employees, we were having such a fun time and believed so fully that Walther’s was a fun place to be that we ensured that our customers were having fun, too. When the core values of a company are sincerely embraced by everyone inside the company, it becomes much easier to reflect those values outward.

It’s a real world thing and it happens all the time

Two companies letting their heartbeats shine bright to their customers are WestJet and TD Bank. Both companies pull off pretty clever campaigns that seem to come from a place of genuine authenticity. A little research shows that their inspiration is rooted deep in their respective company cultures.

Let’s start with Canadian airline West Jet:

This Christmas Miracle makes two things very apparent:

First, their company culture goes beyond good service. WestJet might be a terrific, affordable, safe, and on-time airline, but they don’t think that’s enough. Richard Bartrem, VP of Communications for WestJet, in his explanation of why they put together this Christmas Miracle, says that their company culture is all about being fun, friendly, and caring. He says they’re always full of surprises, and that’s part of what makes them fun. They believe in magic. That’s what they wanted to share with their guests and YouTube visitors. This fun, friendly, and caring spirit is the heartbeat which drives everything they do.

Roald Dahl

WestJet showed their true dedication to their cause in the way they gave thought to each individual customer (or ‘guest’, as WestJet calls them). They could have chosen to give every guest Christmas cash or a free flight voucher, but instead they took the time to ask what it was that each individual guest really wanted. It was all about making people smile, all about that moment when the boy says, “NO WAY!” That’s their caring heartbeat shining through.

A culture this strong starts at home, with the very top-dogs of the company who fully believe in it. WestJet takes good care of their employees who all participate in profit sharing and are offered ownership in the company. It’s where they get their “owners care” slogan. (And if you needed another example of their culture, check out the material they’ve put together for shareholder meetings: such as this video showing what “owners carereally means.) And, being so well taken care of themselves, the WestJet employees take good care of their guests in their turn. The 150+ employees who helped put together the Christmas Miracle were all volunteers. This kind of campaign comes from within; it’s who they are and the proof is in the figgy pudding.

Speaking of surprising your customers with something extra special, have you seen TD Bank’s #TDThanksYou campaign?

Automatic Thanking Machines (ATMs), such a genius idea for a bank. And what an amazingly thoughtful and go-the-extra-mile type of thing to do.

No surprise, this is what TD Bank is all about: being considerate and caring, putting people at the forefront of everything they do. “Banking human” is what they like to call it. Their selfless gestures range from small to grand, from staying open late to thanking ATMs.

throw kindness around like confetti

Just like with WestJet, all of this started in-house. TD’s employees are at the very center and the culture they live day-in and day-out is what drove this campaign. How else do you think the thanking machine would have known that Michael was a huge Blue Jay’s fan or that Dorthy’s only daughter, who lives in Trinidad, just had surgery and could use a visit from her mom who’s never been able to make it out?

TD’s employees listen to their customers. They have really taken the time and made an effort to get to know their guests individually. It’s the human thing again, building relationships with other humans. It’s why people love to go there, to that specific bank, over all of the other banking options.

Remember: It starts on the inside, at the very core, then works its way outwards

You can have the most creative campaigns in the world, but if people realize it’s not who you really are, they won’t stick around. People crave authenticity, especially in this day and age when it’s so easy to hide behind the Internet like a mask. Your campaigns must be deeply rooted in every aspect of who you are.

All of this is kind of how my role at Mack Web came to be. Mack cares a great deal about our culture, and truly being who we say we are and who we want to be. Kid you not, it’s half of our performance review.

One of these things we very much care about is people: being humans among humans (human-centric, as we say), connecting and fostering relationships. It’s our whole approach to customer service and how we do marketing, and, well, pretty much everything we do.

My tenure at Mack Web started off by solely helping Mack as her assistant. Mack was losing her mind trying to juggle everything and the whole team was feeling it. Before they could even think of serving the clients they had, they needed to take care of the team first, and that started with Mack.

Maybe I wasn’t the most practical hire for a team that really needed a Director of Client Strategy (don’t worry, we later got that dude too). But they decided that looking after the people on our team was the utmost priority.

My job was to alleviate some of the day-to-day tasks of running a business, like managing her schedule and keeping the oh-so-treasured snack cabinet fully stocked. Taking weight off of her shoulders a few days each week would provide her some extra time in her schedule and the head space to stay focused on our company and clients.

Snack fairy

Once I was there to take the edge off Mack’s crazy, the team started to realize what a difference it made having me around (and not just because I introduced them to gummy bunnies, which are way better than gummy bears). Thus being Mack’s assistant and only taking care of her turned into full blown Team Support.

I still help keep the boss sane, but I also make sure the rest of the team is fully supported too, ricocheting back and forth from person to person and task to task depending on what the needs of that day or week or month may be. My job’s nickname is Rubber Cement, because I can bounce around easily, but I still help hold everything (read: everyone) together.

My role is important not only in the practical aspects but also in the way the Mack Web team reflects our brand: How could we claim to care about the real people on the other side of the screen if we didn’t take care of the real people on our side of the screen? Helping our clients build and foster relationships always starts by taking care of our own on the inside.

But PS: it’s also not always the happy stuff and it’s not always easy

As great as that sounds, there’s a hard truth we haven’t discussed yet which is this: creating and cultivating your company culture isn’t all about playing Santa and sending people to Trinidad and making sure the snack cabinet is correctly stocked.

Preserving company culture takes A LOT of hard work. It’s not easy. And it’s not always fun.

Sometimes this not-always-happy-side of culture involves letting people go because they’re not a culture fit. Because if they stick around and they don’t have the same heartbeat as you, it will destroy your company from the inside out.

Sometimes it means saying no to a potential client because you know that they don’t value the same stuff as you do. Sometimes it means waiting patiently for the best thing instead of what’s easiest, fastest, or cheapest.

One of the not-so-sunshiney sides of our culture at Mack Web is Conflict and Commit. Mack doesn’t let us back down from this difficult side of our culture. We have to be willing to have conflicts with each other. We bring it up with someone when something rubs us the wrong way or is making our job more difficult. Then we commit to finding a solution together. In the end our team is stronger and more unified, rather than a bundle of seething resentment and neuroses.

kitten hug

I’ve been on the flip side of this before, the lack of a steady heartbeat, and it’s not enjoyable. You can have the flexible work schedule, casual dress code, and coffee bar in your office building (which unfortunately is sometimes all that people count as “company culture”), but all of it amounts to nothing and it’s only a matter of time before it comes crashing down if the beat that drives your company isn’t strong and distinct enough to be felt by your people.

This is the ultimate way to check the authenticity of your brand: do your employees naturally adopt the characteristics you brag about on your website? Is your internal culture a healthy point of origin for the customer experience you want to provide?

Before coming to Mack Web, I’d seen both sides of it: excellent culture and terrible culture and I knew which one I wanted to find. It was important that I find a place with a company culture consistent with the core values they claimed. A place that would be around for a while and that I would want to stay in for as long as it was. Just like the employees of WestJet and TD Bank, I recognized the heart that beat in time with my own.

That’s why I tell Mack all the time how thankful I am to be a part of this place and especially how thankful I am that she fights really hard to keep it this way. She doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff and she works hard to preserve all of the good stuff. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.

My Mack Web hoodie is just a bonus.

Officially a part of team awesome

Author Ann Pohl

More posts by Ann Pohl

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Kayla says:

    Oh walther’s memories 🙂

  • Clinton says:

    Excellent post Ann!

    Products and services can always be duplicated. What makes a company really unique are it’s values and culture. Creating a fun and happy work environment benefits the whole team and your clients.

    Also, I hope Rebecca G didn’t eat all those Snickers bars. 🙂

    • Ann Pohl   says:

      Thanks, Clinton!

      You’re spot on. It’s that core of who you are and why you do what you do that really resonates with people. It’s what keeps them connected to you long-term (both employees and customers alike).

      As for the Snickers, certain people on the team are known for sharing food more so than others. If I told you who, I’d probably have to kill you. Let’s just say that our current snack fairy is really great at keeping everything stocked.

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