3 Ways To Improve Company Culture

I now live in North Carolina.  Feels kind of weird to say that.  I honestly never imagined myself living here until a few years ago when my wife and I started talking about the possibility of moving away from Florida.  Now I that I am here, I really like it.

What I also like is the “culture” of the community that we moved into.  We are in a small mountain community about 20 minutes from downtown Hendersonville, and I quickly noticed that there was a shared behavior of everyone once you got inside the community walls (i.e. subdivision).

Everyone waves.

And it doesn’t matter if you know the person or not. If you pass them in a car, if you see them out getting the mail or taking out the trash, the neighborly thing to do is wave in an effort to greet and acknowledge. And I have to say, it’s kind of nice.

But where did this “wave culture” come from and more importantly for this post, how is it sustained?

Since I only moved here about a month ago, I can’t speak specifically about where it came from or who started it.  For this discussion, we’ll agree that it simply came from a group of nice people who wanted a friendly environment to live in.

Great… but what happens when new people (like us) move in?  Is there a meeting, an in-service, a memo or handbook that says we should wave?  No.  It just happened.

And as I was bringing in the garbage can today (after waving at a neighbor I have yet to meet officially), I realized the steps that were taken to indoctrinate us into this culture.

  1. The culture was established.  Long before we got here, someone at some point had started waving.  Again, I don’t know the specific origins, but I do know it happened.  Many companies talk about “creating a culture of this or that”, as if they don’t HAVE a culture already.  The step they often miss is working to overcome the culture they DON’T want in order to achieve the culture that they do want.
  2. The culture was communicated.  Again, not through a formal process, but through the actions of those already here.  The interesting thing about being the “newbie” is getting to observe my surroundings to see what sticks versus what is talked about.  Waving wasn’t talked about, it was done.
  3. The acceptable and desired behaviors are reinforced. Everyone waves. Everyone buys into the notion that if we don’t have time to converse, we should at least acknowledge our neighbors with a friendly wave.  Sometimes they wave first, setting the example, other times I beat them to it but they return the favor with a wave of their own. It’s quite remarkable.

How does this apply to you?  Looking at the three things above, how can you improve the culture of your team, department or company?

  1. Establish your culture.  Don’t forget to figure out how to “un-establish” the old culture if it’s not what you want.  Then define in specific terms the behaviors of the culture you desire.  It’s got to start somewhere, at some point and with some one. It’s not going to develop by osmosis.
  2. Communicate your culture. Yes, you can talk about it in training, but don’t let that be the only vehicle for letting people know what you value and what’s important.  Live your values and culture, and find people to surround yourself with that will live the values, too.  Communicate with actions, not just words.
  3. Reinforce the acceptable and desired behaviors. Set the example, first and foremost. If someone on your team is living up to your standards, let them know you appreciate it. Recognize it, and it will keep happening. If they can’t or won’t display the behaviors that support your culture and values, let them know how they can improve.  If they choose to behave in a way that does not uphold your standards, they are not a good fit for your culture.  Might be time to thin the herd.

In business, there have to be consequences for those who are not fitting in with the culture you are trying to establish.  When less than the standard is tolerated, that level of performance will become your new culture.

In my neighborhood, I have yet to hear what the consequences might be for NOT waving at others.  Quite frankly, I am not too worried about it.  Waving at my neighbors has now become MY culture, something I WANT to do because it’s accepted, reinforced, and it’s the right thing to do.

Thanks for reading!


About the author:  Matt has lived in Ohio, Michigan, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Connecticut, Florida, and now North Carolina.  He has worked at an amusement park or attraction in four of the states, and has held a drivers license in five (soon to be 6 with NC). There is only one state where Matt didn’t have a drivers license AND didn’t work at an amusement park.  Can you guess it?







No one told me

“No one told me”

At a recent event that my wife organized, an employee from the host hotel repeated this phrase a few times, and it got me thinking about where it came from.

First, a little context.

At the hotel where the event was held, there was a mix up with when the ballroom was supposed to be unlocked on the second day. (It was unlocked too early). We went to the front desk to ask that it be relocked, and the desk agent called over the radio to someone to take care of it.

In a frustrated tone, we heard, “No one told me that” coming from the radio speaker.

Barring the obvious frustration, the doors were relocked as requested, and we went about our business. When it was time to unlock them for the day, the person who apparently answered the radio call showed up and unlocked them. “No one told me” again was uttered to us as the doors were unlocked.

That was pleasant.

At first glance, this seems like an annoyed employee shirking their responsibility and protecting their turf. But the more I thought about this, the more I realized what a quagmire it really is. Is this a communication issue, an employee issue, a culture issue or a leadership issue? Hmmm…

Of course you could argue that it’s all of these, or at least a combination.

Let’s explore a little deeper:

Communication issue: it seems at a minimum that the request of the client was not relayed to the person who could carry out the request. Why? Was it not understood by the event manager? Was it communicated to another person in the door unlocking department, but not to the person on duty that day? Is there no process for communicating these requests (beyond word of mouth) to the right people? If there is a system, is everyone using it (or are they proficient in using it?) Was it not communicated from the client? (In this case, I can confidently say this is not the care, because I was there. Still, it’s an option that should be explored.) Ultimately, where did the communication break down?

Employee issue: Hearing something like this we probably think that this employee doesn’t care, they are burned out, frustrated, overwhelmed, not accepting responsibility, etc. All of those may be true, but I heard something else, too. I heard a desire to help. “No one told me” could be saying “don’t blame me, it’s not my fault”, but behind that could be “I want to help, I’d love to help, I want to make this right for you, I want you to have a GREAT experience, but that’s really tough if I don’t have the information to do my job.” Which leads back to our communication issue, but also nods to a culture issue.

Culture issue: Like ANY action or behavior, there is more to it than what we see on the surface. This employee could be reacting to an unsettling trend of being repeatedly blindsided with these types of requests. Have the employees’ requests for additional information or clearer direction gone unheard? Are they tired of getting the brunt of aggravation from guests when things don’t go right? Are they the one that gets blamed by management when these shortfalls in service occur? THAT can be frustrating.

Of course all of these issues point to one thing…

Leadership issue: who has the greatest impact on communication? Who defines the culture of a company through their words and actions? Who is responsible for making sure that employees are heard and supported?

If you are a leader, that would be you.

Also as a leader, you often can’t take things a face value. This post contains more questions than specific answers, and that’s the point. When you see something go wrong, it’s important to ask enough questions to get you to the true root cause of the problem so you can find the right solution.

Yes, that is your responsibility as a leader. There, now you can’t say “no one told me.”

Thanks for reading.




About the author: Matt wants to help open doors to your leadership potential. He’s been educating and entertaining audiences for years, offering customized leadership and team training courses, one-on-one coaching and development, and recently co-created Lessons in Fun – a totally new kind of learning adventure!  Contact Matt today to find out how to maximize your leadership potential!!

The Culture of BULA!


BULA means ‘hello’ in Fijian. I had the great fortune of visiting Fiji recently, and not only did I learn how to say hello in their language, I also learned a thing or two about culture.

As we boarded the plane to Fiji, we were greeted with a very warm and welcoming, BULA! from the flight attendants. When we arrived in Fiji, the people who greeted us in the airport belted out a heart-felt BULA! When we got on the bus to the hotel… BULA! At the hotel… BULA! The gardener, housekeeper, and waitstaff… all greeted us warmly and enthusiastically with BULA! It wasn’t long before we started saying BULA as well. To our friends, to the staff, to strangers… it didn’t matter. When in Fiji, you say BULA!

BulaAfter a day or so, we could quickly tell who had just arrived on the island. They hadn’t quite got the hang of BULA yet. They might greet you with a polite head nod or eyebrow raise when you passed them in the hall, and some looked a little scared when a non-Fijian said BULA.  Eventually they reciprocated with the appropriate BULA response.

If you have ever struggled to get your employees to greet your guests, you might read this and think the answer is to give them a fun phrase or word to say, like BULA. Unfortunately, if that’s all you do, they might say BULA once or twice, but it won’t last.

BULA is not just a word, it’s a way of life. It’s the Fijian’s way of saying hello, and welcoming you to their home. And by home, they don’t mean a building or structure. They mean Fiji, and Fiji is their family.

No one exemplified this more than Kit Kat, the humorous, knowledgeable and generous taxi driver we hired to take us around the island – to see the “real” Fiji.

Fiji - 12It was amazing to see how many people he knew, and knew well.  At the local attractions, restaurants, in the villages, along the side of the road, Kit Kat seemed to know every inch of the island, and just about every person on the island.  A skeptic might say he has a specific route and that he only knows the people on that route.  But, once you see how genuine the people of Fiji are, you’d drop that skepticism in a New York minute and bask in the happiness and positivity around you.

Okay, so that was a little sappy, but it’s not an over-exaggeration.  Their welcoming and giving nature is a part of their daily life, their way of life… their culture.

If you are a Star Wars fan, it’s sort of like the Force.  “It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”  In this case, the Fijian galaxy.

And this is why many companies efforts to change or redefine their culture takes so long or is unsuccessful – because they try to address and control the surface behaviors of their staff.  However, that’s not really where the culture is defined.  It’s much more about who you are than what you do.

And who you are, or your personal culture, doesn’t change overnight.  It doesn’t change when you start a new job or get a promotion.  Who you really are, what drives you, and what matters to you comes from your upbringing and family culture. If you find employees whose personal culture lines up with what you want your company culture to be, you are in luck.

This is certainly the case in Fiji.  Many Fijians are genuinely very nice people.  They are hired in hospitality roles to be nice people.  Win-win.

So if you are trying to change or alter your team or company culture, a lesson we can take from Fiji and BULA is that you get what you give.

  • You give BULA first, you get BULA back.
  • You give people a warm and inviting welcome, you get a warm and inviting response.
  • You give people a reason to be loyal, and they will repay you with loyalty.
  • You must do these things early, often, and consistently.

The Fijian people give in terms of their time, compassion and hospitality.  Don’t your employees deserve the same, especially if that is the type of culture you are trying to create?

Thanks for reading!


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The world’s largest support group

While I have no hard data or extensive research to back this up, I recently realized that if we DID do that math, we would probably see that people who hate their job (or like to complain about their job, their co-workers, the weather and traffic) has to be the largest support group ever!

Which could explain why so many people remain at jobs they don’t like, instead of taking action to find something better.  All of the complaining is actually supported, and encouraged, by fellow employees.  It makes it all okay and oddly comforting – so we stay.  As humans, we tend to stick with something (a job, relationship or task) until the pain of staying the same outgrows the pain of changing.

Let’s break that down.  Is there pain (real or perceived) to changing?  You bet.  There is pain, fear and all sorts of unknown nastiness that is associated with change.  It’s only when the pain, fear and nastiness of staying the same is WORSE than the pain, fear and nastiness of changing, that we take action.

If we go back to our story, think about a “case of the Monday’s”. (If you haven’t seen Office Space, run, do not walk to your nearest Red Box or Netflix and put in the order!)  A case of the “Monday’s” was the accepted tag line for “being down in the dumps because you are back to work after a glorious (or even not-so-glorious) weekend.  Back to the grind stone, crack the whip, fun’s over!”

The more people buy into this, the more they are supporting the behavior, saying it’s okay to complain about being at work… saying it’s okay to be unhappy, miserable, and downright frumpy.

And that’s the people who actually don’t like their job.

Then there are the people who LIKE their job, but want to be supported too, so they find something complain about.  How crazy does that sound?  Yet is happens everyday.  Happy people complaining because according to their corporate culture, that’s what gets attention!!!

Well I say phooey on that.

Unfortunately, simply saying phooey isn’t going to change your company’s culture or the people around you.  We have to change the support group.

You can start by making small changes in the things that YOU support.  When there is a glimmer of positivity, a ray of light for good – praise it, recognize it, make it known that that is what you support.  After a while people will likely either join your support group or stop complaining around you.  At least you’ll know that you’ve done your part.

If neither of those things happen, and you just can’t stand the negativeness anymore, then maybe it’s time to find a different place to hang your hat.

The pain of staying the same just got worse than the pain of changing.

Thanks for reading!