An Awesome Conversation Around Corporate Culture

IMG_20130514_153012This past Tuesday morning in the Rideau Club on Bank in Ottawa, the Women’s Executive Network hosted yet another of its stimulating networking breakfasts. This  month’s subject for discussion: corporate culture. And creating an interesting panel with a mixture of experiences were Daniel Weinand, Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer at Shopify, Diane Deans, Councillor and Chairperson of Ottawa Transit Commission, and moderator Melanie Coulson, a Senior Editor at the Ottawa Citizen.  So as you can tell from the descriptions, it was a wonderful mix of experiences.

What followed was a fascinating conversation exploring values, stories, measures, and practices behind having a positive corporate culture. There was stress on the uniqueness of each company, the value of listening to employees, and the importance of hiring those who match company values. But we’ll let these experienced individuals speak for themselves. Grab your favourite coffee or tea, and prepare for an awesome discussion on creating a strong corporate culture. It’s worth reading every single word. 😉

. . .

The questions started off simple, being delivered by Melanie of the Ottawa Citizen, as Daniel and Diane were both asked what makes for a good corporate culture.

Daniel of the new and  very cool company, Shopify, led the conversation, saying that “I think that good corporate culture is about being genuine. It’s about having a culture that does what it says it does. […] A good corporate culture needs to be something that everyone in the company understands and everyone accepts.  Because in the end, the culture is comprised of people in the company, so it is natural that you extract the culture from the people who are inside the company. It is extremely difficult to create any kind of culture, let alone good culture, with ideas or values that are not compatible with the people at the workplace.”

Diane, gaining her experience from the City of Ottawa, came in with a slightly different perspective of management caring about their employees. “I think good corporate culture is about respect, and I think that employees need to feel that they’re valued in the organization. So I think that they need to be recognized for the work they do, and I think all of us need to be praised for the work we do.”

This was followed up with Melanie citing an article from the Harvard Business Review that gave six components for corporate culture: vision, values, practices, people, narrative,  and place. She then turned the question to the panellists, asking how they measure corporate culture, and if the components rang true to their experiences.

snowflakeDaniel explained how, “every culture is a unique snowflake, and you can’t just read an article and copy everything the article said – and lately there have been many of those – and then think that, by just doing things that other people are doing, you are achieving the same results. Because it comes back to what I said a moment ago, the people in the organization are all very different from company to company.”

At Shopify, the philosophy is that everyone can exchange with everyone. “All the people at Shopify, even the executives, we are all on the same level. I believe authority is something that has to be earned, and is not being awarded. So anyone, any new hire can just stop a CEO and have lunch with him, and ask him questions.”

(Ah, just a quick side note: that is awesome.)

Diane shared a story that will stay in my mind as a true measure of corporate culture. She explained how one day a “a fellow came to my office one day and he had retired and gone through the retirement ceremony, and he was given a Birks ring for 25 years of service. He came to my office, he brought the ring back, and he said, “I’m not proud of having worked for OC Transpo, so I’m returning the ring.” And I was like, “Really? 25 years.”

“And then I didn’t know what to do with the ring. So I took the ring to the city manager, Kent Kirkpatrick, and I told Kent, I said: “This is a real measure of how badly things have gone over the years at OC Transpo.

“So Kent took the ring […] , so he called the man and asked him to come into his office and talk about his experiences with OC Transpo. The man did come in, and the city manager, who as you can imagine deals with a lot of things, but he took the time and he listened and he heard a lot of what he had to say, and at the end of the conversation the man said he would take the ring back.

“And I can tell you since then, there’s been a huge change at OC Transpo.”

Powerful or powerful? In both Daniel and Diane’s stories, there’s a need for connection between all levels, a need to know you are heard.

Melanie later came in with an interesting question that could be applicable for many workplaces: how can we change corporate culture?

diane deansDiane had first-hand experience of this and was able to talk from her work with OC Transpo. “We knew that throughout the organization, there was uniform unhappiness. And so, the first thing the mayor and I did, we went out and listened […] we visited all four transit garages, and 7 o’clock in the morning, and I can tell you that the employees there were well prepared for us. Many of them had letters that they gave to us, and speeches, and the message was resoundingly loud and clear that there was this huge divide between management and they felt that they were never taken into consideration, they were never listened to, the management was very dictatorial in their approach. Whether they were or not is irrelevant, it is the way these employees perceived the culture of the organization. So we knew that we needed to make some pretty wholesale changes.”

“Not only do you need to make changes, but you have to signal changes to your employees.”

And the result of signalling those changes? The city ended up changing their management team,  which signalled a big change in direction, and in response, the union changed their entire leadership as well. As Diane later added, “Happy employees equal happy customers. You can’t have one without the other, so respect for your employees  – happy employees, I think they have an energy that fuels the organization.”

Daniel raised an interesting point about ensuring leaders in a business maintain the values of the company, explaining that “we have managers, we have leaders, we have executives,  so the leaders in the company, or the people who are respected, they have to lead by example, and it’s really important that when we say this is what we’re going to do, it’s what they produce. One of our values is, for instance, fail gracefully. That means if any of our employees does a mistake or does something bad, then it’s fine so long as he or she recovers from it, informs everyone about it and has an idea about how to fix it. So when one young manager scolded that employee that just made a mistake, I told the manager, “you know you have to go and apologize, because you can’t do that.”

If you let the leaders slip through and not follow your own values, then there can be a problem. It can creep in that you create a negative culture.”

One excellent question asked by member of the WXN audience was around wellness and its importance to corporate culture.

We have to love Daniel’s answer about seeing the employee as a whole. “I believe that you have to look at each team member as a whole. It’s not just how many hours they spend at work, but it’s also that you make sure they can relax in their spare time, you make sure that if they go on vacation they don’t have any bad feelings that they take days off. I think it’s extremely important that there is enough times for families.”

Which is quite the change from that old mentality of worrying over the workload and piling-up inbox emails while away on vacation.

Diane had a truly surprising answer to the question of wellness and corporate culture. Saying the City in regards to OC Transpo workers “honour and respect the work that they are doing. And so for the bus drivers, you might imagine driving a big bus, a double-decker, an articulated bus – some of those buses are quite a challenge, so we actually hold a rodeo every year, and they demonstrate their skills in driving a bus. I think it’s a great way to show others the challenge they have in their workplace every day.

And the wonderful moderator, Melanie of the Ottawa Citizen, gave her experience as well, sharing that “in terms of ownership at the Citizenship, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, whether you’re a senior corporate writing or one of the new interns at the citizen, you own your story. […] And I think there’s pride in that. Anyone could make the front page.”


Sister Leadership would like to thank the WXN for hosting such a fabulous event. There might be many articles out there on corporate culture, but this conversation went far, far beyond the six point list of considerations and dove far deeper into topics like interpersonal relationships, leading by example and the importance of happiness. In the weeks to come, we hope to follow up these themes.

If you enjoyed this post, or found it helpful, please do share it with your peers and/or social media networks. We feel that this content is so worthwhile, so the more it is shared the more others will gain the experience and insights that our panel of experts shared.

cararesourcesAnd now, as we do here on Sister Leadership, here is a resource from the toolbox. In NLP there is the belief that you have all the elements you need to achieve whatever goal you want – that is to say, if you want something, that desire comes from qualities already existing within yourself. So say you want to create a happy culture within your place or work or in your home, one way to do that is create a resource state through anchoring. Click here to be taken to the resource PDF, and learn more about your resource state.

Till next week,


Camille Boivin is founder of Sister Leadership, certified in EQi 2.0 and EQ360, a master practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), has been coaching high-level women and men for over six years, and is now opening her expertise to those emerging in business. Camille pulls her blog topics from her unique coaching approach that combines her training as a EQi 2.0 and EQ360 certified facilitator with the dig-deeper tools of NLP.

Get in touch here if you’d like to talk with Cam about group or one-on-one coaching, and EQ assessments. With the miracle of Skype and telephones – distance is no issue!


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