Culture Conquers (Almost) All – Even In A Retention-Challenged Industry.

Corporate culture can make the difference between organizational success and failure. This article takes a look at the culture-building efforts of a firm ranked fourth in the 2007 list of the “25 Best Small Companies to Work For in America” by the Great Places to Work Institute. This company, a mid-size CPA firm with three offices in Arizona had had a phenomenal growth rate of nearly 20 percent per year over the past six years with a profit margin of over 40 percent and an enviable 90 percent retention rate for the staff.

Management is convinced that the key to its success is the strong culture that it has built. The firm was founded in 1986 by principals who established a series of values as the basis of their firm’s culture. They wanted a set of values that were heart-felt, easy to remember and “themed to serve as a launching pad for all sorts of cultural initiatives.” They selected “Accountants with HEART” (Honesty, Excellence, Attitude, Respect and Teamwork) as their cultural theme. Rather than just words typed on a page and filed away, management made a determined effort to infuse them into the firm’s daily activities. They began by incorporating their values into hiring questions, creating an active recognition and reward program and tying values directly into their compensation program.

Top culture-building issues and efforts are discussed here in some detail. Credibility was achieved through clear and consistent communication with quarterly day long meetings, team-building activities and state-of-the-firm addresses where successes are shared along with survey results on client and employee satisfaction, strategic plan goals, and financial information, including expenses, gross revenues and profit margins. Efforts also include regular staff forums and a bi-weekly newsletter.

Respect was established early with efforts in the areas of professional development, appreciation and recognition and work-life balance. Training opportunities are explored, internal trainers identified and a training calendar for classes established. Written goals are the norm for individuals and these in turn are aligned with the overall company goals. Staff is involved in the firm’s strategic planning session to get input and ownership in the plan and to identify future leaders.

An appreciation program is part of the firm’s retention strategy – accomplishments are tracked and documented, awards and bonuses are public and promotions are published in an industry newsletter. Additional areas touched on are work-life balance, compensation and benefits, a “camaraderie” program and a community service element that is the pride of their Millennial employees. The article ends with a section on how to initiate and support cultural change and includes a list of questions to consider in assessing a company’s culture.

Source: Staff – HR Focus; Oct, 2008

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