Building a Winning Culture for Your Company

Thursday, May 21, 2020
Steve Gandara

Steve Gandara

Excellent Cultures


The importance of positive attitude has become very apparent during this period of adversity. Constantly changing requirements have caused many business owners to consider closing or selling, and the uncertainty employees are feeling as to how businesses may respond is having a negative effect on corporate cultures everywhere.

Steve Gandara, the co-founder of Excellent Cultures, shared insights he gained in working with some of the largest and most successful companies over the last 40 years. Helping those companies create positive forward-driving cultures provided him with a comprehensive understanding on how culture impacts bottom-line results, and he shared some of the fundamentals of how businesses can achieve the incredible with the right shared mindset.

Steve began by mentioning that word choices are important. The phrase, "the new normal" has become increasingly common, but it creates the desire for a "normal" that may never arrive. He suggested adopting the mindset of adapting to "the new reality", which acknowledges that changes may continue to occur. This more nimble mindset will be better suited to a world of uncertainty than one that is waiting for certainty to return before action can be taken.

Businesses are being forced to change the way they operate, which has made them examine things that may not have been examined in years. This new scrutiny of costs and effectiveness is bound to change how business is conducted. Many companies are finding that they can save vast amounts of money by having employees work remotely and reducing their amount of office space they need to rent. Others are discovering that they can reduce hours of operation, numbers of employees, and many of the services that they were previously using. A large number of people and companies are going to need to adapt to this new reality.

"Culture", despite being a buzzword in business literature and company recruiting materials, is the most misunderstood word in corporate America. Steve outlined what most companies believe corporate culture to be:

  • The environment in which employees work and interact
  • An esoteric, touchy-feely, warm & fuzzy, impossible-to-measure, and impossible-to-manage workplace attitude
  • A shared mindset of happiness and engagement

Not only are these perceptions of culture incorrect, but if a company's leadership operates under these perceptions, the company will be doomed to "a future of happy, contented, warm and fuzzy mediocrity."

Steve stressed that this was true before the coronavirus outbreak, but now such false perceptions about culture's purpose could result in a company's complete demise.

The Encyclopedia of Business Terms defines "Corporate Culture" as:

"The shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs
that characterize members of an organization and define its nature."

A study conducted by the Harvard Business School investigated the impact that different types of corporate cultures had on various Wall Street businesses over the course of 11 years. These businesses were found to have two basic types of cultures: "non-adaptive" and "adaptive". (This distinction was mirrored in a contemporaneous sociology study which categorized the two major types of corporate cultures as "defensive" and "constructive".) The Harvard Study found that the adaptive cultures experienced revenue growth four times greater than the non-adaptive cultures, eight times greater employment growth, 122 times greater growth in shareholder value, and 756 times greater growth in profit.

Steve gave some examples of adaptive and non-adaptive companies:




Southwest Airlines



Delta Airlines



Xerox's name was once synonymous for the copier, but their inability to adapt resulted in them being overtaken by their imaging competitors. Kodak invented digital photography, but was left in the dust in the midst of the digital photography revolution. Just as in nature, the ability to adapt is essential to survival. Steve shared a quote from Jim Sinegal, the founder of Costco which illustrated how important culture is: "Culture isn't everything, it's the only thing."

Steve stressed that for companies to be able to continually adapt and grow when other companies are merely trying to survive, they need to possess the following qualities:

  • Fast
  • Mobile
  • Quick to Change
  • Virtual
  • Highly Innovative
  • Totally Team Oriented
  • Hate Losing
  • Love to Win

But, even more importantly, they need to be:


An effective team culture can outperform a team of superior individual talent, and much of a company's performance is dictated by the underlying mindset of the lower-level employees. Addressing this mindset can yield better results in team performance, especially considering recent research which has shown that younger generations are more interested in the following job benefits even more than the rate of compensation:

  • Is this job aligned with my purpose in life?
  • Is it something I enjoy?
  • Will I be working with a collaborative and supportive team?
  • Will I respect my boss?
  • Does the company share my values?

Considering how these questions will be answered by prospective employees is now crucial to attracting candidates who will make a positive contribution to your company culture. Trying to attract job candidates with salary and benefits alone, or with material perks such as free snacks or ping-pong tables may not produce the returns that employers could get from evaluating and improving their company culture.

Peter Drucker said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." To illustrate this, Steve compared the relationship of culture and strategy to the parts of an iceberg that are above the water and below the water. Strategy elements represent a small portion of the iceberg visible above the surface. They are overtly stated and not hidden:

  • Strategies
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Goals
  • Objectives

Culture lurks beneath the surface and represents a far larger influence on the direction of a company. Elements of culture are hidden or unexamined:

  • Internal Competition
  • Personal Values
  • Folklore
  • Assumptions
  • Perceptions
  • Fear
  • Corporate Politics
  • Unwritten Rules
  • Attitudes
  • Old Habits
  • Traditions
  • Beliefs

Most companies are completely unaware of what their company culture is. If asked to describe it, they might describe the mission statement, or that the workplace is congenial. These characteristics may be nice, but could still hide unproductive attitudes, beliefs, and politics that are impact company performance.

Steve listed ten essential elements of an excellent culture. These include a team's core beliefs about:

  1. Change & Innovation
  2. Accountability
  3. Their Own Importance to the Team
  4. Handling Problems & Emergencies
  5. Efficiency & Results
  6. Leadership & Leadership Development
  7. Their Potential & Their Goals
  8. Teamwork
  9. Competition

Assessing each of these core beliefs is the first step toward creating a high-performance company culture. Having a team that has a positive outlook in regard to these ten considerations will allow an organization to maximize its potential and remove external obstacles to success.

Openness to change results in a drive to innovate, solve problems, and support colleagues in the pursuit of ambitious objectives. Accountability makes individuals place demands on themselves for continuous improvement in their efficiency and effectiveness, and sets an example for the entire company. Leadership marshals the full talents of the team into a cohesive force that operates at peak performance, even when the competition isn't pushing them.

As a special offer to the CEOtoCEO audience, Excellent Cultures is offering a Business Culture MRI to evaluate your company's culture. This evaluation is free of charge, and allows the participation of up to ten members of a company's management team. Each participant will be asked ten questions anonymously through an online questionnaire which should take less than ten minutes to complete. A detailed report examining your company's culture and a teleconference offering simple recommendations for its improvement will be provided upon completion.

To sign up for a free Business Culture MRI for your company, please visit:

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