Workplace Challenges: The Experts Weigh In


Recently I asked a few top leaders their thoughts around workplace culture. Below are my questions and their responses. See if their opportunities and solutions match any you have experienced.

What is the one common issue across all companies regardless of industry? People issues! To become a high-performance organization, you must address these issues before they get out of hand because when your people leave, the cash bleeds. You can forget the strategy and execution when you don’t have the right people or the cash.

People issues can be measured in various ways, however for leaders to maximize a winning team, measuring engagement is key. Engagement is more than a concept to be measured on a survey, but that is a start. Engagement is understanding the role of the job, loving that role and being seen, valued and heard every day.

Engagement shows up in actions as well as survey results. Engagement shows up with existing employees referring candidates for open positions. Improving engagement begins with clear expectations for the job, then hiring someone behaviorally aligned with the job, followed by onboarding that continually excites and motivates the new employee. Creating engagement takes interaction, real conversations, and collaboration.

Rather than building engagement, many managers/leaders spend their days with the contaminators and silent killers instead of with the champions and grinders. There are only so many hours in a workday – do you really want to spend leadership salaries “managing” contaminators, or would you rather get a return on mentoring your champions? Motivating them? Elevating them to elevate your entire team, organization, and profits? Conversations, real conversation and time with team members, speak volumes and yield the highest return.

Questions & Answers

Question: What challenges have you faced and overcome in your workplace culture?


Alexander Lowry– Professor of Finance at Gordon College and Director of Master of Science in Financial Analysis program

  • “Generational differences. Reframing how we view each generation and finding the best way to make each successful. Companies are increasingly grappling with generational differences in their workforces. But since these issues are not going away, we need to adapt. The first step is recognizing that problems, if we’re not aware of them and don’t address them, can arise from differing mindset and communication styles of workers born in different eras.”

Tammy Perkins– Managing Partner and CPO of Fjuri

  • “Defining culture to make it real. The conversation around workplace culture is often misunderstood and ambiguous. Culture isn’t about ping pong tournaments or free food. Those things may define your workplace perks, but they don’t define your culture. Great teamwork is paramount to a vibrant culture.”

Ben Landers– President and CEO, Blue Corona, Inc.

  • “In terms of cultural challenges, the analogy I like to use is personal health. A company’s culture is like an individual’s health – it’s never static. You have to commit to working on it every single day. This is easy when you’re operating within your current comfort zone – i.e., things at work and at home are relatively normal. But it becomes challenging during times of stress. For example, when you get a big promotion that comes with increased hours, travel, and client dinners, you try to maintain your diet and exercise routine, but over time, you find yourself skipping the gym or having a second glass of wine during each and every client dinner. The same kind of thing happens to companies. It is easy to work on a company’s culture when resources are perfectly matched to growth, but this is rarely the case at Blue Corona. We are a seven-time Inc. 5000 company. We’ve grown – and continue to grow – at a rapid pace. While we generally do a good job of matching resources to growth, occasionally growth exceeds resources. During these times, our team gets so busy serving our clients and customers that maintaining and improving our culture falls off the priority list. For example, an interviewer turns a blind eye to a cultural mismatch because the need for talent is so extreme. Again, like health, screwing up a company’s culture is much easier than improving it. And, if you do let your guard down and screw things up, it can take months to reverse the damage. That’s the challenge I’ve faced and overcome – multiple times – at Blue Corona.”

Steve Pemberton– Globoforce CHRO

  • “We are in the midst of a challenging time across the world. We see cultural collisions every day and seemingly everywhere we turn. Civility has left our conversations and interactions and there is a disturbing lack of dignity and lack of respect for each other, particularly when we have different viewpoints. If we are to change this, we will have to begin with recognizing that humanity exists in all and being humane is an opportunity available to all of us.
  • At Globoforce, we advocate for greater equality and respect of all people in the workplace. We are committed to helping organizations build diverse and inclusive workplaces, not because we melt down differences but because we embrace them, knowing that multiple perspectives allow for the most informed decisions. However, we have to create an environment that will allow for the expression of such views. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to doing so is unconscious bias. In the traditional definition, unconscious bias is a series of behaviors, actions or attitudes that you, as an individual, are not aware you are imparting and, often times, are adverse in their impact on others. Unconscious bias is often seen in the hiring process, as well as in the promotion of employees.
  • To us, an inclusive workplace that is free of unconscious bias is one where every employee, regardless of nationality, color, or race is empowered to have a voice, feels respected, has a strong sense of belonging, and is comfortable bringing his or her whole self to work. That’s what we strive to achieve.”

Question: Have you been charged with shifting your culture, and if so, why and what steps and successes have you taken and experienced?


Tammy Perkins – Managing Partner and CPO of Fjuri

  • “Hire for culture add, not culture fit. Hire people who stand out, not those who fit in. Culture fit can perpetuate rather than challenge biases. Culture can be intentionally shaped by identifying culture adds versus culture fits through diversity inclusion and belonging. Growth is fueled by diversity through different employee experiences and perspectives while ensuring they take responsibility for the results. Role model and encourage behaviors that are accountable, supportive and transparent.
  • Embrace risk-taking. Fear of failure often prevents employees from being successful and innovative. A culture that is open to risk gives people an opportunity to learn and leads to innovation. Encourage behaviors that demonstrate a willingness to learn and grow. Provide employees with opportunities that will challenge their thinking and actions. By empowering employees to grow, you build a stronger foundation that solidifies your culture for the future.
  • Celebrate ongoing successes. Create an environment where employees can connect and celebrate successes on an ongoing basis. In my experience, employees will find ways to deliver results beyond expectations when leaders express encouragement and sincere appreciation for their accomplishments.”

Ben Landers – President & CEO, Blue Corona, Inc.

  • “ As they say, ‘what got you here won’t get you there.’ In 2015, Blue Corona did $5 million in revenue. This year, we’ll exceed $10 million. While some aspects of our company’s culture are intentionally unchanging—our core values, for example—other aspects of our company culture have had to change to support our growth goals. For example, we used to exist with very little management structure and a lot of informal communication. Today, we have clear reporting structures and have overlaid formal communication channels to (mostly) replace what used to get communicated only informally.
  • The challenge has been how to implement these changes without diminishing Blue Corona’s family-like feel. I think a key in doing this has been to connect such changes back to something that remains unchanged—our core values. For example, the desire to grow Blue Corona comes from our shared core value—’we’re passionate about growth.’ However, there is a recognition that we cannot live core values such as, ‘make every client a case study’ or ‘make data-driven decisions’ or ‘develop and retain the best people,’ unless we make formal what was previously informal.”

Steve Pemberton, Globoforce CHRO

  • “At Globoforce, workplace culture is our number one priority. Everything we do at Globoforce is in service of our motto, ‘work human.’ We have launched a number of initiatives to bring more humanity into the workplace, including products and programs such as Conversations, a tool that crowdsources and democratizes the feedback process by enabling in-the-moment recognition and feedback from everyone in the organization so employees can get a comprehensive view of their performance from the people they work with. Another offering, Life Events encourages employees to celebrate the greatest moments in employees’ lives, including marriage, new babies, promotions and retirement. These contribute to stronger relationships and deeper bonds among our employees that help to create a bridge between personal and professional life.”

Question: What challenges are you facing now or still trying to overcome?


  • “Staying focused on culture versus the daily work. This requires ongoing practice and prioritization. Check-in and keep a pulse on what’s happening. Don’t take it for granted.”
  • “The recognition that what got us here (culture wise) won’t necessarily get us to where we want to go. Some aspects of our culture need to change. Others need to stay the same, but I haven’t found an exact science to figure out which is which.”
  • “When it comes to culture, it is important to avoid declaring victory. Culture is ever-evolving and requires ongoing assessment. We are continually seeking to create a more human workplace. Addressing unconscious bias, ensuring consistent communications across the organization, and providing growth opportunities for employees are all areas where we continue to invest our time, effort and attention.”

Question: From a culture standpoint, how do you measure the success or strength of your culture?


Ben Landers – President & CEO, Blue Corona, Inc.

  • “We measure the strength of our culture in four ways: retention and turnover (of clients and employees), survey responses and our reviews (again, employee reviews on sites such as Glassdoor and client reviews on sites such as Google).”

Steve Pemberton, Globoforce CHRO

  • “Globoforce’s Work Human Analytics and Research Institute works to research and quantify the impact that recognition has on key business outcomes, such as retention and employee perceptions. We conduct analysis on our own internal employee data, and, for example, have found a significant link between the frequency of recognition and the probability that employees stay with the company (a 0.5-percent increase for each recognition award; the median number of recognition awards received annually is 21).
  • In addition to our retention results due to employee engagement and recognition, we are very proud to report that in the past 12 months, 40 percent of our new employees came to us through our employee referral program. Our number of employees has grown 20 percent year-over-year, which is a testament to our current employees who are happy to recommend us as a great place to work to their former colleagues and friends.”

Question: Do you have three to five tips you would like to share with the readers related to workplace culture?


Ben Landers – President & CEO, Blue Corona, Inc.

  • “Treat company culture like health. Culture, like health, is never static. You must make it a priority and work on it every day. Also, read every book Patrick Lencioni has written.”

Steve Pemberton, Globoforce CHRO

  • “Recognize: Thank your employees and colleagues for the work they are doing. It will engage employees, improve morale and inspire employees to do great work.
  • Check in: By scheduling frequent check-ins with your employees, it enables everyone to have better, more meaningful, continuous conversations, facilitating an employee’s learning, development and performance growth. It will also help to mitigate smaller problems that could snowball into large issues.
  • Have conversations: Although technology has helped enable social connections, nothing can replace face-to-face interactions. By engaging in dialogue, employees will be able to foster understanding and deepen bonds that ultimately strengthen workplace relationships and speed up decision-making.”

Elizabeth Famiglietti, VP of HR at PAN Communications

  • “Creating a culture that is open, inviting and free of politics takes time and attention. At PAN, we focus on giving back to our employees for all that they do to make our agency a success. In doing so, we’ve created a place that fosters work/life balance and promotes inclusion across all four offices. Developing programs that engage your employees is the key ingredient – and here are a few examples:
    • Dedicated VP/Career Coach model: Quarterly performance and career discussions, which helps to keep the promotion track strong and healthy.
    • Brand ambassadors: Employees who help to cultivate our culture by spearheading programs like PANcares (volunteer work), PANfit (healthy lifestyles), PANevents (bonding events for employees), PANpub (weekly cocktail & refreshment hour).
    • Our robust training and development program, PAN University: Fosters a continuous learning environment and allows employees to hone in on desired skills.
    • PAN reward and recognition programs: Weekly, monthly and quarterly, we recognize top performance across all of our offices. We add new programs each year like our PANexperience award, where we pick two outstanding employees each quarter to travel to any of our PAN offices (all expenses paid) for a week to be able to explore another location and meet other team members.
    • Internal communication strategy: This is key to any positive workplace culture. From the top down, we communicate frequently to all staff, and have an open-door policy. Values such as honesty and transparency help promote an environment where employees can approach any leader and ask important questions.”

Question: How did you or have you set the tone of your culture?


Ben Landers – President & CEO, Blue Corona, Inc.

  • “In a word, authentically. Our company culture is an authentic personification of our founders (of which, I am one). Blue Corona’s culture is a living, breathing manifestation of everything my partner and I believe and are passionate about when it comes to the game of business.”

Steve Pemberton, Globoforce CHRO

  • “Being inclusive of all is a mindset we’ve embraced since our early days. Through our long-standing global business practices, we are already very mindful of being an inclusive-focused company and culture, and in reading through all the fantastic recognition moments on Globostars, our social recognition platform, we regularly see examples of our inclusive culture. We define one of our values as follows, “Respect for All means we understand and champion the needs and ideals that all employees bring to Globoforce. We appreciate that our success as a company comes from being a culture that is inclusive of diverse backgrounds, experiences, personalities and viewpoints.” We move those words off the wall and into our culture by allowing for employees to recognize one another for those behaviors.” 

Shelley Smith is a company culture curator, author and president of Premier Rapport. Email her at Ask about a culture inquiry for your company.  

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