Pulse of the Profession Thought Leadership

Ask An Expert: Building A Better Corporate Culture

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A company’s culture is as unique as a fingerprint. No matter how similar some may seem, when you get down to the details you’ll notice unique characteristics that set each apart.

Where one company might value rigidity and a set structure, their neighbor next-door might be more flexible and freewheeling. While a business casual dress code has become the new normal for most public relations shops, there’s often no clear delineation regarding what exactly that might mean, nor should there be.

All companies have their own unique identity and that’s what allows us to find what works best for us as practitioners. The public relations profession is attractive because it often shirks the strict rules that other professions abide by and instead embraces the unique and diverse aspects of the clients we serve and audiences we communicate with. However, things aren’t always pleasant in Whooville and corporate culture can be as much a deterrent to potential employees as it might be a draw to others. So, how do you build an attractive and balanced corporate culture, especially in a profession where turnover is the norm?

For this month’s Ask an Expert, PRSA’s guide to best practices straight from industry leaders, we spoke with Wendy Lund, CEO of GCI Health, about building a solid, sustainable corporate culture that attracts and retains top employees.

How would you define Company/Corporate Culture?

Wendy Lund> At GCI Health, we define our company culture as a shared passion, with vision and values that drive our clients’ success and their patients’ well-being at the center of everything we do. Our goal is to build an incredible company spirit where we are in it together to maintain an exceptional company culture that embraces “doing something different” for our clients, colleagues and community.  Everything we do is wrapped around this.

We’ve seen many discussions regarding the high levels of turnover within the PR industry. How do you maintain a standard company culture when employees come and go so often?

WL> Our team is our greatest asset and at GCI Health, we are fortunate that we have a very low turnover rate. Our focus is on recruiting the best and keeping them happy here.  We have a senior leader on our team focused specifically on all staff and their needs and interests with a goal to act on them. On the rare occasion that a team member leaves, they are usually looking to do something outside of healthcare or communications and we work to uncover any insights that may help us improve our workplace.

What are your top three suggestions for building a company culture that helps your business stand out among the numerous PR companies in the market?

WL>

  1. Be honest and open with your employees – Trust staff with information. Rumors and speculation are the top “killers” of a positive corporate culture.
  2. Inspire staff to maintain a balance and follow their passion – We foster an environment that embraces living life and managing family and other issues as a priority.
  3. Encourage open and two-way dialogue at all levels – We empower employees to express themselves and encourage them to discuss their thoughts, ideas and issues with their managers or senior leaders and at the same time, come up with solutions to enhance their experience.

What is unique about your company’s culture?

WL> GCI Health has a straight-forward vision: to be the best healthcare agency in the world renowned for unrivaled talent, forward-thinking capabilities, unrelenting client service and an energizing workplace.

To live this vision, GCI Health maintains a seamless and collaborative culture. This is a term that is often tossed around, but at GCI Health, we live and breathe it as part of our “DNA”.  Since we have grown quickly over the years, we have made a concerted effort to ensure that we are not only hiring the best and brightest people in the industry, but also employees that embrace being part of a dynamic, passionate and caring culture. This means hiring smart, driven people that produce new ideas and collaborate closely with their colleagues across the agency to generate the best result. By bringing in employees that define this philosophy and reinforcing this way of working with others, we have built an environment based on ‘real collaboration’.  We honestly love being together!

We go above and beyond by celebrating personal milestones within the GCI Health family and plan fun events on a frequent basis, from themed (and now infamous) lunch and snack carts to organizing fitness activities to drawing on the staff’s competitive nature with Take a Break from March Madness, a month-long staff competition timed to the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament focused on growing accounts and seeking innovations among account teams. GCI Health also hosts monthly Edible Education lunches – learning opportunities that are purely staff-driven and provide peer-to-peer sharing to foster staff knowledge.

The Plank Center recently identified a “Wide Gap Between Performance Grades of PR Leaders and Their Employees.” How can a company culture contribute to closing that gap?

WL> A good company culture contributes to closing the gap between senior leaders and their employees by having an open door philosophy at every level; not just talking about it, but executing it with the entire staff being both approachable and happy to provide support and counsel. Closing the gap must come from the top down and reinforce to employees that this is a priority and this is sincere. Senior managers, myself included, need to build teams in a way to creates a forward-thinking learning environment. Since our philosophy is to constantly challenge staff to think differently about how they approach their work and their interactions with their colleagues, we live this every day. Teams are carefully constructed to ensure that everyone enjoys and learns from the people that they work with directly, and everyone else across the agency. That directly contributes to an increase in employee satisfaction and a sense of trust throughout the company.

PR shops often have offices spread across the country and the world. Is it better that each office identify their own culture or fold into the loop with the broader business?

WL> We have worked hard to share a corporate culture across GCI Health that embodies “doing something different” and embracing creativity and caring. And at the same time, we recognize the various nuances of many different countries, and even different areas of the U.S., that may lead to offices adopting aspects of their own company cultures. As long as the various cultures all ladder up to the common agency goals, variations between each office definitely works well and allows for a sense of individuality and personality.

How can company leadership maintain either a standard culture or general standards if each office has its own “personality”?

WL> GCI Health maintains general standards through quarterly all-staff meetings, as well as frequent CEO and senior-leadership communications to all staff to keep everyone in the loop on what’s been going on so everyone feels included.

What other business (PR or otherwise) would you say has a company culture that you either envy or aspire to emulate?

WL> We often look outside of our industry for inspiration. We look at highly creative, entrepreneurial companies such as Google, who put positive company culture and an unparalleled work experience front and center and highlight it as one of its key drivers of success. When we see something positive or innovative that another company is doing, it gets us thinking about how we can use that as a springboard to further enhance our culture.

I’ve found that senior PR practitioners are more inclined to identify culture as a one of the deciding factors for their decision to take a new position. When you’re interviewing a senior practitioner (excluding the C-suite), what are some key factors that help you to determine if they will be a good fit within your company?

WL> Our interviews focus on know-how, experience and fit. We “know it when we see it” and if someone is a likely good fit, there is a general consensus confirming that belief.

Anything else you’d like to share… great advice, general thoughts, guiding principles?

WL> Treat your employees the way you would expect them to treat their colleagues. Embrace everyone and don’t marginalize. Don’t tolerate “mean” behavior. Don’t let others “fight it out”. Intervene and facilitate the culture you want to build. Expect solutions. Help employees love their jobs and feel vital. Everyone has something great to give, find it and pull that greatness out of every employee.

 

Wendy Lund is the CEO of GCI Health, a forward-thinking healthcare public relations agency with more than 110 professionals across the US, Canada and Europe. Wendy carries out the strategic vision of the agency, overseeing all operations across GCI Health’s global network and providing senior counsel to key clients. Throughout her 30 years of experience, Wendy has managed PR for a variety of high-profile drugs and medical devices and has led award-winning national and globally recognized programs in marketing, advocacy development, health and disease awareness and prevention outreach.  Connect with her on LinkedIn at  https://www.linkedin.com/pub/wendy-lund/5/ab0/425


Laurent Lawrence is the associate director of public relations for the Public Relations Society of America. Follow him on Twitter @LaurentLawrence.

 

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