A corporate culture is comprised of the values that characterize the company and guide how employees behave. Every company has a culture. However, if management doesn’t actively develop and support a particular culture, one will nonetheless develop—and it might not be the culture that management wants.
On the other hand, a strong, well-defined corporate culture has many benefits. It defines the company’s identity, sets and maintains direction for employees, attracts and retains better talent, and adds to brand identity and company reputation.
In 2016, Perr&Knight decided to focus on our company culture to ensure it was consistent with our mission statement and reflected who we are as a company. We formed a committee with members who represented not just executives and management but also a cross-section of the employees at our actuarial and insurance operations consulting firm. Because our team of actuarial, regulatory compliance and insurance operations consultants occupy offices across the country, it was important to include people who represented a cross-section of locations, departments, and tenure with Perr&Knight. We made sure to include individuals who have been with the company for years, as well as newer employees with fresh perspectives.
The committee started by defining what we wanted our company culture to be. We had many discussions about what employees value and what our clients value. Our initial brainstorming sessions revealed that everyone’s perspective was a bit different. We worked diligently to sharpen ideas and fine-tune language to create a series of cohesive statements about the firm that apply across the board.
We ultimately landed on six values that represent the core of our culture: Employee Development, Excellent Work Product, Innovation, Integrity, Respect for Each Other, and Superior Customer Experience.
We then translated these values into behaviors. For each value, we developed a list of collective behaviors we would encourage our employees to exhibit which exemplified our values. The behaviors are expressed as “we” statements. For example, to demonstrate our value of Superior Customer Experience:
Ultimately, we came up with a handful of behavior statements for each value, which we published on our website.
As with any significant organizational change, there was some trepidation about how we would implement these ideas, even within our committee. Would we be forcing a foreign new culture on our staff? Would we become so diligent that we would devolve into micro-management? Our team of actuarial and insurance operations consultants brings decades of professional experience to Perr&Knight; they wanted to ensure we were not asking them to disregard their proven strategies and start from scratch.
None of this was our intention, but it was helpful to be aware of staff concerns. We were careful to emphasize that our goal is to encourage behavior that is consistent with our company values, not force new conduct on employees.
One of our main initiatives now relates to promoting the culture, both internally and externally. We’ve used several methods to promote our culture. We started a corporate culture newsletter that is published quarterly. Each issue is centered around a “featured value,” in which we print responses from our employees to questions related to our behaviors like, “How do you stay current with what’s going on in the insurance industry?” (Excellent Work Product) or, “When you’re leading a discussion, how do you ensure everyone feels comfortable expressing their views?” (Respect for Each Other). We publish a list of staff promotions in our newsletter to celebrate the successes and accomplishments of our peers. We share pictures and stories that our employees have submitted regarding what they do outside of work, to show our support for a healthy work/life balance.
We also implemented an employee recognition program where staff members are encouraged to send emails to one another, thanking or recognizing them for a valuable contribution. Not only are staff members sending emails across departments, but managers are employing recognition emails as a valuable management tool. At the end of each month, we publish these feel-good emails to demonstrate our pride in, and gratitude to, our staff.
Our committee’s other current main initiative is to ensure that our company’s policies and procedures encourage employees to act consistently with our values and behaviors. We started by evaluating our performance review process in conjunction with our HR department which led to a pretty significant overhaul of our process. We moved to an online system, which will allow for more frequent feedback, and changed the criteria on which employees are evaluated to better align with our culture.
We’re just about ready to publish revised hiring procedures that ensure we communicate the culture to candidates and evaluate them for their fit with our culture. And, we are just now beginning to assess our manager training and onboarding procedures at our insurance operations and actuarial consulting firm.
While it’s too early to determine whether our focus on culture is having the expected benefits of increased employee retention, increased productivity/profit, and improved brand reputation, we have already seen some benefits. We’ve received positive feedback from candidates and new employees about our commitment to a strong culture. We’ve heard that employees really enjoy the quarterly newsletter, and participation in our Employee Recognition program is high.
We believe that a well-defined culture has made it easier for our managers to lead and make decisions because a clearly articulated foundation of values and behaviors directly informs and influences decision making. A strong company culture also makes it easier for employees to do their jobs because it lets them know their managers will support actions and decisions that are consistent with our values and behaviors.