Labcast: Understanding Corporate Culture

February 6, 2012

In our latest Labcast, HR Pro Kris Dunn talks about the evolution of corporate culture, why it’s important, and the qualities of  effective leaders who help shape it in their organizations.

Labcast 63_ Corporate Culture with Kris Dunn

Kris is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Kinetix, a recruitment process outsourcing firm for growth companies. He’s also the founder of The HR Capitalist, a popular blog that examines a variety of human resource issues.

Podcast Transcript

Kevin: Hello and welcome to this episode of Labcast. I’m Kevin Cain, and today I’m joined by Kris Dunn, Chief Human Resources Officer for Kinetix, a recruitment process outsourcing firm for growth companies. Previous to his current role, Kris was the VP of People for DAXKO, a VP of HR for SourceMedical, and a regional VP of HR for Charter Communications. Kris is an HR pro who’s interested in the intersection of the HR practice, technology, and business results in today’s organizations.  Thanks for being with us today. How’s it going?

Kris: I’m doing great, Kevin. Thanks for having me.

Kevin: Yeah, we really appreciate you being here. I’m really interested in talking a little bit about corporate culture and getting a sense of what your definition of corporate culture is.

Kris: Yeah, well, the definition of corporate culture means a lot of things to different people. So I can’t claim that my definition would be the right one or would work for everybody, but to me, Kevin, I think corporate culture is all about really what you value as a company, what you value in terms of how you serve your customers, how business gets done, and what you value from a performance perspective across your talent base and all your associates or employees, whatever you call them, what you value across all those employees as you try and get business done. I think it’s a fleeting thing. I think it means a lot of different things to different people, and like style, I think you kind of know good culture when you see it. I don’t think there’s any one definition that could be overlaid across all of corporate America and all the companies in the world globally.

Kevin: Sure. So when you say you know when you see it, what are some of the characteristics that you in particular look for?

Kris: Well, let me give you a great question that people could add to their next employee survey. So if you do an employee survey, if you do an engagement survey, here’s a great question to ask. You could simply put kind of a free style question on your next survey, any time you’re engaging your employees to get their thoughts. This is the question. Simply ask them: Other than the current person that you work for, the manager you work for, what single manager in the organization, other than your current one, would you most like to work for and why?

If you ask that question, Kevin, what you’ll see, let’s say in a company with 300 employees, which means roughly that company is going to have somewhere between probably 30 and 45 managers of people, and ultimately what you’ll get is a sense for who’s really driving your culture. Subsequently, you can also find out a lot about what your employees value in a manager, and invariably it comes back to a lot of cultural aspects. It comes back to how that manager communicates with their people. The fact that that manager is probably always on the lookout to develop the individual as well as get results from that person in the company, and there’s just a lot of things that go into culture that you can find out by simply asking that question.

Kevin: Well, that makes a lot of sense, but then that leads me to another question which would be, so let’s say you’ve identified those people who are the leaders who are providing that sense of culture and doing all the things that you just described, what do you do with those people, and more importantly, what do you do with the people who don’t fit those characteristics?

Kris: Well, I think what’s interesting in the companies I’ve been with where we’ve asked that question to kind of get a cultural barometer for where we are and who really owns the culture, I think what’s interesting about that question is that if you share the results across the management team.

So for example, let’s say you and I were part of a management team at a company and we did this on an employee survey or an engagement survey and we shared the results across all those managers of people, the interesting thing is if we start talking about why, like if we had two or three names out of 40 that kept coming up about people really wanted to work for them, if we shared all the reasons why, ultimately that puts a little pressure on the people who aren’t providing those things from a cultural perspective. It puts pressure on those managers that are probably on the outside looking in of all those factors to really look at themselves and try and challenge themselves to do things better, to do things that are more employee-centric, and ultimately if you take care of employees, you’re going to take care of customers, and I think that’s kind of one of the cornerstones of good culture.

Now, to answer your other question, what do you do with the people who don’t really represent what you want to be from a cultural perspective, if you’re going to define your culture, if you’re going to define some of the values and some of the potential factors that you look for in leaders in order to build the type of culture you want, not only do you have to be willing to try and hire for those things, but regardless of relative performance, if you really want to develop a culture and have a cultural identity, you’ve got to be willing to fire those people.

Even if they’re getting good results, if they’re getting those good results in a way that’s not negative for your culture, you’ve got to be willing to remove them from the company, and I think that’s where a lot of companies that have a lot of good ideas from a cultural perspective ultimately kind of lose sight of the big picture. They’ll allow people who give good and sometimes even great results, but if they do it in a very negative way that kind of erodes that cultural base, they refuse to even think about removing them from the company, which is why their culture would ultimately end up being pretty mediocre at best. You have to be extremely consistent in the way you view that if you’re going to not only develop a culture, but then maintain it once you think you’ve developed it.

Kevin: Sure. That makes a lot of sense. So if you don’t mind, why don’t we just take a step back for a second, and can you kind of give me a sense, as I’m listening to you talk I realize that this whole idea of corporate culture has really been a corporate culture shift right? So how long has this really been a topic that’s been on the radar for people, and where do you see it going in the future?

Kris: Well, I think it’s always been on the radar of great companies. I think with all the media outlets that are there to talk about business and to talk about what can create a big business, I think we’ve seen a lot of case studies and our awareness has really risen over the past 5 to 10 years about companies like a Zappos, like a Google, all the big names that we think have great cultures. I think it is on the upswing.

What I would tell you is I think that where it goes from here is that I think we’re going to seek cultures that really deliver high  performance. It’s going to go less to the items that you can see like free soda and ping pong tables. Those still may be a factor just in terms of the workplace and the image people want to present, but I think what you’re going to see is really a kind of a unrelenting focus on really talking about the potential factors for a company that really create a DNA map of the type of employee that a company looks for.

So I think rather than thinking about the workplace and the space that we work in, people are really going to go to having real transparent conversations about whether someone fits, and they’re going to do that with performance kind of top of mind.

Kevin: Right. Well, it should be interesting to hear how that all plays out. Well, we’re just about out of time, so I wanted to take a minute just to find out where our listeners can go to find out more information about you.

Kris: You can check out Kinetix, and you can find us at Also, I’ve got a couple blogs. One is called the HR Capitalist, that’s me only, and you can find that at obviously,, and then I also run a multi-contributor blog called Fistful of Talent. Obviously, you can find that at where we write about all things talent management. Any one of those three locations, and also people can find me on Twitter @kris_dunn on Twitter. I love to connect with people there as well.

Kevin: Great. Well Kris, we really appreciate your time today and look forward again to catching up soon.

Kris: Okay. Thanks Kevin.

Content Marketing Director

<strong>Kevin Cain</strong> is the Content Marketing Director for <a href="">BlueChip Communication</a>, Australia's leading financial services communication firm. Before joining BlueChip, Kevin was the Director of Content Strategy for OpenView.