How Established Corporate Values Build a High Performing Culture


Misa Myong, outdoor survivalist, aspiring DJ, french fry foodie.

Technology and start-ups are at the forefront of redefining workplace environments and culture.  As other industries attempt to emulate these innovative workplaces, there’s been increasing emphasis on values.  Corporate values, whether understated or not, play a critical role on an organization’s culture and strategy. 

Values form a foundation that create a workspace to cultivate a shared goal and understanding throughout the company.  These values inherently influence behavior and decision-making amongst individuals.  Great Places to Work identified 1,000 firms that reveal a strong correlation between financial performance and employees’ belief on their company’s values.  Companies with employees that best understand where the organization is headed, how it’s going to get there and know that everyone’s in it together are those that are most profitable.

How corporate values impact profitability:

Harvard Business Review states that only 23% of employees within the United States truly “believe in” their organization’s values and strongly feel their implications on a daily basis.  By tapping into this unleashed potential, your organization will gain a competitive edge that will set your performance and profitability ahead of your competitors.

Balancing Risk and Opportunity as an HR Function


Christine Herrman, O.G. Bills fan, sunset yogi, granola chef.

A common perception from people outside of human resources continues to be that HR is like the principal’s office - you only get called to go there when you’re in trouble. And of course, this sentiment is understandable. HR typically manages the hiring and firing of employees. They commonly deal with employee conduct issues. Many times they write and/or enforce employment policies. People often bring them in to handle workplace conflict and represent the company in disputes over workers’ compensation and unemployment.

Uncontestedly these responsibilities are important and essential to running a business. But what about the opportunities you miss when you’re focusing primarily on risk avoidance as an HR function?

You risk missing out on top talent - which inevitably means a risk to the bottom line.

Organizations have to encourage their HR teams to find the balance between avoiding risk and embracing opportunity. Not sure where to start and what questions to ask? Embracing opportunity from a people perspective looks a bit like this:

  • Reviewing talent and planning for succession

    • Are you crystal clear on who your up-and-comers are? Do you have a transparent and proven approach on how to retain and develop them for the next role when it becomes available?

    • Can you identify the critical positions in your organization? Do you have a strategy for replacing those positions if those folks win the lottery and don’t come back tomorrow?

  • Measuring engagement and building a culture that promotes it

    • Do you have your finger on the pulse of your organization? Do you know what makes your culture great, and what may be troublesome about it?

    • Can you identify the signs of disengagement in your people? Are you willing to work with them and provide the resources to address the underlying reasons?

  • Accurately assessing performance and regularly providing feedback

    • Do you have a performance review process? If so, does it make sense to everyone? Does it provide true value?

    • Do managers understand how to give feedback in a way that is helpful and proactive? Are managers given the time and resources to provide feedback in this way? Are they held accountable for this?

  • Clearly defining roles and traits for success within the organization

    • Are your employees clear about their roles? Are job candidates clear about what each prospective role entails?

    • Are you clear about the traits that drive success in your organization? Is this articulated in a way that candidates, employees, investors, and beyond understand?

These strategies position HR as a critical partner to all business units, moving their approach from wholly reactive to much more proactive. Embracing these opportunities get ahead of a lot of the troubles that HR has to react to - disgruntled employees, poor hires, lackluster leaders, and unproductive teams.

And, of course, employees are less likely to avoid HR like the principal’s office.


“Get Out of Jail Free” Card: Monopoly and People Management


Lourdes Gonzalez, craft cocktail connoisseur, brunch indulger, movie fanatic.

Monopoly is one of my favorite board games. Hands down. My brother and I would play for hours on end. No game was ever the same as the last one.

It was a combination of luck, skill and strategy that yielded different results every time. Funny enough the majority of games had one thing in common: my brother would win much more often than I did. How did that happen? For one, he was one smart and lucky kid. And he would also make his own game rules from time to time.

Making Your Own Monopoly Rules in People Management

Similar to the game, managing people is a combination of luck, skill and strategy that may yield different results every time depending on the players. It is likely that you have a manual with “official player rules” like an employee handbook with policies that provide guidance. You also have the opportunity to create your own Monopoly rules (like my brother did) and use “chance cards” to manage your people based on the situation and their specific needs.

Chance cards are the highly coveted “get out of jail free” passes where you use your discretion to allow someone to work from home or come in a little later to drop their kid off on their first day of school. These are the small yet impactful gestures that can build trust with your team and cultivate engagement.

When to Use “Get Out of Jail Free” Cards?

There are no official player rules on when or how often you should use chance cards with your team. It depends on the situation and the employee. It is important to ask yourself how consistently you use these cards with all of your employees. Do you use chance cards in a fair manner across team members and yourself? When you use chance cards for yourself, make sure that you have similar rules for yourself as you do for your employees. Don’t be the manager who gets to work from home all the time yet denies the team to do the same. Doing so would earn you a “deal breaker” card, for sure!


Turn Your A’s into A+’s: Why You Should Focus on Strengths in Your Teams


Leah Potkin, avid cyclist, Boston dweller, bleeds blue.

Take a moment and think about a weakness you’re a little self conscious about.

Got it? Okay. Now take a minute to think of a strength you’re proud of.

For many, I imagine it was a bit easier to think of the weakness than the strength, and that’s something worth addressing!

Boost your team’s strengths to create diverse, high performing teams.

Early in my career, I had the privilege of working for a truly inspirational CEO, Mark Lawrence of SpotHero. Among many things he taught me, one lesson that came up time and time again was to focus on playing to people’s strengths and using smart hiring of great people to fill in the gaps.

It seems so simple, so intuitive. However, it’s all too easy to get caught up comparing yourself to others and focusing (dare I say obsessing?) on your weaknesses. And that’s just it! Most likely, if you’re really bad at math (cough, me, cough..), no matter how much time and energy you put towards improving, you’re never going to be a math whiz. However, if you’re a pretty strong project manager from day one, focusing on refining your skills and becoming a truly excellent project manager can set you apart, adding value to your teams and helping you propel forward in your career.

I’ve come to refer to this practice as turning your A’s into A+s, and the opposite (focusing on your weaknesses, that is) as turning your “C’s” into “B’s”.

Now this is, of course, a tricky dance, because you can’t just go ignoring your weaknesses entirely. But you can be strategic and focus the majority of your energy on enhancing those innate “A” areas, while leaning on coworkers (who are A’s in different areas) for support where you need it.

And let’s not forget your people. Importantly, allowing your teams to focus on their strengths is proven to make business sense, as a Gallup study shows that people who use their strengths every day are 6 times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs. Not to mention, this group was also 3x more likely to report an excellent quality of life. All from focusing on their strengths!

For me, a handful of conversations about strengths and weaknesses made me realize that it’s okay to use my calculator when looking at budgets, and spending hours trying to accomplish the mental math would only take away from my focusing on becoming a stronger communicator (an area I’ve identified as a potential “A”).

And while it is certainly always great to learn and try new things, it’s important to utilize your and your team’s unique strengths when working to form diverse, high-functioning teams.


How the Marshmallow Challenge Defines Our Approach to Workplace Cultures


Misa Myong, outdoor survivalist, aspiring DJ, french fry foodie.

“Every project has its own marshmallow.”

The Marshmallow Challenge, as Tom Wujec points out, reveals very deep lessons about the nature of collaboration and how we approach the unknown. We can apply it to any type of project and discover what it is that actually makes our teams tick.

Business students have this process of orienting, planning, building and then performing a last minute marshmallow test that results in either a ta-da or uh-oh moment. Mostly resulting in uh-ohs. Kindergartners, on the other hand, have mastered the procedure of prototyping and refining to create sculptures that are mostly ta-das.

Workplace cultures are usually formed the same way - mixed with a special blend of ta-das and uh-ohs.

But practice makes perfect and our ideals are not necessarily realistic. We learn by doing! The iPhone wasn’t always the portable music device it is today.

As organization begins to grow and complexity of the business begins to flourish, it’s easy to forget to look back and see if anything was left behind. As Wujec explained, plans were drawn to assemble elaborate structures, but just before the buzzer sounded, all too many learned that their model couldn’t support the marshmallow’s weight. In the same fashion, our workplace cultures need prototyping and refining to know if they’ll actually work in real life.

Wujec attributes our planning and deliberating on our instincts to jockey for power and to play it safe. CEOs succeeded the marshmallow challenge more often when working with their executive administrators rather than when alone. It takes specialized skills and facilitation skills to actually embrace the prototyping process, to reach success, and get those ta-da moments.

Culture Curve

Refining the culture prototype is called change management in the HR world. But don’t mistake adding a new beer tap or setting up a ping pong table as improving your company’s culture. Real change management must occur to support your metaphoric marshmallow.

It takes more than just incentivizing your workforce with generous bonuses and pet insurance. We often attribute culture as the foundation to employee motivation and team collaboration.

When Wujec raised the stakes and offered $10,000 to the marshmallow challenge winner, there was not one team who succeeded in a ta-da structure. So we must be weary of what skills we are reinforcing when we increase any sort of monetary incentives. A strong culture with established corporate values helps wield the necessary skills for your employees and bring them together.

Many times in order to pursue any sort of organizational change, like restructuring, we need to reinforce it with cultural change. This allows employees to be more receptive and open to workplace modifications.

We can’t be the latest and greatest without challenging the unknown

CEOs often get too comfortable and fail to question the status quo or get wrapped up trying to develop the perfect long-term plan. We must not become weary of taking a step forward and plunging into the unknown of developing our workplaces cultures. This is the only way we can get close enough to achieving the dreams of our “perfect plans”.

Every organization is unique and cannot be replicated anywhere else. There is no easy way to tell if the perfect culture is even obtainable. However, through the process of prototyping and refining, we will form our most ideal workplace cultures that will ultimately optimize performance and profitability.


Is a well-trained manager the biggest perk of all?


Misa Myong, outdoor survivalist, aspiring DJ, french fry foodie.

Beer kegs, ping pong tables, free snacks - these are all nice additions to the workplace, and there’s no doubt these perks make work appear collaborative, fun and overall enticing. And as aesthetics like these are becoming an increasingly important decision-making factor for new job seekers, there’s no doubt they assist in attracting talent. But are these perks enough to attract and retain your people?

For new job seekers, there are more than just perks to think about.

Is the role a good fit? What are all the necessary qualifications? Will I like my boss? Are the compensation and benefit plans competitive? How’s the corporate culture? Where is the company going to be in five years?

And while your human resources, marketing, design, and talent acquisition teams all play a role in managing your employer brand and drawing in the right candidates, it is ultimately in your managers’ hands to engage your employees and keep them around.

Interestingly, as an undergraduate business student, I was taught to expect the worst of managers and to become a high performer on my own accord. We were taught that once we had jobs at prestigious companies, we should make our bosses happy regardless of what that took. This was just part of taking the job. Looking back, however, there is more companies can be doing to reverse this sentiment and better equip managers to grow and develop their people.

It’s also important to remember that regardless of how prepared your new hires may be to take on the new company, the new manager, and the new role, your managers may not be prepared to embody the same culture and values that initially attracted the hires to your company.

Without proper training to ensure your managers are aligned with the brand you’re selling and skilled at integrating the company’s values and culture, it’s easy to miss the mark on this important part of the employee experience.

So while you might feel confident in attracting your talent with your culture, kegs, and overall employer brand, retaining people is largely up to your managers. If executed well, employees and managers alike will grow and prosper, and if executed poorly, it’s all too easy for your people to walk away in pursuit of another company with another keg and another plethora of snacks to choose from.


4 Tips to Make Failing Safe for Managers


Leah Potkin, avid cyclist, Boston dweller, bleeds blue.

When you learn to ride a bike as a kid, you’re expected to fall. You have a helmet, knee pads, and likely a loving parent cheering you on and providing the support (and padding!) you need. You fall, and fall, and fall again, until ultimately you find your balance and get to feel the wind in your hair and ride off into the sunset with your friends.

It all sounds rather routine, but what’s unique here is not the falling (or failing), but rather the expectation of failure that makes falling and getting a few scrapes feel perfectly normal. Thanks to this protective bubble where failure is normalized, most of us learn to ride bikes.

Unfortunately, new managers are (usually) not provided with helmets or knee pads, and it can feel taboo to admit failure of any sorts. You’re the manager after all, so you must have it all together, right? Too often, managers leave work worried they said something wrong, mismanaged a project, or generally messed something up, with no outlet to safely admit to and discuss these thoughts.

Balancing “being the manager” and admitting failure is, of course, a tricky dance, but there are some easy steps you can take (for yourself or for your managers!) to create safe ways to talk about failure. If adhered to, these actions can help managers go through the learning curve faster, and ultimately help them and their teams build rapport, communicate more effectively, and execute more efficiently.

While the former seems logical enough, ultimately we learn by doing. These simple steps will integrate failure into your team’s learning process.


Set an Expectation for Failure

With your boss, your reports, and anyone else you work closely with. While you don’t want to go around telling everyone you’re bad at your job, you do want to set an expectation that you are learning and will probably make some mistakes along the way. If others know you’re okay talking about the mess ups, they’ll be more open to sharing feedback -- everyone wins from these shared learnings .

Find a Failure Buddy

This one’s borrowed from the medical field, where some programs encourage first year doctors to literally find a buddy with whom they can share their mistakes. Being able to admit failure in a nonjudgmental environment can relieve the pressure of feeling like you need to have it all together, and having someone to talk to allows for the important step of reflection.

Record and Share Learnings

What are mistakes for if not to learn from? Make sure your failures are not in vain, and spend the extra few minutes to write down what you learned and what you’ll do differently next time. And don’t stop there! Be sure to share this with whomever was involved, signaling to them that you are comfortable showing vulnerability. Pro tip: this helps build trust!

Share the Failure Love!

Don’t keep all the failure for yourself! Encourage others to reflect on their own mistakes and help create that safe space for them as well. Teams that fail together, stay together.


There you have it. While there might not be a supportive parent (with band-aids on hand) at work, there are a few easy steps managers can take to become more comfortable talking about and learning from failure. These mistakes are just the knee scrapes that inevitably make us more resilient, trustworthy, stronger leaders (and maybe better bikers, too!).

Happy failing :)


Middle Management: The Meat of the Sandwich


Christine Herrman, O.G. Bills fan, sunset yogi, granola chef.

Middle management typically represents the level of leadership above the front lines, and below senior leadership of the business. Essentially, they’re the meat of the management sandwich.

And since we’re on the topic, consider the last sandwich you ate. What was the name of it? Was the meat of the sandwich included in the name? More often than not, it is - Meatball sub, tuna melt, veggie burger...Why is the meat usually in the name? Because it’s important to the taste, composition, and surrounding accompaniments. The meat’s influence is felt throughout the sandwich, and we eaters make multiple decisions based on the meat. For example, condiment selection (roast beef and horseradish sauce), cheese selection (ham and swiss), veggie selection (Italian beef and giardiniera), bread (burger and brioche)...these are traditional examples but are constantly being reworked creatively based on the eater’s preferences, the list goes on.  

Which brings me (hungrily) back to middle management.

Middle managers, sandwiched between front line managers and more senior level leaders, sit in unique and influential positions. Middle managers must have a deep understanding of daily business operations, while simultaneously understanding strategic decisions and vision from the top. Done well, middle management is “in the know”, well-positioned for thoughtful decision making, while also tactically taking a systems thinking approach, considering future implications on the whole of the business and its people.

And just as a fresh, well-seasoned piece of meat can make or break its namesake sandwich, well-trained, competent middle managers can make or break an employee experience and a business's strategy and success. Not only do these managers lead front-line management and employees who directly touch the product/service and customer, but they also pose a significant amount of influence on top-level management, keeping them connected enough to daily operations  to make strategic, well-informed decisions. Their position is a difficult one that requires a delicate balance between basic management skills, strategic leadership, and the influential aptitude to manage up. Not to mention, they must also have the ability and keen awareness to flex their style at every turn to steer the business in the desired direction.

Organizations would be wise to think about their last sandwich when considering investment in their middle managers, and remember the level of influence they (meat and middle managers) have; the success of their business (and sandwich) depends on them. Ensuring middle managers are prepared to think both tactically and strategically must be a key imperative. Resources to recruit, develop, retain, and engage this level would not be wasted.

Just think, you would never skimp on the meat of the sandwich, would you?


Blue Cheese and People Management: So Much In Common


Lourdes Gonzalez, craft cocktail connoisseur, brunch indulger, movie fanatic.

This has nothing to do with smell, promise.

It is more about your reaction to eating said cheese. Blue cheese is one of those polarizing foods: some love it while others are not a fan. I am not a fan. Period. Have tried it several times, different versions, lovely settings… Still not a fan.

What’s the connection with people management you ask?

Well, the same happens with the people who manage us. We seem to either love them or tend to not be fans. Period.

A few days ago, while chatting with a good friend over a drink (no cheese involved), we remembered the “outlier” managers that evoked strong reactions, whether good or bad. I challenged my friend to a small competition: how many “Amazing”, “Awful” and “Average” managers have we had so far?

The results? Surprising! We realized we had quite a few “Amazing” and “Awful”, yet most of our managers fell under “Average”. And there was nothing average about them. They were all truly great human beings who simply did not get any airtime in our lives.

Why? They may have been more “parmesan” cheese in our lives. Nice folks that we didn’t have a strong reaction to. What could they have done differently to stand out as “Amazing”?

Blue Cheese vs. Parmesan Cheese?

If you are managing a team, what do you think your team will say… blue or parmesan cheese?   What will make you stand out as an “Amazing” manager?

First, think about your “Awful” and “Amazing” managers. How did they treat you? Did you share similar values (or not)? Did they give you some tough love to help you grow or did they never bother to give any feedback?

Next, think about your “Average” managers. What were some of the positive qualities they displayed that you may have overlooked?

Select two or three top qualities that you valued in your “Amazing” and “Average” managers and jot down at least two of the things you swore you would never become from the “Awful” category.

If you’re more experienced on the “Average” manager side of things and need a little “Amazing”/“Awful” inspiration, Hollywood is here to the rescue. From the Awful managers like “Devil Wears Prada” and “Office Space” to the Amazing role models like “McFarland, USA”, “Apollo 13”, “Invictus”, and “Coach Carter”, film can help you get a clearer picture.

Aligning Cheese Preferences

Armed with all this great info, it is now time to check with your team. What do they value as an  “Amazing” manager? Keep an eye on their verbal and non-verbal cues when they are around you. Do they seem comfortable in your company? Are they open and willing to engage you in conversation when they face a problem and need help?

Finally, ask for feedback. During 1:1 meetings, ask this question: ”What can I do more of or less of to help you be successful?” Watch for themes on their responses. Are they asking you to step away or be more involved? Are they asking for increased responsibility or more visibility into a particular project that you lead?

You’re Not Pizza!

Match these themes up with the qualities you value and see where your style falls. Now, the answer may be slightly different according to each team member. This is an ongoing effort where you adapt your style to what your direct reports need from you.

Remember, you can’t make everyone happy, you’re not pizza. But you can work everyday to tailor your people management style to your team, the circumstances, and still be true to your values – aka, your favorite type of cheese. Mine is goat cheese if you were wondering!


Not Sure You Have What It Takes To Be A Good Manager?

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Misa Myong, outdoor survivalist, aspiring DJ, french fry foodie.

Most of us can probably count the number of good managers we’ve ever had on one hand.  Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon phenomenon.  And it’s inevitable that there comes a point in many of our careers where we’re asked to take on the role of a manager and lead a team.

So the question begs to differ, do you have what it takes to be a good manager? If we’re talking from experience alone and consider the odds of most your managers ranging from bad to mediocre, many of you may not have a positive manager experiences to learn and model after.

It doesn’t take one to know one

For those fortunate enough, having a good manager experience sits as an aspiration for the day when you become a manager yourself.  That does not mean that if you have not had a positive manager experience that you do not have what it takes to be a good manager. 

Key management skills can be learned and obtained regardless of your previous experience with managers.

So what should you do to be a good, or even great, manager?

We break it down to these three simple approaches:

Keep it real

There’s nothing worse than fake gratitude.  You shouldn’t feel pressured to reward your team members and accept anything they turn in.  Often times, they can tell when your appreciation is not genuine, and this sets a low expectation bar for your team.  Constructive feedback is healthy and allows your team to learn and work up to your expectations.  This way, they will continue to grow and learn how to improve on the work that they do.

Tenacity is good, but stay flexible

It’s good to be firm and push your team members through a challenge or meet a tough deadline, but unfortunately there are other obstacles that are not necessarily seen throughout the workplace.  There might be something else going on outside of work affecting your team’s ability to meet the deadline.  Work with your team members and provide them with the resources they need to get it done.  You don’t want to kill the energy or momentum driving the team forward.  That’s when team members start to get burned out and energy takes a nose dive.

Communication is major key

Do you often find yourself frustrated after dealing with multiple vague and follow-up clarification emails?  Ever disappointed that you ran out of time to handle all your ongoing projects and objectives?  Unsure how to start your project and feel the need for more direction?  These are all areas you can avoid as a manager with clear communication.  After a meeting or delegating a new task, as your team member to relay the information back to you and follow up with an email summarizing the conversation to ensure both of you are on the same page and no one is left behind.

Your worst mangers could have prepped you to be the best manager

When things are good, you don’t always know how good it is until things are bad.  Learning and observing from some of your worst managers could have prepped you to be the best manager you can be.  They gave you an understanding of what could have been done better and what made it so frustrating from your end at the time.  This sense of awareness and understanding of what a bad manager is can prepare you for what not to do.


When did Feedback become the "F" word?


Catherine Cummings, wine connsoisseur, book worm, aspiring dog owner.

My teenage sons have it good for so many reasons. As a mom, I serve as a human ATM, plan killer vacations, and send them away to amazing summer camps. I’ll often tell people that in my next life I’d like to come back as my kids. They really have it made.

The #1 experience they’ve had that I wish I had at their age is the opportunity to play competitive soccer for really good coaches. The reason? Those coaches have been giving them regular, honest feedback for years. Both my boys have learned something it took me a long time to realize: constructive feedback may sting, but when well intended, it’s essential for your development.

When I first started working after college, I had the best bosses-- kind, friendly, full of laughs. They were also extremely polite and weren’t direct when my work wasn’t top notch or if I needed an attitude adjustment. In their quest to remain friendly and approachable, they withheld helpful information that could get me back on track when I never even knew I was off.

There was another problem with this feedback avoidance strategy.

When I became a new manager, I’d never had a role model who delivered me regular, helpful feedback to learn from.

One day I hit paydirt after starting a new gig working for someone with a reputation for being extraordinarily difficult to please. For the first 6 months, it was like I couldn’t get anything right. Whenever he delivered positive feedback, there was always (always!) something that could go better. Which made me try even harder. Before I knew it I was, for the first time, “in the flow”-- I loved my job.

Now, because I loved this job, I was concerned I wasn’t performing (why else would I be getting constructive feedback all the time, I thought). When I raised these concerns, my boss just laughed and gave me some of the best advice I’ve never received:

“If you’re not getting constructive feedback from people on a regular basis, consider what’s being said about you when you’re not in the room. Everyone, especially at your career stage, has room to grow”.

To this day, I consider receiving-- and delivering-- ongoing feedback to be a gift.  To end my 1:1 meetings with my team members I ask the same question every time-- What feedback do you have for me? If nothing comes to mind, I get more specific- what do you need more of from me? Am I smothering you with too much love and attention?

I used to fear feedback conversations, but I’ve learned to lean in, learn and grow. 


5 Signs Your Culture Needs a Tune-up

Regrettables turnover

Christine Herrman, O.G. Bills fan, sunset yogi, granola chef.


Organizational culture is the culmination of the unsaid things – values, assumptions, beliefs. It’s the behaviors we reward and the ones that we don’t. It’s the unspoken rules of engagement and, at the same time, avoidance. It’s how decisions are made.

It can be difficult to allocate the necessary resources to employ strategies that keep your company’s culture on track. Many small to mid-sized companies have smaller human resource teams that are limited to functional yet critical tasks like payroll, benefits, and employee relations. In many cases, they may not notice a culture problem until it’s too late.

Your culture may need a tune-up if you’re noticing this:

High turnover

Employees are more likely to leave an organization with a toxic culture. On the other hand, they’re much more likely to stay (even for less pay/title) when the culture is inclusive, open, positive, and engaging. If your turnover has been steadily increasing and your pay/benefits/promotions are on par with competitors, it’s time to take a closer look at your culture.

Low participation in “fun” events at work

If your company’s events no longer draw employees, it’s time to see if you really know who your employees are. Just throwing a happy hour or jeans day at the team when you think morale needs boosting is not the answer. Great cultures celebrate and encourage play in ways that engage all employees. Employees who work in an organization with a problematic culture don’t want to spend any more time at work or with coworkers than they have to.

A spike in sick/vacation days taken

Looking at the average number of sick/vacation days taken over an extended period of time can tell you if your company has developed a culture concern. Overworked and undervalued employees are the products of problematic cultures. Employees should be encouraged to take time off when they need to and know not to abuse it; employees who love their organization’s culture wake up in the morning excited to come to work and therefore seize less opportunities to take time off.

More frequent conflict

Conflict in organizations is healthy and those with great cultures find a way to encourage it in productive, respectful ways. When conflict consistently flies off the rails or (just as destructively) gets swept under the rug, it creates deep-seated resentment. Again, what gets rewarded and what gets reprimanded are key indicators of your culture. So, if you have a director or senior leader who regularly gets away with publicly berating employees and is touted as a key decision maker in the organization, you are essentially telling employees that that behavior will be rewarded with promotion.

Water cooler conversations become more hushed

As you walk around your workplace, are casual conversations earmarked by bursts of laughter, relaxed tone, and smiles? Or, are they hushed and nervous, with eyes darting around to make sure no one is watching? Another way to tell if your culture is toxic is if employees are working from a place of fear – they’re worried they’re going to get in trouble by having fun at work, or talking to other employees during work time. Role model cultures create an environment where employees approach work from a place of excitement and opportunity – fun happens simply because they are encouraged to use their talents and be themselves. A positive culture will not surface from a place of constant concern and anxiety.

Certainly these are not the only indicators of a culture problem, but the key is to have your finger on the pulse of your organization so no smaller issues grow into ones that are irreversible and negatively affect the business.


Graduate from Kindergarten? Then You Have the Key to Successful People Management


Lourdes Gonzalez, craft cocktail connoisseur, brunch indulger, movie fanatic.

Kindergarten: forger of first friendships and life’s initial lessons. From sharing crayons to saying “please and thank you” to cleaning up your mess. Big shout out to my first great teacher Miss Ada for stressing that it all boils down to one simple yet powerful concept: respect.

Respect comes at the crossroads of trusting relationships and genuinely good people management. If I trust you as my manager, I will surely believe in you and be more willing to work with and for you.

Why does it matter

The hard truth is employees tend to leave their managers more often than the company or the job. Showing respect for your team in moments as simple as daily interactions like smiling and asking them for feedback places the building blocks to develop trust as a leader.

For some, respect is something that was earned along the way in becoming a manager – it’s something deserved to anyone based on their “status”. If this resonates with you, I’ll save you a few valuable minutes. Out of respect for your time, you may want to move on to a different post.

Provided you share Miss Ada’s philosophy that respect is something you show and earn every day, keep reading for a little self-reflection.

Think about yourself:

  • Do you greet people in hallways consistently?

  • Do you ask for permission to give feedback to your employees?

  • How often do you ask your team to give you feedback?

  • Do you gossip with your team?

  • Have you ever shared information that was given to you in confidence by one of your team members?

  • How often do you email or text an employee for a basic question while they are out sick or on vacation?

  • Do you keep your promises to your team?

  • How often do you show appreciation to your team for their contributions?

You get the picture.

Respect is built with the little things that make a big difference. It is an unspoken way of communicating to your team that “you got their backs”. At the end of day, respect is one of those “karmic” concepts: the more you give, the more you get.

So…What’s your daily karmic respect tally as a manager? There’s still time to balance it out today.


NEWSLETTER: Manager Training for the Modern Learner


tailored for new(ish) managers

Management Insights

Summer is finally here and Management Insights is in full bloom. Do you have new managers who don't like stale bagels and cold coffee? Is it hard to get all your managers in one room? We’ve created a modern solution to equip your new(ish) managers with the essential skills to build high performing teams.

Management Insights offers either an online, or in-person experience, and is getting rave review from early adopters.

All about Management Insights


in numbers

The SparkWorks Team


Dog Owners


Aspiring Dog Owner


around the office

How would you describe SparkWorks at a party?

"SparkWorks is like a cup of coffee.  It’s warm and cozy, strong and homey.  It prepares you for the day, to be resilient for anything that will come your way.  It’s got that special taste and little spark that helps you be the best you."

PS. we've got a plant named Cholula



new peep

Christine Herrman, new Strategic Talent & Culture Consultant

Our SparkWorks dream team is growing!  We're proud to announce our newest member, Christine Herrman.  Cheers to Christine and the adventures to come!

Read on here.


featured on our blog

Building Your Intentional Culture

"Rarely do I meet the CEO and head of HR who have taken the painstaking (and worthwhile) time to answer the critical questions about the organizational culture they intend to set."  What are your answers to these three imperative questions?

Read on here.

happy birthday to us

8 Things We Learned the Hard Way

SparkWorks recently turned four and the team threw a surprise birthday party, complete with a London Buck (the team's drink of choice).  We have an office plant and are looking official with company engraved Moleskines.  You may hate them, love them, or even ignore them, but these eight findings are how we’ve managed to thrive and be adaptable.
Read on here.

For more information on the groovy work we do,


Culture Change is about your Managers, not HR


Modern, fast moving environments urge companies to be adaptable and innovative.  Accelerated technological capabilities continue to shape our workplace dynamics, pushing businesses to be the best that they can be.  Business leaders are thus driven to consider the complex anatomy of one’s corporate culture and how to best evolve them for the changing global climate.

It takes time, rigor, honest debate and consideration of the tradeoffs for any strong executive leadership team to establish their corporate values.  But this is critical to any fast growing, dynamic organization. What ultimately emerges is deep clarity about your organization’s current and desired culture -- and what it will take to get there.  

Sometimes posters get made, other times these values get tagged onto already cumbersome performance management processes.  Occasionally organizations create employee groups to help make progress on the cultural renewal.

But where do most organizations tend to fall short?  Simply put, most cultural initiatives end up being “owned” by HR and fail to involve managers at every level to embrace, promote and facilitate the changes that need to happen.

These managers already have competing priorities, yet their involvement is essential for your ideal culture to be realized.  When managers aren’t completely aligned or involved with the organizational culture change, employees can hear mixed messages and feel conflicting priorities.

What can be done to involve managers and make cultural changes stick?

1.  Involve managers (and also employees-- but that’s another blog!).  While the leadership team will drive the desired culture changes, it’s imperative to solicit feedback and input from the front line to make sure that what you’re building is both worthwhile and achievable.  When you incorporate their feedback, it will accelerate buy-in and tackle skepticism.

2.  Provide clear communications expectations.  Don’t assume that all managers know your expectations for sharing information with their team -- this is especially true for your new managers.  Create clarity for every manager. Questions you should consider answering:

       - How frequently should they meet with their team, and what do you want them to say about the intentional culture?

       - How should they communicate and engage with change champions?

       - How should they surface resistance to cultural change, and how should they address it?

3.  Cascade messages. Equip your managers (at every level) to share messages on expectations, why it matters and how their team is essential to the organizational change success.  Tailor specific communications for your managers to leverage and use during team meetings and one-on-one, so they are best to understand both the what and the why, and they are prepared to address questions and reduce ambiguity.

Working through culture change and involving all your managers is no easy feat.  Ensuring they stick and remain relevant is the true challenge. Your managers are your unique competitive advantage and can be fully leveraged to uphold your fast growing, dynamic company culture.


Happy Birthday to Us: 8 Things We Learned The Hard Way


SparkWorks recently turned four and the team threw a surprise birthday party, complete with a London Buck (recipe below).  We have an office plant (we’re looking for names-- any ideas?) and are looking official with company engraved Moleskins.

I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such a talented team of dreamers who work their tails off. We believe that everything is figure-out-able, and that’s what we do when we face a new unknown challenge: we dig our heels in and figure it out.  

I’m often asked why I started SparkWorks, and the answer is messy.  

Being honest, part of me thought that being a “solopreneur” would be easier on my family than the crazy work-life imbalance that I had for several years-- I was wrong.  Another part of me thought that the work would be more interesting (mostly true), and easy to find (very wrong).

This is unquestionably the best job I’ve ever had, though very different than what I planned at the outset.  And now we’ve grown from lil ‘ol me in a home office and Starbucks, to a busy team in a WeWork space (that we love).

Overall, here are the lessons I’ve learned starting up a boutique consultancy from scratch. Again, I wouldn’t change it for the world.  

  1. Quick fixes don’t solve anything. Do what it takes to solve a problem so it stays solved.
  2. It (almost) always takes twice as long and twice as much money to solve something as you think it will.
  3. When selecting people for the team, realize that not everyone is cut out for entrepreneurial world, where everything moves at blazing speed and adaptation is essential.
  4. Take the time for personal reflection, to think, adapt and proceed. The risk of making mistakes increase when you work too much or too hard-- there are likely signals you’re missing.
  5. Plans mean nothing until clients buy and believe in you.  It takes rapport to develop credibility for a budding business, regardless of how great and in demand the business actually is.
  6. Being a connector or master networker does not mean you can sell (this was the hardest lesson for me to learn).  And selling is the #1 job for any startup entrepreneur (duh, I know-- now).
  7. The highs are high and the lows are low.  Glory goes to the entrepreneurs who learn to surf the waves.
  8. Nothing is more expensive than cheap labor (I borrow this phrase from a friend). It’s related to #1-- when hiring talent, solve your problem with the best possible resource to build your team and company.

I trust that some budding entrepreneurs are going to read this and ignore-- I get it; I did that too.  Sometimes, we need to learn by doing. And all I can say is DIG IN and make your magic happen.

Either way, I’d love to hear from you on lessons you’ve learned, or what resonates with you.  


*5/15/18 Update: we named the plant Cholula

And as promised...

The SparkWorks take on a London Buck

It is with hope that our London Buck lends all budding entrepreneurs a sense of solace during these crazy times!



Ginger Beer




Step 1. Cunch some ice

Step 2. Generously serve yourself a large sum of gin to your soul’s delight

Step 3. Fill the rest of the cup with ginger beer

Step 4. Squeeze half a lime for an added zest

Step 5. Garnish with mint and cucumber for a refreshing kick


Turnover is Tricky


Winning over your retained team is an essential task.  And sometimes that's not enough.

A professional services firm’s senior leadership team recently decided they needed to “raise the bar” and address both under-performance and disruptive behavior.  The results: 1) involuntary turnover of 25% of the team; 2) brutal Glassdoor reviews; 3) upset clients.
Hired to identify ideas to bolster employee retention and engagement, we’ve partnered with our client on three key areas to get them back on track—fast.

  1. Add precision and rigor to the interview and selection process.  We’ve prepared interviewers to assess both technical aptitude and culture fit.  Make good decisions at the outset- it pays dividends.
  2. Build management acumen, especially feedback skills.  It turned out most of their messages about poor performance or unprofessionalism had been clear as mud. We want their team to know where they stand, and not be fearful they're "next".
  3. Rebuild trust within the organization, creating clarity and a more solutions-focused organization, with an aligned senior leadership team.

When your competitive advantage is the strong relationships you’ve built with clients/ customers, reliability and dependability is essential.  High turnover has a high cost, and it’s avoidable with management expertise and alignment.  


Building An Intentional Culture


Written by Catherine Cummings, CEO

“People are our most important asset.”

“There is no I in team.”

“Our talent is our competitive advantage.”

We’ve heard them all, and (ideally) in every company we’ve been lucky enough to work in, they truly believe each statement. But rarely do I meet the CEO and head of HR who have taken the painstaking (and worthwhile) time to answer the critical questions about the organizational culture they intend to set:

WHY should someone work at your company?  

WHAT can they expect from their team and organization?  

WHO are they?

Companies aspiring to be a compelling place to work while simultaneously preparing for scalable and profitable growth spend time asking themselves those questions-- and creating a unique career value proposition for talent to thrive in. Sure, there may be a poster on the wall with values crafted at an offsite leadership team meeting,  but that doesn’t mean the words on the wall mirror the day-to-day reality and rarely are those values then used as a foundation for organizational culture decisions..

Why should executive teams take the effort to create an intentional culture?

If you don’t, it gets created for you. Without clarity of expectations and norms, your team will react to each situation without context. The results? Perceptions of favoritism or special treatment, and before you know it, you’re cleaning up people problems that were completely avoidable.

Culture frameworks minimize mistakes in hiring, promoting and structuring teams.  You’re more likely to both attract and select talent that will thrive in your organization, improving retention and likely discretionary effort. The confidence in your hiring process and low turnover then fuels scalable growth-- a win-win.

Clarity is king.  Ambiguity is the enemy. In the absence of information, people will make assumptions, and handling thorny people issues becomes even more difficult.  When there’s clarity around who you are as an organization and how you expect your team to collaborate, accountability is vastly improved.

Culture frameworks streamline all human capital decisions. Where (and how) you invest in your talent requires thoughtful consideration. For example, Some companies waver for months (or years) on the best approach to something as straightforward as a time off policy or tuition reimbursement. With a framework in place, the decision and tradeoffs become far more clear.


NEWSLETTER: Bigger team, bigger dreams!


New year, disruptive management solutions!

We've flipped the script, creating energizing programs that simulate an ongoing learning experience without the need for endless hours of instruction. 

SparkWorks enables and empowers your managers to effectively drive performance and start strong to hit those annual benchmarks with an engaging, interactive and tech-infused program that prepare managers to lead other supercharged people, not just projects or the work itself.

These highly impactful and cost-effective programs will give them the standardized skills and tools for a more consistent and cohesive work culture.  Our technology, in-person guidance and virtual coaching enable managers to apply what they learned immediately with their teams. They are experiential programs that will transform your people from being someone's boss to becoming a workplace cultivator.

For more information on our Management Intensive, please email the team at!


What we’re watching

The expectations for human resources are changing as it is challenged and pushed to be the powerhouse of all things related to the employee experience.  Here's something to be cognizant of moving forward into the new year:

How digital nomads are shaping the ‘Gig Economy’

What’s now being addressed as the ‘Gig Economy’ has more people working remotely and in contract or fixed term positions.  Technology is changing the way we operate, not only within our teams, but throughout the entire business strategy as well.  This trend to hire individuals on a project-need basis is additionally impacting the way people move from one job to another.  Meaning,  the jump from one job to another over the course of one or two years is no longer considered a resume faux pas.  The largest implications is that employees no longer seek a secure job offer before quitting the job they have and don’t like. With these dynamic environments, having the pulse of the level of engagement of your key talent and creating unique employee experiences tailored to talent individuality become much more relevant.


Bigger team, bigger dreams!

What better way to kick off the new year than with a bigger team with bigger dreams?  It’s with much admiration that we welcome Lourdes Gonzalez and Mags O'Sullivan-Tomich to the SparkWorks team!  The two have joined with high aspirations to build a learning community that will create meaningful impact for progressive companies.  Their visions to leverage the Management Intensive is igniting the kickoff to our new year.

A sneak peak at Lourdes:

Why she’s amazing

Her day always starts with music, in the way most do with coffee.  Her passions for new experiences and diverse perspectives complement her love for reading, films, short story writing, and of course, people.  She is often found with her head in a book and traversing the deep corners of our planet.  Some adventures from her bucket list include venturing to Seychelles and riding the Orient Express.

And super accomplished

From an early age of 12, Lourdes ignited her thriving career with a short story award in her hometown of Mexico City.  Through the years, her distinguished background at BP, hospitality, and fintech industries has built a deep understanding of leadership development and strategic change management.  Her accomplishments include a Fast Company magazine feature of her work aligning talent development for W Hotels and leading very successful new culture efforts for a business unit with 3000 leaders in 32 countries.  It is thus that she’s finally made it to SparkWorks as her intellectual curiosity sought the opportunity to do some more true impactful work.

What she’s going to be doing with us

Her main focus right now is to refine the Management Intensive  we’ve procured and deliver it to you.  Her specialties in talent development and culture transformation will translate in crafting  creative learning solutions for managers.

With the collaboration of her enthusiasm and our team’s dedication to making this our year, SparkWorks is proud to be growing our team and building our impact.


Lourdes Gonzalez, Our Management Development Architect

Lourdes Gonzalez, Our Management Development Architect

New peep, Lourdes Gonzalez, has joined the SparkWorks team as our Senior Management Development Architect!