Create A Healthy Company Culture with Julie Ann Sullivan – Episode #36
Evan speaks with Julie Ann Sullivan about tactics companies can take to create a fantastic company culture. Julie Ann is a professional speaker and her client list includes Fortune 500 companies, universities, government organizations, non-profits and more. Click here to listen to Evan on Julie Ann’s podcast, Businesses that Care. You can connect with Julie Ann by visiting her website or LinkedIn.
Announcer: Welcome to, “Training Unleashed”. The show that will help you design and deliver training that’s off the chain and will make a difference. Now, here’s your host, Evan Hackel.
Evan: Everyone, welcome to another exciting episode of, “Training Unleashed.” Today, we’re gonna have a fantastic episode. I have with me Julie Ann Sullivan. She’s a business culture expert. And business culture to me, as a personal passion, I think it’s kind of funny, I think most companies never really even think about it. Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” It had and it’s true. And culture is super important. So, Julie, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about yourself and then we’ll get right into the interview.
Julie: Okay. Well, I started my schooling in psychology, got a bachelor’s degree in psychology, took a seven-year break to live in the mountains, and then came back and got my MBA in, drum roll, accounting. So then I became an accountant for a few decades, and I didn’t wanna learn any more about that. So, I got out of that, and then I realized I had quite a unique partnering between the inside of humans, the psychology part, because I’ve been studying human behavior every day for decades, and this business side. So I combine the two and became a business culture expert by continuing my own research through my own podcast called “Businesses that Care”, and the work that I do, and the knowledge that I gather. I like making a difference in a company as a whole starting with one person at a time.
Evan: Well, first of, I enjoyed being on your podcast and “Businesses that Care,” and we will put that link in the description. Why don’t we just start off and take a second and discuss what a culture is versus what strategy is and why culture is important.
Julie: Okay. So to me, I’m sure there’s 150,000 different definitions out there, strategy is the plan that a company has to move forward to whatever their professional profitable goals are. The culture is the people that are necessary to make those goals happen, to make those dreams come true. You can’t do without the people who are on your work force. So creating that culture where everyone is very keenly aware of, A, what the goals are, and here’s the big thing, why they’re important, not only to the company, but to each individual. That’s how you build a really good culture. When you have a culture like that, all those dreams and goals and strategies move forward in a lot more consistent, efficient, and effective way.
Evan: I like to say that every company has a culture.
Julie: Yeah. [inaudible 00:03:33]
Evan: Right. It just [inaudible 00:03:36] it’s a health culture on an unhealthy culture.
Julie: Correct. Correct.
Evan: What are some of the tips and ideas you give people to build a healthy culture?
Julie: I would say the number one aspect of any culture that is really necessary and it’s really the foundation of all the work that I do is in communication, how we communicate with one another. And a big piece of that is how we listen. In many cultures, leadership doesn’t listen or it doesn’t listen enough or it doesn’t listen with an open enough mind to include people that work with them. And when people feel like they are really a part of what’s going on and they understand the whys and wherefores, again, everybody works harder, smarter, or happier.
You know, I almost cringe when I use the word happier because when I first started out in this business that was my whole thing, let’s work happier. And one of the things I found was, err, corporate America didn’t like that word happier. It was, you know, they didn’t like that at all. But when people work happier, I’ll say it now, you know what, they’re healthier. They actually come to work more often. They get up in the morning and they say, “I wanna go to work. I wanna contribute” as opposed to “Hmm, the sun’s shining. I think I’ll go on a picnic” as opposed to going to work.
Evan: I can’t agree with you more. People need to know why they’re important, how they contribute. Good communication is the heart of that. And people that are happy at work or more productive at work.
Julie: Yeah. And they’re more creative and they’re better problem solvers. And every other aspect you would want in a work force happens when people feel like they are in a culture they really belong to and feel comfortable in.
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Evan: I was talking to somebody we both now know, Katrina Mitchell, just this morning actually. She said, “Share a story with me that’s kind of relevant.” And we were talking about training puppies. And she says, “It’s a lot easier to do it…she’s a professional puppy trainer by the way. You probably don’t know. She says, “It’s a lot easier to do it right the first time than it is to try to fix it later.”
Julie: That’s true with everything in life, isn’t it?
Evan: Yeah. So maybe talk a little bit, because we have training professionals that are primarily listening, how can the training department help with the on-boarding from a culture perspective to help people within the organization really get and understand the culture, and be good listeners, and collaborate, understand the strategy, and how they’re important?
Julie: Well, you know, not to plug my own podcast, but on “Businesses that Care,” one of the things I have companies do is utilize that and they have as a recruiting tool. So they have people who are coming into the company to work for the company, listen to the podcast, and if they don’t like what they hear in the culture of the podcast, they don’t apply, which is a lot better off than having wasting everyone’s time, not to mention money, if they are hired. So the other great thing to do, which a lot more companies are doing and a great way to match up different generations is to assign a mentor. Here’s something that happened…
Evan: Before you go too far, I wanna point this out. Your idea of talking about culture beforehand before they come on board, brilliant. Really, really good idea because if you have someone’s not a good cultural fair, no matter how much you talk about culture, you can’t do anything with it. So I just wanted to highlight that because I think that’s a big idea that my guess is 99% of people listening haven’t thought of.
Julie: I think it’s important whether you do it through a podcast or whatever. I think it’s really important when you’re interviewing someone to ask certain questions that will give you the answer of whether they’re gonna be a good fit in your culture because you strive to build a certain culture. And if someone doesn’t like that from the offset, it might be difficult for them to be a good fit. And people aren’t gonna be a good fit everywhere. It doesn’t make them a bad person or a better person. It’s just not a good fit. So that’s number one. Find out before they even come on.
So let’s talk about this mentoring. So, boomers love to mentor because it makes them feel good. And actually, Millennials like to be mentored. It makes them feel good because they feel like they’re getting a leg up on what they should know. So it’s a great way to get different generations together, and while they’re working together, they are going to find out aspects of those generations they wouldn’t normally know, which is gonna make them not so odd to each other because how they grew up is really different. The next generation is gonna be even more different. Every generation has a set of life experiences they grew up with that make them very different. So that’s another good way about mentoring.
And another good idea I think is to have a central person. If you’re having problems with our technology, go see Jay. Jay is the person who can help you with all your technical problems with our equipment. If you have a procedural issue and you’re not really sure how we are supposed to follow this procedure, Sheila, Sheila’s the one. She’s in charge of that. Now, what you’re doing is you’re giving people, not only someone to ask but you’re telling them that you almost expect them to have questions. That’s some big obstacle in companies as people don’t ask questions because they don’t feel safe enough to ask. So if you set up, go to this person over here, go to this person over here. You wanna know what restaurant to eat at in town, go to this person over here. Whatever it is you set up, you make some of them fun then people know, “Oh, they expect people to ask questions, and I have a designated person instead of sitting at my desk for a half hour trying to fix something, figure something out I can’t do on my own and I wouldn’t. Who am I gonna ask? I’m new. I don’t wanna ask Joe. Joe will think I’m an idiot,” instead of, “Oh, I go and ask Jay. Jay is the person I ask about these particular issues.” So that’s another idea.
Evan: I’ll tell you something. That is simple brilliant. I mean, seriously, what is simple…
Julie: This is what I do, simple brilliance.
Evan: Right. That’s great. I mean, seriously. it’s such an easy thing to do, but you’re right. People who are new at jobs are afraid. And if you…
Julie: Even people who’ve been at jobs for a while are afraid.
Evan: Yeah, yeah, that’s absolutely, absolutely true. Perhaps now, we can take this concept of culture and just talk about what are some things companies can do on an ongoing basis to build healthy culture.
Julie: What? There’s so many ideas that I’ve gotten from the incredible leaders that I’ve spoken to through the podcast. I got to say, there are great leaders out there. Whatever you choose to do, I will say that there has to be repetition and reinforcement. And I’ll give you an example. The Dwyer company, which is a parent, and I could have this number wrong, to 18 different franchise ORS [SP], okay? They have a code of values. That code of values is used at a corporate level, at every franchisor, and at every franchisee, and with every employee. So that’s quite a lot of people in there. They start every meeting on any level either talking about one of those values or reciting those values, talk about something being a part of their culture. They just do that. That’s a repetition and reinforcement at its highest level. And, in fact, any employee that can recite from memory and with heart, that’s part of the explanation, the values of the company gets a t-shirt, and a gift card, and a certificate.
Evan: I actually work with the Dwyer group. And they are an amazing organization.
Evan: And I have been to many of these meetings. And as a vendor that sits in the meetings where they’re going through it, they give me a cheat sheet so I don’t have it memorize. But everyone does like a sentence and then goes around and they have me as a vendor participate, which I think is really cool, and it tells you something about the company.
Julie: They’re bringing you into the family.
Evan: Yeah, they’re bringing me into the family. And I’ve attended their conferences and actually witnessed a franchisee sing their values.
Julie: That’s great.
Evan: It’s one thing to have them written down, but it’s another thing to…
Evan: …verbalize. And I’m going to tell you this funny story. I went into a client. It was a new client, and on the wall, they had their mission statement and their vision statement. And it was big. So I’m in with the CEO, and I said to him, “In your own words…” because I asked this question all the time because this is a good judge, I said, “What is the mission and vision of the company?” He didn’t know. And I said…
Julie: So how did anyone else?
Evan: And I’m like, “How many times have you walked by your statement,” because just writing it isn’t enough. You really have to live it.
Julie: Yeah, I think that repetition and reinforcement is so important in. And as you experience, the Dwyer group to me of all the companies that I’ve talked to and worked with, they were above and beyond. They get it as they say. They really, really get it. So I think that’s vitally important to have the culture that you want. The other is like the example you use, a mission and value. Mission and vision statement is really great, but what the heck does it mean? And if the CEO doesn’t know what it means, how could anybody else know what it means. And I think…well, I don’t think. I know that for people to know the purpose of what they do, the bigger picture is also fundamentally necessary to create a culture where people wanna come to work.
When I say they need to know their purpose, I’m talking about the bigger purpose. For instance, I worked with a company that made brakes for Airlines. Well, they had people in the corporate office, and they had people doing work online, putting screws into an assembly, whatever. But every person knew, because it was on everything they had, all their pay stubs, every email, posters all over, was that they save lives. That was kind of their motto. And because they incorporated it into everything, every person at every level no matter what they did realize that they saved lives, which changes what they’re doing. I’m not just putting a screw in, I’m saving lives. That’s gonna make you do your work at a much higher level.
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Evan: So, I’m gonna ask you a really tough question,
Julie: Oh, you’ve… I thought these were tough. You’re really stretching me today.
Evan: Yeah, I know. This is a stretch. I hope you’re not upset I ask you this question, but I think you can handle it. A lot of people listening to this call…this podcast are saying to themselves, “I wish I worked in a company like that but I can’t do anything about. I don’t have any control.” And I get asked this question all the time because…you know, you’re talking about business culture. I talk about creating engaging environments.
Julie: Which you need for a good business culture.
Evan: Yeah. No, everything works hand in hand here. What do you say the person that says, “Hey, I’m one person. I don’t have control.” What do you say to them? What advice do you give them?
Julie: You know, it’s kind of funny because just today, I was practicing in my car a presentation about change, and this came into my mind because there are people out there who say that. And here’s what I say to that. Each of us can be an example of what we want the world around us to emulate. When you’re little babies, you need your parents to change your diapers and feed you. And at some point, you become an adult, hopefully. I’ll add that. And at that point, it’s not up to your leadership, your managers, your supervisor, your friends, or your family, it is up to you to make the world you live in. And if you’re in a company where the culture isn’t all that you want it to be, you can make your energy space, for a lack of other words, the world you wanna be. So if you would like people to listen more, then you need to listen more. Many times I tell an audience, “Take all that time you’re using to judge others, and take 10% of that time,” not asking you to take all of it, “just take 10%. Take a good look at yourself and how you’re acting.”
Now, if you’re really in a culture that you feel is keeping you underfoot, if you really feel like people are oppressing what you could be, then your decision may be to find someplace else because what I see is happening, even though it’s slow, is more and more companies are understanding we better have a happy welcoming progressive culture or we’re not gonna have enough people to work here to give the service or products that we have. And with our base of employees shrinking, the ones who get it sooner are going to reap the benefits. The ones who wait, they’re gonna be out of luck.
Evan: Well, you said a couple of important things here. And I want to take a second and highlight them because they’re really, really key, which is for you to make a difference, you need to be that difference. You need to act and behave the way you wanna receive. And that absolutely totally works. That’s what personal leadership is, and I think that’s really, really strong advice. And the second thing you said is if you really don’t like working where you are, move someplace else. And I think a lot of people feel stuck in jobs, and maybe during the Great Recession, you had to be stuck in a job, but today, you can find a job. And there are lots of companies that wanna hire with great attitudes, and great teamwork, good listeners, etc.
Julie: Yeah, can you see being in an interview when they say, “Why do you leave your last job?” and they say, “Well, it was really oppressive, and they never let me be heard, and they never let me express my creative ideas. I’m looking for someplace to grow and be the best person I can be, and that wasn’t the place for it because they wouldn’t allow that. They wanted to keep me in a box.” If I’m interviewing that person and I want my company to grow, I’m going, “Yeah, you’re the person I want” assuming you have the skills and whatever.
Evan: I totally agree, totally agree. Unfortunately, we are running out of time.
Julie: Oh, my gosh, it was so much fun. I have so much more to say.
Evan: Well, you know, the good thing is people can listen to your podcast.
Julie: That’s right.
Evan: That’s right.
Julie: Or they can call me. [inaudible 00:23:22]
Evan: Why don’t we do the contact information now and then we’ll end with your tip. I normally do it the other way but we’ve just started it. So, if you wanna tell people how they can reach you out, that would be great.
Julie: The best way to reach me is pick up the phone and dial 724-942-0486. My name is Julie Ann Sullivan. I have no E on Ann. You can find me on LinkedIn. That’s the name of my website. You can put in “Businesses that Care” or “Mere Mortals Reunite.” If you wanna find me, you put in Julie Ann Sullivan. I’m on the first page of Google. You will find me.
Evan: I love that. I love that.
Julie: No excuses.
Evan: Okay. We asked everybody, if you had one tip, one tip for people to be better training or to do good training, what would that one tip be?
Julie: Listen to your audience. As a trainer, nothing is more exciting to me than a half or full day training. I love that. I love being able to build a relationship with the audience through the day. You have to be willing to listen to what it is they need. If you just go in there with, “I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do this, then I’m gonna give three minutes for this,” you’re gonna miss gems out there and ways in which you can really enrich the lives of your audience.
Evan: That’s a great tip. That’s a great tip. I want to take every single thing you said. I want to share some advice with our audience.
Evan: Okay. And I think you’ll agree with this advice. The training department, in my opinion, if we’re gonna unleash training, because that’s what this is all about, is how do you take the power and train to the organization should emulate great culture. And if your organization doesn’t have great culture, doesn’t have these best practices that we’ve been talking about, not just that you should emulate it, but the training part should emulate it. And if you do those things, the training department’s gonna be more successful. People are gonna stay longer. People are gonna appreciate it, but the entire company is gonna appreciate the training department. And it’s gonna make a difference. And you’re gonna be listening to your learners based on everything you said. So I think we’ve got a lot of really great advice. Julie Ann, it’s always a pleasure for me to talk to you and to see…I got to see you because we’re doing this live video.
Julie: You know, for me, Evan, absolutely. This is a new friendship in the last couple of years, and I’ve totally enjoyed it this far.
Evan: Very good. Let me say goodbye to everyone. Everyone have a wonderful day.
Julie: Thank you.
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