What’s trending? Company Culture. Ellen Michaels Presents (EMP) has always focused on an open and inclusive company culture, driven by technology and fueled by experience. (….and maybe, many coffees while traveling through eight time zones.) So we started wondering, how do we compare and how do other corporations stack up?

Last year Merriam Webster’s dictionary stated that ‘culture’ was the most popular word of the year. Well, culture is now one of the most important buzzwords in corporate board rooms, and for good reason. New research from Deloitte shows that culture and employee retention are now the top challenges facing businesses. More than half of leaders surveyed rate this issue “urgent.”

So what is culture anyway? Culture is a big and somewhat ambiguous term. Some define it as “what happens when nobody is looking.” Culture is the set of behaviors, values, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization. You can “feel” culture when you visit a company, because it is often evident in people’s behavior, enthusiasm, and the physical space itself.

You often sense the culture in a few minutes. Are people busy with customers or are they working alone? Do they get in early and leave late? Or does the parking lot empty at 4:30pm? Is the office beautiful and inspiring or is it messy, dated and busy? Is there a sense of regulated order or a sense of family? All these clues help diagnose culture.

Thanks to low unemployment rates, social media and professional websites (ex: LinkedIn Glassdoor, Indeed) employees have more bargaining power. A company’s employment brand is now public information, so if you’re not a great place to work, people find out quickly. The Deloitte research showed that the average employee gives their company a C+ (a mere 3.1 out of 5) when asked whether they would recommend their company to a friend. Yikes!

Physical office space is now part of building a great culture. Most top ranked organizations to work are actually great places to work. Layout and office flexibility, entertainment areas, colorful offices and even art galleries make companies an engaging (and fun) place to work. Many Silicon Valley companies (cue: Google’s new campus) are now in the process of major facelifts to their corporate campuses. Here there is a war to build the best workplace in the world– starting with bright open offices and shifting to free food, unlimited vacation, yoga classes, and even beer bashes.

Company value statements or culture manifestos have also popped up everywhere. Those with strong positive mission statements are now the most in-demand. Great corporate cultures are easy to understand. So keep it simple. If you can’t explain your values and culture in a single sentence, it’s probably too complex. IBM in the 1980s? “Think.” The Nordstrom’s rule? Use good judgement. Before it was trendy, EMP has long held the following mission for itself: “deliver outstanding world class events for our clients that project their culture, fulfill their objectives, gain their trust, and exceed their expectations every day.” What does this translate to? Helping their clients maximize priceless opportunities. These are simple statements that help people focus. When the rules and values are simple, we remember them.

When you focus on culture as strategy you find that some people just won’t fit, regardless of their resume. Successful HR strategies now assesses a candidate’s’ cultural fit before they even assess a potential job fit.

➔ HubSpot gives their staff free classes and posts their board meeting notes online.

➔ NetFlix’s now legendary culture manifesto “freedom with responsibility” is one of the most popular documents on the internet, 11 million+ viewers.

➔ Ellen Michaels Presents prides itself on being a female owned company, its employee diversity, and seeks out only those that reflect creativity and innovation.

➔ Zappos’ cultural values focus on “innovation.” Zappos HR relies on culture to screen all hires, by trying to see if they are “wacky.”

➔ Southwest Airlines assesses culture fit by asking candidates to tell a joke.

➔ Quicken Loans uses its colorful “isms” to guide values (for ex: “call back every client the same day.”)

➔ Google has its 10 ”truths.” (focus on the user is number one)

➔ LinkedIn is officially in the “human service” business and calls itself a “tribe.”

➔ Salesforce focuses on giving to the community.

Culture has a direct impact on financial performance too. Recently the New York Times published an article about Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini. He has raised wages, improved health benefits, and introduced yoga and mindfulness training to the entire company to improve retention and culture in the call centers. Their turnover problem is now diminished and Bertolini claims to have improved the bottom line by 3-4%.

Culture driven companies explicitly put their people first and see a huge payoff. They provide growth opportunities (some EMP employees have been there 20+ years!), meaningful work, trust in leadership, hands-on management and a positive work environment. Align your values and hiring to the corporate culture you want. This single act will help you build a foundation of corporate strength for years to come.