Illustration by Mike Forbush

Story by Erin James Scannell

In 2006, Ford president Mark Fields popularized the quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” a phrase created by consultant and writer Peter Drucker. It’s a quote that makes sense.

The workplace has come a long way in the past century. It was once thought of as a means to an end — a place you had to go to put food on the table. But it’s now a place where workers sometimes expect Ping-Pong tables, bowling alleys, craft beer on tap, team happy hours, and weekly yoga. Of course, that was pre-COVID. What can be done while workers are stuck at home to keep relationships strong, and morale from cratering?

Other than safe working conditions — and those weren’t even a given — workers in the past didn’t have high expectations for their workplaces. But now those expectations go beyond perks. Many workers now expect a company to have a well-developed culture, with a team that is motivated by working toward a shared, inspiring vision.

Culture is nebulous. You can’t touch it or see it. But like many intangible things, you can absolutely feel it. It can be toxic, healthy, or somewhere in between. A healthy culture that a team wants to be part of, that a team fights for when making hiring and firing decisions, is something that every leader wants, but it remains elusive for so many. That is why there are tens of thousands of books on Amazon devoted to helping leaders create an energizing culture. It’s a topic that has never been more important, yet many leaders feel like their teams aren’t where they’d like them to be.

I’ve consulted with dozens of CEOs, and here are three of my top suggested actions. They were easy to implement, free, and had a positive (if not game-changing) impact on my company’s culture, and best of all: They’re quarantine-approved.

1. Get help.

No leader can create a culture on their own. Sure, leaders are a big part of it, and teams look up to their leaders, but the real progress comes from within. Share your vision for your culture with two or three people on your team who already have traits and characteristics you want your culture to embody. Ask them how they see themselves fitting into that vision. Then ask them for help. If you have one person in particular who is energized by your ideas, make them a culture leader, and put them on a track to eventually become the CCO (chief culture officer). Every football team needs a head coach. But every football team also needs team captains — players that lead from within.

2. Create a “doppelganger brochure.”

Many of us have corporate-y headshots and bios. Our team created a complementary brochure that featured our celebrity doppelgangers — the celebrities we have been told we look like. I’ve never seen our team laugh as hard as they did at happy hour debating our lookalikes. Mine: Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers.

3. Do a “four-blocker” with each team member.

This involves goal setting but goes beyond the sometimes-sterile and forced exercise of work goals. The objective: to tie what we do on a day-to-day basis to the things in our lives that bring us the most meaning. A four-blocker separates our life goals into four dimensions: meaningful relationships (how we see the closest relationships in our life evolving, whether we are coaching or mentoring others, etc.), meaningful work (how much money we make now versus what we want next year, what promotion we have our eye on, what professional development we desire, etc.), body and fitness (if we want to look or feel differently next year), and mind and spirit (if we feel more purpose, how we are growing, whether we are practicing gratitude, whether we are helping others, what gives us energy, etc.). Our team talks a lot about how life is better when we live life on purpose. 

Erin James Scannell, CFP, ChFC, CLU, AAMS, is CEO of Heritage Wealth Advisors in Mercer Island, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services Inc.