Ten Rules to Drive Your Culture


Company Culture

There are several buzzwords around business today. These include Empowerment (old), Employee Engagement (everyone is looking for the secret recipe), Diversity (now inclusion), Retention (moving beyond turnover), Succession Planning (talent replacement, high potential development, exit planning), and more. Individually the ‘words’ are great to have and claim in your business, but what we are really talking about and looking for is Culture. Culture is the very thing that helps companies attract highly sought-after employees and customers. This is what makes good companies great. Good Culture in your company is like finding that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The ‘word’ is truly Culture. Once you have the right Culture (Greenhouse; right temperature, right pressure, right speed) the rest falls into place.

So why is it so hard to create that Culture, let alone keep it alive? I dove deeper with one of my clients, and a second culturally consistent and successful local company right here in the 757, ADS, Inc. in Virginia Beach and Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF) in Hampton. What drove me to talk to both of these companies is their consistent success and overall employee satisfaction – again driven by their Culture.


Ten Rules: Commonality to Culture Success and High Overall Employee Satisfaction


  1. Both companies administer annual opinion surveys. They use outside consultants to take their internal temperature to determine how they are doing. The key is they do more than ask, they react to and do something about any opportunities their team members shed further light on from the survey results.
  2. They have real conversations with their team members on a continual basis.
  3. Each of them delivers various levels of rewards and recognition.
  4. Each of them intentionally delivers focused and customized training and development.
  5. Each of them uses a behavioral assessment, The Predictive Index, to help with hiring, attracting, and selecting employees as well as the ongoing understanding of an individual’s motivational needs and Culture fits.
  6. Each of them has a team of executives focused on the mission, the vision, the values and how to live them daily. They admitted to rough days and bad times, but through it all, the executive staff remained cohesive and focused.
  7. Both companies give back to their communities.
  8. Both strive to be the employer of choice.
  9. Both Cultures are driven, inspired and lead from the very top.
  10. For both, their Culture is everything. What they say and do must match. 

Now let me introduce you to some of the leaders I interviewed:

  • Jen Edwards is the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at ADS, Inc. and was the December 2016 honoree of Hampton Roads Women in Business Award given by Inside Business. Jen loves her company’s culture. ADS, Inc. is currently celebrating their 20th year in business. When Jen started 11 years ago, the team consisted of 90 employees. In 2017, they have grown to a team of 360 in the United States and additional employees internationally.
  • Fran Castellow, MSEd, President of Operations with Patient Advocate Foundation, has been with the Foundation for 17 years. When Fran joined the Foundation, started by her family in 1996, there were 12 employees. Now they have grown to 180 full time employees and an additional 30 temporary staff.
  • Angela Walker, Chief of Talent Management, has been with the Patient Advocate Foundation for the past 7 years and has loved every minute of her time there.


Question and Answers


Q: How do you describe your Culture?


A:Jen Edwards said, “Service and Purpose.” She went on to say, “We serve the best customers in the world. A third of our staff are veterans and their input helps us. It’s easy to get close to our customers and hear great things like ‘this body armor saved our lives’.” She described the Culture as ‘values driven’. “The executive team reviews our values annually, thus ensuring that the words still mean what was intended. Four years ago it became necessary to make revisions. Each year, they focus specifically on one concept. Last year the focus was Accountability and this year it is Purpose. With over half of their team in sales, it is a sales driven and service-minded Culture with an entrepreneurial feel. ADS, Inc. encourages their team to build their future.” She said, “Our organizational chart is pretty flat.  Career progression is described as ‘less ladder and more jungle gym’. Their CEO, Jason Wallace, holds small, 20-person meetings throughout the year to keep the pulse vibrant, to drive the conversations and to focus on our people.”


A: Angela Walker said, “Our Culture at PAF is caring and patient focused, with an emphasis on ethics and compliance. We formalized our Care Values many years ago (memorializing them on the wall and in our employee handbook), not to aspire to them, but to share what our foundation was, is, and should continue to be each day.”


Q: To what do you attribute your Cultural success?


A: Angela replied, “The Foundation was created based on a need and desire to help critically ill patients. When staffing a mission similar to ours you hope to attract a caring, empathetic staff and leadership team. When leaders demonstrate determination and drive, the patient experience is better and it translates to the staff as well. Our communication is open, as we don’t have a traditional protocol for accessibility to leaders. We reinforce our willingness and desire to hear from our staff on a consistent basis.”

Fran went on to describe the continued family feel of the business and common purpose in the Culture. When referring to the team, the employees, she said, “We genuinely care about them. I want them all to know we care about each of them as individual human beings.” Both Fran and Angela said they recognize the tough job their teams face every day. “It can be very mentally taxing dealing with critically ill people, their families, and caregivers as well as their doctors and pharmacies. None of us can afford to have an off day. Service is what we must provide,” said Angela.


A: Jen noted that they have focused and intentional training. A “broad brush approach” encourages their individuals to take charge of their own personal development. “With an entrepreneurially spirited Culture, it is easier and lends to even better results.”


Q: What keeps you up at night?


A: Fran says, “Having enough professional and talented people available when we need to increase our team after receiving another grant. We can’t add staff ahead of time, so our team takes on the additional duties. That’s why we can’t take our eyes off the need to continually train our staff and provide them with development for both today’s and tomorrow’s needs. It’s a continual process and you can’t think you are ever finished.  There are always challenges but we must remain good stewards, too. Training is such a personal thing; what is good for one, doesn’t mean one size fits all. With that, we must remain authentic and clear with our intentions at all times.”


So, as you see, it’s not a buzzword you are seeking (the flavor of the month) or the secret (answers) you are looking for, it is in your Culture. A greenhouse (Culture) will grow whatever you allow. Are you cultivating your company’s vision?


Shelley Smith is a Senior Predictive Index Consultant with PI Midlantic, Annapolis, MD. If you would like to hear more about Predictive Index or receive a complimentary assessment, complete this simple form.