Ann Rhoades: Culture is everything

This week’s “Thrive Summit 2015” by Virgin Pulse had three great keynote speakers, the third of whom was Ann Rhoades, founder of People Ink and a former and present force at such people-focused enterprises as Southwest and JetBlue airlines.

She’s a pistol. One oft-offered piece of advice during her presentation was to send the resumes of employees who don’t fit the company culture to competitors, hoping they’ll get offers and go.

“You cannot have people who are not good for your organization,” she declared flatly. She said Zappos, a notoriously service-focused company, “has a rule that if you don’t like the culture, we will pay you to leave. And I think we all ought to do that.”

To Rhoades, culture is everything, and she offered five keys to getting it:

Have a “values blueprint” that’s set by a committee of employees, exemplified by leaders, and clearly displayed.

“At JetBlue [where she’s a board member], we have them on the wall. The culture, by design, should be yours, but should include employee wellbeing.”

Hire “A” players. “Without it, nothing else works.”

Accountability and rewards. “Rewards don’t have to be about cash. But they should be about recognizing people. And do it quickly. We have [a peer-to-peer recognition] app at JetBlue called Lift.  When you see someone doing something good, you report it,” she said. She also advocated for mentoring.

Customer branding. “Our people are our brand. Bain found that the largest percentage of influence on customer loyalty was our people.” One practice she endorsed for winning employee loyalty is to make exceptions, on the grounds that each employee wants to be seen and treated as an individual.

* Continuous improvement. “People will do what you ask them to do, but you have to make sure you ask them. … When you have a great culture, and are engaged with it, [employees] want to know the numbers.

This was, of course, a gathering of people interested in corporate-wellbeing programs, and she did add some fodder specifically for them. "Wellness and wellbeing are not a bonus. They should be part of everything we do. People spend more time with us than they ever have. They need and deserve an environment where we care about them."

Disclosure: I was a guest of Virgin Pulse at this event. But no one told me what to write, asked to review what I wrote before publication, or commented on what I wrote after publication.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
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