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How to create a solid, healthy company culture

6 min read


Over the course of my two decades in journalism, I have met and interviewed everyone from the worker-owner of a corner deli to magnates of industry, and what separates the winners and loser is something very simple — working in a successful culture.

It doesn’t matter what size organization you are working or running — culture is key to achieving success. One of the easiest examples of how a weak corporate culture can topple a company was AOL/Time Warner. There was the buttoned-down corporate culture of Time Warner on the one hand, and the entrepreneurial spirit of AOL on the other. It was one of the key factors that led to the demise of the largest merger in the history of U.S. business.

So how does one create a healthy culture? There are four basic ingredients:

  • Knowing your strengths and weaknesses
  • Having a mantra
  • Staying the course
  • Valuing “human capital”

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses

To create an environment of growth and inclusion, you need to know the basics of who you are, what you want your business to be, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your company as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your competition.Why? To set yourself apart.

What are you good at? What services/products do you offer? What does the consumer want and how can you fulfill that need? This all goes back to how you define yourself and being honest with your skills. To be the best you can be, you need to make sure you focus on your strengths so you can rise above the competition and work on your weaknesses to strengthen your organization. You cannot seize on an opportunity without knowing what you are good at and what you need to work on. Success at the highest level is most often achieved by those who gain that insight. People cannot fully recognize which are their best skills without first being comfortable recognizing their own weaknesses.


Once you are able to define yourself, you can make your mission statement. This will be your guiding star. All decisions go back to your mission statement. If you don’t focus your strategies and decisions to your mantra, you could end up like Ford did before Alan Mulally took over. For many years, Ford was lost — its product line was bloated and lacked focus. After years of acquisitions, its identity was a hodgepodge of vehicles including Aston Martin, Land Rover and Volvo (though Ford was still faring better than its American competitors). Its essence was lost.

It was Mulally’s job to bring the vision that would help Ford find its way. So what became his beacon of light to turnaround the once iconic automaker? A 1927 ad created by Henry Ford himself: “Opening the Highways to All Mankind.” Talk about a compelling vision!

 Staying the course

Once Mulally set that as the company’s mantra, every decision went back to that statement. It was no easy task, but, by staying the course, Mulally was able to achieve what many CEOs would not have the stomach to take on.

When Mulally took over, Ford was losing $17 billion a year, and Mulally knew the solutions he needed to put in place were not going to be easy. But he had the courage to shine the spotlight on the ugly reality instead of letting it fester in the shadows. Mulally forced his team to acknowledge they had to make some serious — and extremely painful — decisions if the company was to survive. For many, the changes at Ford were devastating. But from shutting down facilities and laying off workers to eliminating brands, the actions Mulally and his team took would help boost profitability and create a stronger company over the long term.

Mulally explained that while the decisions were tough to make, they were needed to stay focused on their mission statement, “No matter what industry, we want our leaders to be looking through clear glasses and have a clear plan,” he said. “The situation is not good or bad. The situation is just the way it is. We get to decide what to do about it. We ask ourselves, what is the real situation and what will we do to really prosper? It’s all about people.”

Valuing human capital

The culture overhaul at Ford extended from the boardroom to the showroom. Mulally emphasizes the symbiotic relationship Ford executives need to have with employees in order to succeed. He calls it “The One Ford Culture.” If workers don’t share the same vision and enthusiasm, they are let go or they leave on their own. When developing cars, the company looks at the wants and needs of its global consumers.

In many ways, Mulally says, human capital is even more valuable than monetary capital. The dynamics of an organization are key. Mulally, who has the personality, passion, and drive, looks for people like himself because he knows that the success of his company depends on it. Do you remember the saying about being known by “the company you keep”? Well, the same goes with the people you hire and build your company on.

Regardless what position employees are in, they need to feel vested and have that feeling of ownership. You want that pride in your employees as well as in yourself — that’s how you achieve your goals. Without that passion, you will never get through the challenging times. You want your employees to feel valued and not be afraid to contribute. A healthy culture built on respect achieves that. Having a positive culture will enable your company to grow and retain quality talent that fits the needs of the organization. Without that, your business will never reach its full potential.

Lori Ann LaRocco is the author of “Opportunity Knocking: Lessons from Business Leaders” (Agate Publishing, 2014), “Dynasties of the Sea: The Shipowners and Financiers Who Expanded the Era of Free Trade”  (Marine Money International, 2012) and “Thriving in the New Economy:  Lessons from Today’s Top Business Leaders” (Wiley, 2009). As senior talent producer at CNBC, LaRocco has the ear of some of the world’s biggest business minds. Prior to joining CNBC, she was an anchor, reporter and assignment editor in various local news markets around the country. Visit her blog.