Creating a positive workplace culture requires thoughtful planning, a mindful approach, and the ability to fully listen to your employees. In an interview with Margo Downs, she talks about what she’s learned in people development, and why authenticity and innovation are important when building workplace culture.
Downs has led the development and innovative people strategies at three iconic brands: Stitch Fix, Lululemon and Starbucks. Most recently, she served as the Chief People and Culture Officer at Stitch Fix where she scaled the company from 50 to 7,000 people while creating a culture grounded in authenticity. Downs is currently a public speaker, teacher and advisor to help create thriving company cultures and authentic, confident leaders. Learn why workplace culture is important and how it can ultimately affect the well-being of your employees.
Why is workplace culture important?
Creating a thriving workplace culture is essential to help employees find a connection to the company and the mission. Downs realized early on in her career the value of company culture, when she worked at The Body Shop as a young adult. She describes how she was inspired by the founder, Anita Roddick, and how she spoke about the company’s mission. “I saw how a unique, authentic culture could be foundational to a business’ success. It ignited my passion for learning and development there, which eventually led to a career in all things people and culture related.”
Culture is essential to driving success, and poor workplace culture will ultimately slow your growth. “Workplace culture isn’t related to how many kombuchas you have in the fridge and offering a foosball table.” Downs says, “Culture is how you choose to operate as a group. Families, friends group, sports teams, and companies all have a specific culture – whether they have been intentional about creating it or not.”
Aligning workplace culture with values, strategy and leadership
When it comes to a people strategy for a company, these two concepts must be in alignment: culture and vision. Some questions to ask yourself when tackling these concepts:
- What are the leadership qualities that you value in the company?
- What is your mission?
- What are your people strategies?
The answers to these questions will help develop the foundation and expression of your company culture. They should be symbiotic – not exactly the same, but aligned and compatible. Building a great workplace culture is about how you agree to work together.
When the company culture and values are not in alignment, a dysfunctional culture can start to build. Misalignment, while not detrimental, will ultimately slow progress towards company goals – “There is more struggle to get things done.”
Another big factor in having a poor company culture is hiring the wrong people. Not every company is for every person. It is important for employees and companies to be intentional about these decisions, and to realize when those values no longer align. “It’s good to have an internal compass and self-confidence to be able to determine when it is no longer a good fit,” says Downs.
Great companies are developing great cultures
While at Starbucks, there was a fundamental principal that stuck with Downs, “the person who sweeps the floor gets to choose the broom.” Meaning, those closest to the problem need to have a voice in the solution. Not only is this the most efficient approach, empowering employees to be a part of the decision-making process, but it also fosters authenticity and trust. This level of respect creates a better company and happier employees.
Downs references Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder, as an example of a leader who has been a pioneer in creating a culture that values the employees that are closest to the customer. “The store and barista experience was extremely important as it created the experience for the customers… [working there] taught me the concept of servant leadership – that we are here to serve employees as leaders in the company.” This is made tangible by Shultz offering benefits to employees the really impact their lives in a positive way. From healthcare for part-time employees, Bean Stock options, and more recently, tuition reimbursement benefits – Schultz feels a great responsibility to the employees and knows the value of thriving workplace culture.
I think companies can create the conditions for the fire to ignite, but at the end-of-the-day, people are pretty incredible.”Margo Downs
At Stitch Fix, the core principles are authenticity and innovation. The culture was developed around the concept of taking the best ideas from everyone to come up with the very best solution for the client. This frees people up to fully be their authentic self and bring their unique gifts to the table – allowing for innovation. “If you’re not able to be yourself at work or be fully expressed and supported, your brain is taken up by worry and anxiety,” says Downs. That kind of environment stifles innovation and growth.
The common thread in these culture and mission-driven companies is strong leaders. Leaders must invest in the well-being of their employees in order to create and maintain a positive culture. Many companies, while the desire is present, can’t afford to fund everything, but a strong foundation and alignment in your values is most important.
Connecting culture and values to Human Performance
Aduro’s Human Performance approach for supporting employee well-being is centered around the six interrelated aspects of life: Lifestyle & Health, Mindset & Resilience, Money & Prosperity, Development & Growth, Relationships & Community, and Purpose & Contribution. When people get the support they need, in areas that are meaningful to them, they flourish and so does the culture of the company. When all these pieces fall into alignment, people are ignited to be their best self.
Enhance your company culture by supporting the well-being and mental health of your employees, in both work and in life.
Margo Downs helped develop the people and culture strategy at three iconic consumer brands: Starbucks, Lululemon and Stitch Fix. Most recently, she served as the Chief People and Culture officer at Stitch Fix where she scaled the company from 50 to 7,000 people while creating a culture grounded in authenticity. She also supported the company in successfully transitioning from private to public. Downs is currently a speaker, teacher and advisor to help create thriving company cultures and authentic, confident leaders.