Best company culture definition

There are too many different definitions of company culture. You’ll easily find hundreds for this umbrella term and Wikipedia isn’t very helpful either. Let’s approach culture in organizations in a practical way.

What is organizational culture?

Instead of trying to define it in a comprehensive way, let’s first look at its characteristics.
Corporate culture is

  • like a common DNA, it serves as a frame of reference on how people behave
  • both the glue that holds an organization together as the compass that provides direction
  • ever-present in the sense that it is there, always (whether you manage it or not)
  • composed of observable elements: architecture, processes, corporate clothing, stories, gossip  … but also less/ not observable elements: values, underlying assumptions, unwritten rules…
  • learned or transmitted through social interaction
  • dynamic and subject to change in response to internal or external influences
  • not necessarily the same in all units, subcultures can exist

If you do prefer a more formal definition, I like the one offered by Edgar Schein of MIT’s Sloan

School of Management. In a shortened version, it reads like this:

A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned … considered valid and, therefore, is taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel

So culture is the guiding tenet of a company. It steers behaviour and success, just like a strategy does.

How does culture relate to values?

In his book Organizational Culture and Leadership, Schein divides organizational culture into three different levels.

You probably see why it is sometimes referred to as the onion model.

In this view, values are the written expressions of an organizational culture. So culture is not equal to values, but values are like beliefs that steer behaviour. Behaviours that define the unique way in which employees relate to each other, to their work and to the outside world.

So values and culture are interlinked but not the same. You could put it like this:

Values are your starting point and culture is what you end up with.

Values together with company traditions, rituals and symbols help people understand how to behave and relate. Some organisations have a set of documents that describe their company culture. It usually details: the company’s mission or vision, the core values and traditions, rituals and symbols. Call it a company culture code if you wish.

Are you interested to learn what sorts of values there are and how you can best define your own unique set? Look out for the next post in our Culture series.

Koen Schreurs
Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement

    What you really need to know about team collaboration

    When did you last set your own goal aside to help reach the goal of someone else?

    It happened recently during the London Marathon – even though running, as an individual sport, is an unexpected place to display such behaviour. Take a quick look at the video, and no, you really do not need to run yourself to be moved by these images.

    The video shows how the 29-year-old Matthew Rees, barely 200 metres from the finish line, encourages a fellow runner who stands unstable on his legs, David Wyeth, and helps him over the finish line. Wyeth would never have reached the finish line without Rees.

    Rees wanted to use the sprint in the last straight line so that he would finish in less than 2 hours and 50 minutes. The moment Rees saw Wyeth collapse, he decided to forget his own competition and did everything he could to ensure that David would finish, even at the expense of his own sharp time. Rees not only abandoned his own goal to achieve the goal of another person. No, it went even further than that. In an interview for the Guardian he talked about a new goal – a common goal: to reach the finish line together.

    The pursuit of a common goal is also what characterizes a team, but that is just the point where many teams are stuck. Team members who choose to put their personal goals first do not necessarily do so out of unwillingness, but out of ignorance and lack of clarity. Teambuildings that strengthen mutual trust, increase motivation and foster a sense of responsibility can be very valuable, but if the team does not know which goal unites them, their impact will be limited.

    In short, clear and consistent communication about the common goal is indispensable for achieving strong teamwork. Such communication should not only be driven top-down, but should also happen between the team members. And perhaps more importantly: the communication has to be repeated regularly to ensure the common goal remains top of mind for all team members.

    Here are some questions you can ask yourself to stay alert to the blurring of a common goal:

    • What is the common goal and is it known to everyone?
    • Does everybody know what is expected of him/her? What is his or her contribution to the team result?
    • Is it time to reclarify the team goals and what is expected of each team members?

    And for those who would consider giving priority to their own interests over common interest, I would like to conclude with the words of Matthew Rees:

    “So I did not get the time I was looking for, but I got a memorable moment and that’s more important.”

    Leen Joos

    Source: the Guardian

    6 Leadership lessons from Ethan Hunt

    ♫ Dun dun dada Dun dun dada Dun dun ♫

    Some time ago, I witnessed how Ethan Hunt, played by Hollywood phenomenon Tom Cruise, together with his team for the fifth time saved the world from destruction. I must honestly admit, I have a weakness for the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise and Rogue Nation certainly did not disappoint: lifelike action scenes, sensation, humor, as well as beautiful locations and good acting. But above all, the film series is also instructive. Starting as a novice, Ethan Hunt grew to become the natural leader of his group. His leadership is the key to success or failure. What important leadership lessons can we draw from the film franchise and implement on the work floor?

    1. Build a strong team

    There is no doubt about it, Ethan Hunt is wonderfully talented, but he does not accept any single mission on his own. The goals achieved are the result of a wonderful piece of teamwork. Each team member has his specific skill and contributes his or her bit. Just think of Benji Dunn who can hack any computer system with the click of a mouse or the fighting skills of Ilsa Faust that helps Hunt escape from The Syndicate. A leader is only as good as his team. Good leaders recognize the talent of their employees and use them as well as possible, so that everyone makes a positive contribution to the final goal.

    2. Work systematically

    In every Mission Impossible film there is an obstacle that needs to be overcome: breaking into a highly secure building, downloading a heavily guarded computer file… This does not happen in haste, but always requires extensive planning, with timing as an important factor. Every step that is taken is mapped out. A leader stands or falls with a good planning. A supervisor must organize the work in such a way that the intended results are achieved within the set time. Leaders therefore all benefit from first drawing up a thorough plan before they get started.

    3. Be flexible

    Plans, however, have the habit of changing. Every Mission Impossible film has a plot twist that jeopardizes the team. Fast anticipation is therefore a must. Leaders must always be prepared to adjust their planning where possible. He must be characterized by his flexibility. After all, a working environment is never static, but changes all the time.

    4. Radiate self-confidence

    However dire the situation, Hunt always believes in the good outcome. He remains courageous and always finds a way to overcome the obstacles. His positive attitude rubs off on his team members, who are only too willing to go the extra mile. A manager must stand by his own convictions. Leaders with self-confidence inspire their teams to get the best out of themselves. In short, managers with confidence have employees with confidence.

    5. Dare to take risks

    Ethan Hunt is not afraid to take risks to achieve his goal. Whether he jumps from a skyscraper, climbs a cliff, or dangles from a rising plane, Ethan does it all to reach his goal. Leaders must dare to take risks from time to time. Especially in a world where innovation is the basis for success. Leaders must often take decisions without enough background information. Or they end up in a situation where they must deviate from the standard procedures.

    6. Show appreciation

    As already mentioned, Hunt is extremely aware of the qualities of his team members and therefore he does not miss any chance to express his appreciation. A smile, a pat on the back, a simple thank you, a drink to celebrate the good outcome, Hunt does it all. He gives his team members the opportunity to use their talents, gives his team members wings and commands loyalty. Luther, Brandt and Benji are only too willing to put their lives at risk to help him with the mission. By giving recognition to employees for their achievements, you motivate them to achieve better work performance. Their involvement in the job will increase. Every employee longs to be noticed and appreciated by their manager.

    Jasmien Schaevers

    How to create a strong employer brand in an unsexy sector – a leading example!

    What do you do if your company is in urgent need of new talent, but finds itself in a business sector deemed “unsexy”?
    What do you do if you simply don’t have the means to meet the requests put forward in wage negotiations, yet still have to be able to attract specialised profiles in order to continue growing as a company?

    For years, logistics service provider H.Essers was facing exactly these challenges. Until, a couple of years ago, they decided to completely change course when it came to their HR management approach, making for the fact that they have meanwhile turned into the leading example in their “unsexy” sector.

    H.Essers is a family company that was founded by Henri Essers in 1928, and has since become one of the leading companies in Europe in the field of transport and logistics. The company has experienced solid expansion in the last decades, making for the fact that it now has over 5,400 employees across 67 branches in 15 countries in Western and Eastern Europe. In 2016, H.Essers reported a turnover of 571 million euros and it has the ambition to boost this figure to 1 billion euros by 2020. In 2017 alone, the company hired no less than 350 new employees!

    Wake-up call

    “I remember as if it were yesterday.”, says Mike Dautzenberg, Group HR-director at H.Essers. “Two years ago, a big Swedish furniture company had planned to open a branch in Hasselt. They had locally advertised their vacancies and had, without any difficulty, received more than 10.000 applications. That same year, we too were looking for new employees. The difference being that we even had tremendous difficulty receiving a mere 100 applications in response to our posted vacancies! That was the moment I realised it was high time for us to seriously question our entire Employer Branding strategy – if we didn’t, there was no way we were ever going to realise our growth ambition.”

    Long-term vision

    “The advantage of working for a family company is that the family has a long-term vision. We are given the time and space to build and create – step by step, in a truly sustainable way. That means that even if we wouldn’t reach our targets, that still wouldn’t mean the end of the world: as long as the company can keep on expanding in a healthy way, we are doing well. … On top of that, the Essers family first and foremost focuses on the wellbeing of their employees. Hilde Essers often uses the words “one big family”, and walks her talk because that is truly how she sees her people. If I, for example, don’t feel 100%, she immediately notices. She is an entrepreneur who leads from the heart. I don’t think I could go back to working for an organisation that has a short-term focus and prioritises numbers above people. So I took along this mindset when re-creating our HR strategy.”, Mike says.

    Great results on a small budget

    Every euro that goes towards the Rewards & Recognition Policy at H.Essers has to be turned over several times before it can be spent. Furthermore, there is no margin to pay out fat salaries.
    Yet, in spite of this, these days, H.Essers manages to attract new talent all the time. Plus, both their absenteeism and employee turnover rates are low, the latter one being as low as 8% – a remarkable achievement in the in the field of transport and logistics!

    Person to person, heart to heart

    Believe it or not, these remarkable achievements are easily explained: every initiative that is taken, is taken within the framework of enabling a “heart to heart” connection. First and foremost, the focus always lies on the wellbeing of the employees and their families. Because when employees feel happy and appreciated, when they have the feeling they are being treated as valued members of the company (instead of being treated as “just another worker”), when they feel they are being taken care of, that is when they will radiate this positive energy onto their colleagues, their families and every person that crosses their path.

    Initiatives with a high WOW factor

    Mike told about all kinds of initiatives he has taken in the past seven years. I would like to share five with you in this blog.

    1. My H. Essers care
    In addition to free hospitalisation and group insurance, as a member of H. Essers’ staff you can also enjoy very favourable rates (up to 35% cheaper) for home, fire and car insurance. To this end, the company has entered into a partnership with its dedicated insurance company. In this way, H. Essers can ensure that employees can save hundreds of euros on an annual basis. In addition, all resident family members can also benefit from this benefit.

    2. Refreshing surprises
    During the hot summer months, H. Essers offers its warehouse staff free chilled water. The company also sends ice cream carts out to every site in Belgium to surprise every employee with a delicious ice cream. There are more healthy initiatives in the form of fruit baskets, a smoothiecar or the flu vaccine shot offered free of charge each year. In this way, nice connection moments are created, while spending is limited.

    3. Contact points with the management
    A. Every year, initiatives are taken at the various sites to eat together with all employees, this can be done in the form of a BBQ where the management itself does the grilling, but they also have been seen stirring in a giant pan of paella.
    B. At the end of the year a fun ‘reindeer party’ is organized. A big tent is put on the parking lot at the company headquarters and every employee is invited after work to enjoy some delicious french fries, a pint of beer, or…. just to soak up the nice atmosphere and talk to colleagues.
    C. Every two months, CEO Gert Bervoets and Mike Dautzenberg join forces and go out on the “Gert & Mike on tour”, visiting five branches. For a whole day they talk to the people on the shop floor and listen to their stories or concerns. This way they really get to know what is going on in the workplace and can capture improvement ideas.
    D. The concept of “Young Wolves” was organised for the first time in 2017. During this evening, employees who have up to two years of service, are invited by the management to a nice informal evening that ends with a snack and a drink. The Management Board then shares the vision for the future and talks about the role everyone plays in it. Each board member tells his or her personal story by means of a booklet of friends. They explain who they are, talk about their family or hobbies, and tell them how they started so many years ago, what road they covered so far and where they are heading now.

    4.  Additional benefits
    H. Essers is always looking for all kinds of initiatives to increase the purchasing power of the employees. For example, they have set up a benefits platform in which employees receive an extra discount at certain stores. But it goes even further. A cycling event was recently organised on the site in Genk. Several bicycle suppliers were invited to exhibit their models. All employees of H. Essers were given the opportunity to purchase a bicycle at very competitive prices. This way they not only promote more healthy exercise but also allow employees to make an interesting purchase.

    5. Beyond money
    If the company’s results are good, they naturally want to share this with their employees. However, what they had noticed was that paying an extra bonus, created a disappointing effect. After all, the amount was not so large and by expressing this in cash, people were more frustrated than motivated. After all, this did not really appear to be a form of appreciation. Two years ago, together with the trade unions, the management decided to take a completely different approach. It was decided to convert that amount into points employees could shop with on an online platform that was specially built for H. Essers. The perception was completely different because it was no longer expressed in monetary terms but in points. Moreover, the employees could then really choose something to pamper themselves or their family instead of the money disappearing in the household pot. The fact that people ended up in a kind of online cave of Ali Baba created a completely different perception. This allowed them to choose from gifts, charities, experiences … And often the choice was made together with the family, so that the feeling, experience and visibility was a vast improvement over the old cash reward.


    Attracting talent is becoming increasingly more difficult for companies. Only offering a competitive salary package or cafeteria plan will not suffice. You need to do better!

    The most important component to attract and retain people is to make them feel that they are really making a difference in the organization, first and foremost by appreciating them. Due to the rapid technological evolution and increasing complexity, there is a danger that people will drop out sooner if they do not really feel connected to their organization. The trend that I see in companies is that they start to reason even more from the ratio (figures) and all focus on technology alone. But you can not make a connection by expressing even more in cash or by implementing additional technical systems. In the first place, you do this on the basis of small ‘human’ things that ensure your employees feel really committed, just like in the story of H.Essers.

    Would you like to know more about our motivation or recognition platforms? Send me an e-mail on and I will be happy to show you a case from your sector.

    Nathalie Arteel
    Leading Angel Arteel Group
    Recognition and Motivation Expert

    Thursday and Friday all eyes are on you

    Surely, this week must be THE “appreciation week” of the year. On Thursday the 1st of March, we traditionally celebrate Compliments Day. And the day after – the first Friday of March – is “Employee Appreciation Day“. Being appreciated and, as such, being given the feeling that one truly matters, is (and will always be!) one of our most important basic needs. And yet, in our corporate world, the positive impact of fulfilling this human need for significance remains seriously underestimated! In this inspiring article, Professor Antoon Vandevelde shares his view on why celebrating Compliments Day entails so much more than merely “paying many compliments”. So let yourself be pleasantly surprised by the light shed upon this matter by an Economist and Philosopher at the Centre for Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy at the KU Leuven.

    The 1st of March is national Compliments Day

    For many, this term causes a certain sense of unease. After all, in popular Flemish speech, the reference to someone who “pays many compliments” tends to imply that person is an actor, a show-off, someone who thinks high and mighty of oneself.

    This popular understanding, however, stands in crass contrast to the rationale behind Compliments Day, which has as an objective to spotlight those employees who tend to be most modest, who inconspicuously keep the wheels turning, who are simply always there and as such, contradictorily, seem to have become invisible. Compliments Day is for those employees who dutifully take care of the often overlooked – yet crucial – details, for the old hands to whom the newbies can always turn for help and advice, for the “fixed values” of whom one only realises how fixed they actually were once they have retired.

    These days, our work environments are far less hierarchically structured than they used to be. The old economic model revolved around the exercise of control: time clocks, production line work, wages and rewards in line with the outcome of the work delivered. Those were the days of a vast number of employees performing more or less the same tasks, with terms and conditions of employment determined by collective labour agreements. The culture of this economic model was one characterised by regular conflict, whereby trade unions and employers’ associations took the stage.

    As the new economic model emerged, we witnessed a shift in focus away from mass production and towards a high quality provision of services. As such, creativity, customer service, personal commitment, intrinsic motivation and engagement towards the company mission are gaining in ever-greater importance.  Companies are adopting a more cooperative and horizontal culture. Whereas collective arrangements still have their part to play – no decent remuneration, no motivated employees – it has nevertheless become the case that labour agreements these days inevitably fail to cover all the bases: the essence of what is expected of employees, their heartfelt engagement, is hard to formalise. The new economic model runs on trust, rather than on control and legally enforceable arrangements.

    Trust is the oil of social systems. It is of great significance to all interpersonal relationships. It is not something money can buy, nor something contracts can enforce. Instead, it flows from unspoken reciprocity. You are trusted by people whom you have trusted yourself. Trust relies on the logic of gift, rather than on trade exchange.

    You read it in newspapers, you hear about it in your social circle: even well paid employees sometimes fall victim to burnout and depression. They feel devoured by routine, and claimed by seemingly meaningless tasks. They miss being recognised for the individual capacities they have. Yet in spite of the fact that they feel unhappy, they settle for the good living they make – they feel locked in a golden cage.

    We expect to find a positive correlation between absenteeism and work environments tainted by a practice of harassment and bullying. We expect to find long-term absence through illness in companies with a toxic atmosphere, where bureaucratic intricacies quench employee-enthusiasm. What we expect less is to equally find employees of decently functioning companies disconnecting from work life. Time and time again, it transpires that the crux of this disconnection is the fact that employees experience a serious lack of appreciation. A lack, which often goes hand in hand with a lack of trust placed in them by management and colleagues, as well as with a hierarchical company structure characterised by an excessive amount of administrative measures and an unnecessary greed for control.

    Managers can sometimes be blinded by such presumption that they fail to see their employees might be on a slippery slope. A good manager or head of department, however, is someone who has the know-how to attract the right people to the right job, and to not only salvage but also stimulate enthusiasm.  That requires him or her to allocate employees to positions which bring out the best in them – positions that are neither over-demanding, nor under-challenging. Under all circumstances, a manager needs to be attentive to the fate of his or her employees. This is not only key to the mental health of the employees themselves, but it equally has an economic advantage for the employer – the losses made by companies as a result of employees breaking down are astounding!

    The American Gallup Institute conducted a 25-year long, cross-country study on employee work perception. In an average company, 25% of employees would be eager and enthusiastic, but at the same time, almost 1 in 5 employees would back out and give a minimalistic interpretation to their job. The rest of the employees, the large majority, would do their job just fine, without deviating from the norm in either the positive or the negative sense. Averages, however, cover all kinds of truth: the best companies are in fact blessed with 8 eager and enthusiastic employees, and only 1 employee who tends to take on a negative attitude*. Success is closely connected with the soul people put into their job, and this dedication doesn’t appear out of thin air: it is largely the result of a company culture in which appreciation is held dear.

    Appreciation, however, is not something to hold near to your heart merely as a concept. It needs shaping and expressing: if someone managed to help you out, you send an email or an unexpected gift, which has more symbolic meaning than monetary value. For every occasion, you pay a compliment. A word of appreciation breaks the daily grind, and lifts an achievement out of the ordinary routine. A compliment is complementary: it complements and completes the agreed upon remuneration. It doesn’t have to be grand and impressive. We often even use the diminutive. But that doesn’t stop that tiny compliment from making a big difference.  It heals the possible or actual wounds stemming from strenuous effort, from the wear and tear of routine work, from the exhaustion felt after the completion of a next to impossible task.

    Antoon Vandevelde
    Institute of Philosophy
    Centre for Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy
    KU Leuven

    * For more on this topic, see Rik De Wulf, Soulmade. Bezieling op het werk, Davidsfonds, Leuven, 2015, p. 38 et seq.

    Well-kept secrets about the old-school “Secretaries Day”

    The old-school “Secretaries Day” is that day of year upon which traditionally secretaries, administrative assistants, receptionists and other administrative support professionals are showered with cards, flowers, chocolates and lunches as a way of recognizing their contribution to the workplace. In Flemish, there is a widely used expression: “to put someone in the middle of the flower bed”. And when it comes to “Secretaries Day”, this expression can be taken quite literally, since flowers are still the number one gift on this third Thursday of April. At the same time, however, recent research has shown that fewer and fewer employers are making the effort to celebrate this day, and that is a pity!

    “Secretaries Day” was brought into existence in the United States in 1952. By 1989, the concept had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and set foot in Europe, where it became a tradition too. In the course of the decades, however, “Secretaries Day” has undergone quite a transformation: these days, we tend to refer to it as “Administrative Professionals’ Day“, a term used to encompass the expanding responsibilities and wide-ranging job titles of administrative support staff in the modern economy.

    In many an organisation, administrative professionals are key figures. Considering the fact that they are often the ones making first contact with potential clients and customers, they tend to be any organisation’s “representatives”. Furthermore, a 2015 study conducted by Robert Half highlighted the rapidly changing role of our contemporary management assistants, who are being given more and more responsibilities and projects to handle.  They are expected to display substantial levels of flexibility, and a good sense of initiative and independence – all of them strengths that are in the top 3 of most important “soft skills” looked for in any administrative support professional. In a nutshell, the days that so-called “secretaries” were above all expected and required to touch type, be fluent in several languages and master MS Office to a tee are long gone.

    Nevertheless, in spite of this substantially re-written job description, those who consider celebrating “Secretaries Day” discriminative and sexist, are still plentiful. On the discriminative note, their reasoning is that it is outdated to attribute such amounts of attention to what is, in essence, merely one of the many important functions within an organisation. Appreciation for a job well done is important, but the same applies to any other job well done within that same company. Doesn’t every organization equally run on the efforts delivered by hardworking accountants, janitors, sales people or even its CEO? And on the sexist note: what about our male administrative professionals? Shouldn’t we equally be celebrating them?

    I, personally, can see where these critics are coming from. It is a little like Valentine’s Day: if you only celebrate your love for someone on the 14th of February, you’re in trouble… big trouble!  True appreciation deserves – and needs – to be expressed all year round, and one single token of appreciation on Administrative Professionals’ Day is not in the slightest going to make up for a lack of recognition the other 364 days of the year. Which is not to say, obviously, that that one single token of appreciation on that one special day isn’t an indispensable link in a long and strong chain of necessary and sincere moments of appreciation throughout the year, because it most definitely is: let’s not underestimate the effects of the role played by the media here! “Secretaries Day” is a hot topic and this is bound to create at least some expectations amongst your administrative staff. Secretly, many assistants will hope to be treated to that lunch, that special card, those flowers or chocolates or any other token of appreciation. So our advice is to not cast Administrative Professionals’ Day aside. Instead, see it as an additional and special opportunity to express your appreciation that vital little extra – with the emphasis on extra, because as said before: one moment of appreciation a year is not going to do the trick!

    Still need convincing?

    Well, let us then challenge you to try a completely different approach by going back to the roots of the old-school “Secretaries Day”. The original idea behind the introduction of this day was to take a moment to reflect on the added value secretaries bring to the table when it comes to the running of an organization, to thank them for that and to boost the public image of the job.

    So, from this point of view, why don’t you just drop the whole idea of that yearly bunch of flowers and, instead, take the time to write your administrative assistant(s) a little note, telling them how and why they matter so much to you and your organization as a whole.

    We bet you this will leave a lasting impression – one that won’t whither the way a bunch of flowers does!

    In need of inspiration? No worries! We are happy to share with you some of our inspirational messages that are bound to help you on your way.

    Every day, you do your utmost. With your smile and your professionalism, you are always there to assist not only our customers but also our colleagues. Your engagement and enthusiasm are contagious. To us, your presence is invaluable. Thank you for being who you are!

    Thank you for always thinking along and for taking such good care of us all, for your engagement and for your inner strength. You are a truly valued fixture in our organization and an indispensable link when it comes to our success. For all of those things, we are forever grateful!

    Thank you for your engagement, for your flexibility, for your unstoppable enthusiasm – day in, day out. Today is YOUR day! Enjoy it to the fullest.

    You are our Queen / King of the Office, our tower of strength – exquisite all the way! And even though these words might sound a little cliché, this is nevertheless truly the way we feel about you. So thanks a million for everything you do for us!”

    You are our anchor. You always see the silver lining and your can-do attitude is a source of inspiration to many of us. We are very happy and proud to have you on our team. Thank you for being who you are and for doing exactly what you do – day in, day out.

    Or maybe, last but not least, the following fun fact might be a useful one to bear in mind this coming Thursday: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “secretary” has its roots in the Latin word “secretum”, “secret” – thus originally referring to “a person entrusted with a secret”.

    In other words, this profession we celebrate on Administrative Professionals’ Day has been associated with trust and discretion since the earliest of times… surely enough, that in itself deserves some special attention, no?

    Leen Joos

    Best approach for culture-based recruitment

    If you want to support a strong company culture, it’s logical to start with recruiting and selecting applicants who will share the organization’s beliefs and thrive in that culture. But what hiring practices best ensure cultural fit? And how to avoid the biggest drawback?

    What are practical steps to hire for values?

    1. Translate values into behaviours
    You need to understand the cultural DNA of your organization. Describe your company’s values and behaviours that form the core of your culture. Sometimes it is even valuable to define specific values-based behaviours for a given role or group.

    2. Develop interview questions for each of those values and behaviours
    Draft questions that ask the applicant to give specific examples of past behaviour you can link to your core values. For example, if your organization values initiative and proactive team behaviour, you can ask “Can you give me an example of when you saw an issue outside of your direct scope that affected team performance and you stepped in to address it?”.

    3. Design the interview process
    Consider conducting the skills and values part of an interview by different interviewers or at a different time. This way you are sure the values part will get the separate attention it deserves. And be sure not to start talking about company culture yourself. First, listen to what they have to say about their experiences and beliefs. This tactic will reveal more candid responses to help determine whether they are a fit for the organization. Specially to gauge the core values and beliefs, it way be worthwhile to involve two or even three interviewers. Different people will see and hear different things. These varied perspectives give a clearer understanding of the person being considered for hire.

    4. Use best practices during the interview
    Use the STAR acronym to collect all relevant information: situation, task, action and result. Also ask for the learning they derived from it. Ask for the impression a candidate makes with all people they interacted with. As an example, look at the ‘nice guy test’ as explained by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. At Zappos the recruiter asks the shuttle driver who drive in the candidate to their offices how he or she was treated. Abd listen for values alignment in the questions candidates ask. Try to really notice the kind of questions that they’re asking and think about the values that underly them.

    5. Decide how strict you are going to be
    Every decision to hire is based on an assessment of a mix of job requirements. Cognitive ability, personality, skills, attitude and cultural fit. In a context where there is a pressing need to fill a position, you should agree beforehand what importance you attach to the perceived cultural fit. My advice would be to do yourself and the candidate the favour to be rather strict on cultural fit.

    The biggest downside of hiring for cultural fit is that you limit diversity.

    It is human for recruiters to – at least unconsciously – select those most like themselves. Take for instance introverted versus extraverted personality.

    Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extraverts. – Susan Cain

    But if you have a very outgoing company culture, does that imply that someone who isn’t very extraverted will feel not happy in your company? After all, you don’t want only perfect matches that risk turning into too-cozy cliques in the workplace.

    So, in the end, what should you do?

    Think about how candidates might fit into your company culture, but also how they can add to it. And to what extend they proved capable to adapt to a new culture while staying true to themselves.

    Koen Schreurs
    Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement

    Building a Positive Company Culture – 3 Essentials that REALLY move the needle

    Wellness programs, in-house massages, unlimited free food or even a complete office refurbishment … today, we find more and more companies coming up with all kinds of new trend-chasing initiatives, all of them having to meet but one requirement: the fancier, the better! These investments tend to be made with a view to attract and retain unique talent and skilled workers. And, indeed, building a positive workplace culture is absolutely key if that is the purpose of the exercise.

    Yet, behind the scenes, I find myself wondering: what about the long term effect of these investments? At this rate, soon every organisation will be offering these kinds of fancy benefits. And then what? Because once that is the case, the question arises as to whether these initiatives will still truly make a difference and, in effect, move the needle when it comes to creating a motivating workplace where people continue to thrive?

    I reckon we can already get a glimpse of the answer to this question if we carefully scan our contemporary compensation and benefits landscape. In the course of the last 5 years, a lot of companies went out of their way to optimise and enlarge their employees’ wage packages, much in the same way as the investments that are nowadays made in those fancy initiatives.

    What we see in this compensation and benefits landscape, however, is not in the slightest what we initially expected to see!

    What we expected to see was a league of engaged employees, who were motivated to push their limits. What we – in all reality – see is that we have created a league of cautious employees who have started to behave in an almost prisoner-like way: they conform and don’t dare to stick their neck out, because they are afraid of losing all their beloved benefits.

    Where are we going wrong?
    Where is our blind spot?

    If you ask me, the answer here lies in the common misconception of what it supposedly takes to build a strong and positive company culture.

    There seems to be a trend of relying on a predominantly materialistic approach to creating supposedly happy employees. Yet 25 years of experience in the field of recognition have taught me that improving your company culture is – above all – a matter of sheer trust. Indeed, a strong workplace culture is first and foremost built on a fundament of open dialogue, transparency and connection.

    That is why, as an employer, it is so crucial to provide a safe environment for your employees – one in which solid standards are set and everyone walks their talk. Because if employers and managers practice what they preach, their people are bound to follow suit!

    Based on Arteel’s expertise, I summarised here below 3 essentials which, when applied correctly, WILL move the needle very quickly and skyrocket any company culture!

    1. The importance of alignment

    It all starts with creating a clear vision on where you want your company to be headed and how you want it to help make the world a better place. People – and especially our millennial generation – need to feel a deep connection with the organisation they work for. They need to feel aligned with the organisation’s reason for being and its core values. They need to feel a strong sense of belonging. They need to feel they are contributing to the company’s purpose in a meaningful way. In other words, you have to make sure your employees feel unquestionably aligned with your company purpose and values! That being said, I can not tell you how often I encounter leaders and managers who, when I ask them to articulate their company mission or values, simply fall silent. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the number one thing so many companies struggle with, is getting their purpose and values imprinted in their employees’ DNA. That is why – to initiate and accelerate this vital proces – I recommend empowering every employee in the company to take part in it. Provide for a platform upon which every employee is given the opportunity to recognise his or her peers when noticing positive behaviour that is in line with the company purpose and/or values. By introducing this new approach, you will be surprised to find how quickly and efficiently the process of ‘living the company values’ is enhanced.

    Find out more about this speciality of ours on

    2. The importance of social connection

    In this digital day and age, we often forget that human beings are inherently social creatures – people thrive on feeling connected! A sense of social connectivity activates the production of the “happiness hormone” oxytocin and we are wired to experience it as deeply rewarding. That is why, when a person feels truly connected and has a sense of belonging, he or she will be twice as likely to enjoy good health. Good health entails more energy, and the more energy we experience, the higher the mountains we can move. The opposite, however, is equally true. As a matter of fact, a lack of social relationships at work constitutes a main contributing factor to why people fall ill or slip into a depression. Research has even shown that experiencing social connection and a sense of belonging is more important to our health than the diet we eat and – inversely – a lack thereof creates a greater overall risk to our health than smoking or drinking does. So connecting people socially on the work floor is bound to create a much bigger bang for the company than all of those earlier-mentioned trend-chasing initiatives ever could!

    Curious to put this to the test? Simply contact us by phone on +32 16 499 960 to ask for our top 5 tips to increase social connectivity in the workplace.

    3. The importance of the human touch factor

    One of the greatest gifts we can give our employees is the gift of appreciation, compassion and encouragement.

    “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody – I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat” – Mother Theresa

    Up to 75% of people report that the most stressful part of their job is their interaction with their immediate supervisor. What a shocking eye opener! This entails that tremendous amounts of stress stem from people going through their days with a feeling of not being appreciated for who they are and what they do. So how about if we simply made the effort to truly care about the people whose lives we are privileged to lead, and send them home in the evening feeling respected and valued? Imagine what a difference that would make! Not only would it improve our employees’ quality of life, it would equally positively impact the company’s financial results by reducing the health costs that arise from absenteeism. Not to mention the far more positive impression left on customers and all the benefits that would flow from that! Unfortunately, what I have noticed time after time in the course of my career, is that more often than not people struggle to give recognition. Somehow, the act of recognising and expressing their appreciation makes them feel very uncomfortable.  And they cope by doing nothing, rather than running the risk of losing face. That is a problem, however, because if employees feel they are mere meaningless numbers instead of valued individuals, their work is unlikely to matter to them much. As a result, chances are that it won’t take long before they start looking for a job that feels more fulfilling and interesting to them. And the company is left looking for yet another employee to fill the gap… Luckily, experience has taught me that there is an easy and accessible way to start turning this tide!  Simply begin by adhering importance to the more ‘formal’  occasions upon which employees can be recognised. I hereby think of years of service, on-boarding, safety milestones, other special achievements or family moments such as a wedding or a baby shower. Letting people know they are important and cared-for, as well as increasing the number of moments of connection, are two of the most important components of a thriving company culture. On top of that, honouring wins and milestones improves the in-house morale in a significant way, something which is always a bonus!

    Discover how companies such as Deloitte and Nike increased their human touch factor simply by restructuring their recognition approach via an email on


    A positive workplace culture makes for a world of difference when it comes to attracting and retaining skilled and talented workers, increased levels of productivity and an improved in-house morale. And we guarantee you that if you put the above 3 simple rules to the test in your very own workplace in a consistent way, you are bound to be surprised by how quickly you will able to move the needle – without spending too much money or time.

    Good luck!

    Nathalie Arteel
    Recognition & Motiviation Expert
    Leading Angel Arteel Group

    A Simple Recipe for Customer Loyalty – 9 Ingredients

    In the light of the Easter holiday last week, my family and I decided to enjoy a short but exquisite break at our all-time favourite resort: Alpenresort Schwarz in Tirol – an amazing 5-star hotel that comes with a fascinating story!

    Almost 54 years ago, Alpenresort Schwarz arose out of nothing when a farmer and a hairdresser decided to start up a small bed and breakfast.  “Zimmer mit fließend Wasser” – “rooms with running water” – is what it said on their nameplate. Fast-forward to anno 2018 and the meanwhile 124-room hotel finds itself classified as one of the most beautiful luxury spa-resorts in Europe.

    We love to go there because of the friendly Austrian people, because of the beautiful environment and because of the excellence we find in every experience the Schwarz hotel offers: every year we visit the hotel, we are amazed at how the Pirktl family (the owners of the hotel) once again succeeded in raising their service level even more!

    Furthermore, another important reason why we personally choose to return to this magnificent place, over and over again, is because of the bond we established with the Pirktl family – a bond that started quite a few years ago, when my former dog managed to destroy a beautiful couch in our then hotel room. Very ashamed, I went to Mrs. Pirktl – the “Big Boss” herself – to explain what had happened. I expected an outrageous bill and a future ‘no entry’ for my dog, but things turned out differently. Instead of this negative scenario, Mrs. Pirktl took advantage of this embarrassing situation to build a long-term relationship with us by treating us like one of their most important customers – in spite of the fact that my dog had just destroyed their couch. And what she gave, she got back… and much more than that too!

    Since then, we have never been to any other hotel in Austria. And it seems we are not the only guests who feel this way:  every day, the hotel is filled with more than 60% return customers and 40% new customers. And regardless of the economic downturn, this resort – year after year – has managed to achieve a yearly occupancy rate of more than 91%. These are astounding numbers for the hotel business!

    So what is their secret? How does the Pirktl family manage to build such an amazingly high level of customer loyalty? Let me highlight for you here the 9 most important ingredients of this – in essence – simple recipe…

    1. The power of personal contact

    During your stay as a guest, you meet at least one member of the Pirktl family every day. The Pirktls make a point of starting a small conversation with each of their guests to make sure they are satisfied on every level. This involvement and engagement creates a tremendous bond with each and every guest, as well as with their personnel. You won’t find the Pirktls in their office or in meetings – no, you will always find them right at the centre of their hotel, surrounded by their guests and employees.

    How many businesses do you know (except from the really small ones) where you have such easy access to the business owners or the management? And if you do, how does it feel or how do you experience this? What about your own business? How many businesses, do you think, have disconnected from their core and are instead primarily focusing on numbers and processes as their most important goal?

    2. Actions speak louder than words

    Not only do the Priktls carefully listen to the feedback from their customers, they also take action. This makes their customers feel even more appreciated and, as a result, it becomes an important part of the value creation process.

    How many times have you been asked as an employee or as a customer to complete a survey? And how many times have you had the impression that real action was taken based on your feedback? Or how many times were you informed of the next steps the organization would take as a result of your input?

    3. The vital value of “love’

    The Pirktls, as well as their workforce, truly love their guests. Every initiative they take, everything they do, is initiated from the heart. They genuinely care for their customers, and this way of ‘caring’ is reflected in every single detail.

    Can you name 5 businesses where you have the feeling that the staff and management really care about you as a customer? Where you have the feeling that they really go the extra mile to meet your needs, and connect with you in a loving way?

    4. Recognition is key

    The 250 Alpenresort Schwarz employees receive lots of recognition from their management. This stimulates them to give the very best of themselves all the time, which is something the customers pick up on. As such, in turn, they equally end up receiving lots of recognition from the hotel guests, creating a self-reinforcing upward spiral!

    What about the company you work for: do you get or give recognition on a regular basis?  Or do you express your sincere appreciation if you experience a great service when visiting a hotel or other venue?

    5. Focus on quality-quality-quality!

    I never visited a hotel where the standards of quality are so high. From the food to the service to the accommodation: the Pirktls dazzle their customers with their excellent level of quality, reflected in every detail. Indeed, when it comes to quality, they don’t compromise. Every euro they earn is reinvested to raise the level of service. Every time we return, we discover new things – tiny and huge alike – that they put into place to raise the resort’s wow factor.

    What about the company you work for? Or what about your job? Do you continue to invest in yourself and your company to raise the level of quality you offer?

    6. One mission: “Freude geben, freude bekommen” (“Giving joy is receiving joy”)

    Every employee – whether one of the cleaning ladies, managers or kitchen staff – is clearly connected to the resort’s one and only mission: “giving joy is receiving joy”. It is fascinating to witness how all communication is built around this one mission, as is everything else that is done at the Schwarz Hotel.

    What about your company? Can you rephrase the mission of your company in three sentences? And is this mission equally clear for every employee? Do they know what they are contributing to, and why they do what they do?

    7. The planet and its people – they care!

    Alpenresort Schwarz is located in a beautiful, natural and quiet environment, and this close-to-nature approach is also reflected in everything they do. They support the local farmers by deliberately doing business with them instead of buying from big concerns just to keep prices low, and they do their fair share when it comes to climate change by investing in new solar and rainwater systems to reduce their carbon footprint. On top of that, they designed a total health plan for their employees, and they continue to invest in them by offering them all kinds of training courses throughout the year. Indeed, Alpenresort Schwarz won several prices for their sustainable operation procedures!

    How many businesses or managers have lost touch with what sustainability really embodies?

    8. “That little extra”: the difference between ordinary and extraordinary

    As a guest, “that little extra” is what you get and you are treated as a VIP – regardless of which room or package you booked. Alpenresort Schwarz builds their offers in such a way that everyone’s expectations are met, and even exceeded. Whether you come with your family with children, or you are there to play golf, or you want to utterly relax, or you bring your dog with you, … everything is taken care of in amazing ways!

    Every customer has different needs, and values different things. In which way do you craft your offers? Are they truly based on the needs and wants of your customers?

    9. The importance of humility

    Last but not least, it is striking that – after everything the Pirktl family has achieved – they nevertheless haven’t forgotten the beauty and importance of staying humble. They feel they are there to serve you, and to make your stay one of the most fabulous experiences you have ever had. As such, notwithstanding their success, they are approachable and stay close to their employees and customers… a truly golden ingredient!

    How many business owners or top-managers do you know who – notwithstanding their success –  nevertheless stay humble and remain approachable?

    Nowadays, in this complex and highly demanding world, we sometimes forget that if we want to build an amazing bond with our employees and customers – and as such create a loyal customer base – all we have to do is go back to these 9 basic ingredients.
    Indeed, the recipe can really be that simple…

    And since, at Arteel, Customer Loyalty is our specialty, we would be honoured to help you to increase your wow factor too! Feel welcome to browse our website or simply contact me by email on My team and I will be delighted to inspire you.

    Nathalie Arteel
    Leading Angel Arteel Group
    Recognition and Motivation Expert

    5 tips for successfully implementing change in a company

    ‘Yes We Can.’ This famous quote from Barack Obama was his way to encourage his people for a series of upcoming changes. These words are a good example that Obama understood all too well that change is difficult. They need confidence to believe that change is the best way, even though it is often not the easiest way.

    Due to the current dynamic, change is no longer an optional choice, but a necessity, especially in the business world. Standing still is going backwards. However, up to 70% of all business change processes fail according to the Vlerick Business School. Companies that try to implement change often encounter resistance from their employees. This resistance can fortunately be overcome if you understand the origin or the meaning of this resistance.

    We list below 5 common reasons why people oppose change.

    1. Man as creature of habit

    Man is a creature of habit, and this does not necessarily have to be negative. Habits are a kind of protection mechanism for our body. Without habits, we would be flooded with stimuli day in and day out. Processes on autopilot require less effort and brain power, and therefore offer a grip in daily life. Resistance to change is therefore a natural reflex of our body that is taken out of balance.

    It takes a lot of effort to break habits. Just think of abandoning the habit of opening a bag of chips in front of the television in the evening. It requires a lot of willpower and perseverance to unlearn an old habit and take up a new one. And there will certainly come a time when you are too tired to stand up against that old habit and that you still succumb. There is nothing wrong with that, but you have to take into account the scenario that it will not always run perfectly.

    Likewise with change processes on the work floor: it is important to realize that this too requires a lot of energy from the employees and that an old habit can not be changed easily. One person will stick more to his habits than the other, or in other words, one person will be more resistant to change than the other. Take this difference into account and reward and acknowledge the efforts made by employees. Because it will be an effort for everyone anyway!

    When big changes are announced, people quickly think that everything will be different, that they will have to radically say goodbye to all the habits they have had up to now. Employees will be afraid to lose control. Therefore, leave room for old habits and customs. In your communication, focus especially on the essential things that need to be changed, but also validate the existing practices that do run well.

    2. Uncertainty

    Change makes people insecure. People have a lot of questions. It has also been shown that restructuring can also have negative consequences. This makes them insecure about their job, their future, their person. What if the change is not successful, will layoffs follow?

    People need clarity in such a situation. But also be honest and transparent if the future will be less bright. The more concrete the information you can give, the better.

    They long for clear goals and expectations, within a realistic time frame. Take small steps, do not expect the impossible. Too big a step will deter employees. Set achievable sub-targets, and see that people experience a sense of success, however small that success may be. This gives employees confidence and desire to go through the process step by step.

    3. Fear of losing face

    People are afraid of losing face. They are afraid that they will not master the new skills, that they will not meet the new requirements. It requires an extra effort to learn new skills, regardless of age. Sufficient guidance and training is therefore necessary to support employees.

    Therefore, imagine the change as a learning trajectory, and not as something that has to run perfectly from one day to the next. Making mistakes is allowed! It must not be a Hopping procession of Echternach, but it can not hurt to take one step back after three steps forward. Give this message to the employees. This will give them more breathing room and will reassure them.

    4. Autonomy

    Autonomy, in addition to belonging and competence, is one of the three basic psychological needs of each person according to self-determination theory. Autonomy is about getting space, about determining what you do yourself and being responsible for the choices you have made. If this basic need is not met, a person will become exhausted.
    In processes of change, there is often a tendency to impose novelties. However, this goes against the need for autonomy of every human being, which will increase resistance to accepting change. It is preferable to outline a clear framework in which employees can work and give them the freedom to move around. Facilitate and stimulate, instead of checking and steering. Let the people decide for themselves how they want to further shape their job within that new framework. This will not only increase their sense of ownership, but you will also be surprised by the creativity that will emerge.

    5. What’s in it for me?

    Often change processes in a company are announced from the perspective of the company. Changes are obviously meant to make the company better, the turnover will increase, the production process will be more efficient, … But what does the employee gain?
    Man is a social being. However, there are sufficient social experiments that show that – when it comes down to it – self-interest prevails over group interest. If there is insufficient communication about what the employee can gain, he will only see a big mountain in front of him where he absolutely does not see the benefit of climbing it. People need to experience that a change will also mean a personal improvement. Try to translate the change process into a win-win situation for both the employee and the company.
    In this way, the employee will feel more connected, which by the way is also a basic psychological need of the person! Change is always challenging, but when people feel involved, the process will be run much smoother.
    In summary, the human being is a creature of habit that longs for autonomy, connectedness and feeling competent. If you keep these basic aspects in mind at the start of a change process, then you are already making a good start. But do not lose sight of people and their needs during this ride. Measure the progress of the change process not only on the basis of hard business aspects (turnover, production, quality), but also on the basis of soft aspects (job satisfaction, involvement, collegiality, trust). A change process is only successful if both aspects are improved. After all, you wouldn’t like a production increase that implied your employees would be unhappier than ever before.
    Good luck!
    Leen Joos