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Culture + Engagement: Brian Adam and James Swanson

Culture is What You Do, Not What You Say

How wide-format PSPs can evolve from listing to living your core values (you still get to print a slogan on a banner).




THE SATIRICAL NEWSPAPER The Onion published some rather humorous news a couple of years ago: “A trio of posters depicting swimsuit models hung recently in a dorm room have been found to have ‘little to no effect’ in facilitating the presence of actual swimsuit models in that room.”

Many businesses adopt a similar approach to building company culture. Unfortunately, slapping a mission statement, a list of core values, or a mindless motivational slogan on a wall is no more effective than the college students’ swimsuit posters in driving results. Culture is the ethos of your organization. It defines and is defined by the actions you and your employees take every day.

This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t plaster graphics and slogans on the walls. At the end of the day we are printers, so yes – this is an important step. However, it’s also the last step. First, you must ensure your culture is what’s done and what’s lived, not what’s said. Here’s how:

Step 1:
Define Your Purpose and Craft a Mission Statement

Employees must have a purpose to be engaged – and for the record, “to make the owner or external shareholders rich” is not a very motivating purpose! Think about some of the most successful (and most profitable) companies in the world. Their missions do not speak to the return on capital or maximizing shareholder value. They all stand for something greater. For example:

  • Walmart: “We save people money, so they live better.”
  • Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • Amazon: “To be the Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find anything they might want to buy online.”

Your purpose is an ultimate goal: If you achieve it, you’re successful. If not, you have failed. Keep in mind that your mission statement is for your employees. Design it for your team, not for your customers, suppliers, bankers, or lawyers. Ask employees directly, “Other than a paycheck, why do you work here?” Get their feedback on what makes your company special, and ensure your mission statement is meaningful to them. Also, make “the test of time” an integral part of the process. This is not something you want to revisit or change frequently.

For ideas, research what other companies have written. Olympus’ purpose is simple: “At Olympus, we want to create a rewarding work environment for our team.” This is meaningful to different team members in different ways (financially rewarding, rewarding in terms of job stability or advancement opportunities, etc.).


Step 2:
Define Your Core Values

Core values are the traits you look for in your employees. What attributes or skills will help someone succeed at your company? You consider these traits when making hiring decisions, promotion decisions, and decisions about what to do with poor performers. Your best employees should embody all of your core values.

If you have yet to create core values or want to revisit them, start by engaging with your management team. Ask supervisors and leads which employees they would put on a pedestal to show the world what makes your company special. Then ask which specific traits made those employees superstars, focusing particularly on employees that appear on multiple managers’ lists. These traits become your core values.

At Olympus, we have four core values:

  1. Selflessness. You put the good of others above the good of yourself.
  2. “Can Do” Attitudes. You exhibit a willingness to find a solution when others thought it was not possible.
  3. Gets Results. You consistently deliver amazing results.
  4. Integrity. You do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

Take time to accurately identify your core values, including meaningful descriptions. Remember that you must also communicate these values to everyone on your team (current and future). Also, feel free to change your values over time. A company’s purpose rarely changes, but core values can evolve.

Step 3:
Practice What You Preach

Core values are meaningless unless your team knows them, believes in them, and lives by them. This begins at the top. Managers and other leaders must lead by example. If they don’t embody the company’s core values, employees won’t either. Core values also should heavily inform your hiring, onboarding, and performance review processes.


Treat core values training just like training for any other required job skill for every employee in your company. Articulate what they are, why they are important, and how team members have lived them. This is a huge storytelling opportunity, and many experts will tell you that story-telling is a highly effective way to train.

Step 4:
Printing … Lots of Printing

Now it’s time for the most important step (and what we all do best): printing graphics — banners, banners, and more banners. I’m only half-joking here. You want to keep your purpose and your core values front of mind.

Don’t make the same mistake as those poor college students from the Onion article. Take the time to define, articulate, train and refine your core values. Then, don’t be afraid to put a graphic or two on your walls.



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