When I owned a Prius, I would drive 18 miles to get it serviced. There were plenty of service locations closer by, but I enjoyed the customer experience at one particular dealership so much, I was willing to make the drive.

Everyone at the dealership was friendly. They were always smiling. Some days they all wore Hawaiian shirts and made you feel as though you were a valued guest at a big, happy party. The joy of a great work environment is palpable to employees, to management and, most importantly, to customers.

As a business psychologist and Chair of Vistage CEO peer advisory groups, I work with CEOs and companies to create this same level of success. What I have found over the years is that a good corporate culture is not difficult to achieve. It just requires clear communication, focused hiring practices and – on the right occasions – Hawaiian shirts.


A party atmosphere might be perfect for a car dealership, but for the manufacturer of aviation equipment, precision might be more valued. The culture of your company has to align with your mission and come from the top.

As the leader and visionary, the CEO defines the company’s values, determines the company culture and then hires for that culture.

The importance of getting corporate culture just right cannot be overstated. Years ago, I was brought in to consult with a law firm whose once-stellar workplace reputation had suddenly plummeted. I learned the firm had absorbed lawyers from competing organizations very quickly, without assessing those firms’ corporate cultures.

While the growing law firm prided itself on a culture of collaboration and respect, many of the new hires came from more hierarchical organizations. A culture clash ensued, resulting in conflict and deep unhappiness. After identifying the issue and communicating the firm’s core values, they engaged in some team building and culling to get the organization back on track.


There are three attributes companies usually look for when they hire: talent, experience and cultural fit. Not every candidate is going to possess all three, but many companies make the mistake of weighing experience above the other two. People with a lot of experience are like shiny objects. By allowing yourself to get distracted by a dazzling CV, you might lose sight of the fact that the candidate is simply not right for your organization. If you want a workplace with good work culture, hire the talent to fit the culture.

To find the right fit, develop interview questions based on your corporate culture. For example, ask job candidates how they would address different workplace situations. Do they say “I” a lot in their responses, or do their answers reference their entire team? How they answer will illuminate the candidate’s values and clue you in about whether they align with yours.


Make explicit your values and cultural expectations during your interview and then reinforce those expectations when you hire. For instance, if your organization deeply values collaboration, let new hires know right away that the people they’re leading will be interviewed periodically about how well he or she coaches. By tying performance expectations and outcomes to your culture, you strengthen that culture.


If a person isn’t a good fit for a job, they will not be happy – and neither will anyone around them. In these situations, it is important to help people either transition into new roles at your company or find opportunities outside the company that make more sense for them. Here, again, clear communication is key. It’s not about them being “bad,” it’s about a bad fit.

None of the businesses on the Best Places to Work list got there accidentally. Intentional cultural alignment is the most important aspect of creating a great work environment. When you hire for corporate culture and reward for it, it will work for you, for your employees and for your customers.

Gail Schaper-Gordon is a Chair at Vistage Worldwide, a business performance and leadership advancement organization. She is also an organizational consultant, renowned business psychologist and entrepreneur. Over several decades, she has used her wide range of experiences to build successful executive teams and enhance performance for a wide range of organizations.

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