Creating Culture 101

Leadership cultureFor the second year in a row SAS topped FORTUNE’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.” SAS, a world leader in business analytics technology, has made the list every year so far. What’s their secret? How do they create a culture that attracts and retains the best talent in their industry?

SAS CEO Jim Goodnight’s attributes it to a single, simple philosophy: Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.

Wow. That’s it? Yup, that’s it. People have a funny habit of living up to (or down to) your expectations of them.

Now, it doesn’t hurt that SAS can afford to provide on-site healthcare, high quality childcare, summer camp for kids, car cleaning, a beauty salon, a state-of-the-art gym, and other incredible perks. But those perks weren’t what sent SAS to the top of the list. It was employee feedback like this:

People stay at SAS in large part because they are happy, but to dig a little deeper, I would argue that people don’t leave SAS because they feel regarded — seen, attended to and cared for. I have stayed for that reason, and love what I do for that reason.

– Manager at SAS

You may not be able to afford the epic perks that SAS offers, but you can create an environment where your employees feel “regarded — seen, attended to and cared for.” That’s the first step in creating a winning culture and a great place to work.

What are your ideas for how to treat employees like they make a difference?

10 thoughts on “Creating Culture 101”

  1. “What are your ideas for how to treat employees like they make a difference?”

    Give them real tasks and duties that matter, and sufficient autonomy to fail (though not catastrophically). No one wants to do a job where everything is pre-determined in advance; if you can’t make a difference, why do the job in the first place?

    1. Good stuff, Ray. You’re right on. So often people are focused on the “perks” that offset the “work.” They miss the fact that if you give people purposeful jobs – along with the skills and freedom to get them done – the work becomes a perk itself.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

  2. I had one of my greatest successes when I managed the least. I put the right person in charge of the team. We had some great brain storming sessions and let him go to work. From there I just made sure he had the resources and allowed him to lead in his own fashion. When I didn’t agree with something, I bit my lip and let it develop. When they got lost, we asked more questions of ourselves rather than me dictating an answer.

    And you know what, we were wildly successful.

    I’ll never forget how much that experience and that team taught me sometimes a leader needs to get out of the way and allow the magic to happen.


    1. Great story, Matt — and great reminder for us all. I agree with you; most of our job as leaders is to just set the conditions for others to succeed, then let them do it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Love Matt’s comment, “when I managed the least.” I suppose in some cultures that might be grounds for dismissal.

    One way to treat employees like they make a difference is to open the information pipeline. Don’t hoard info share it. In so doing, you enable people to make decisions with confidence.

    Geoff, thanks for your great work.

    1. Nice one, Dan. I think trusting people with information and pushing decision-making authority down to the lowest level sends a clear message to those you lead: You believe in them!

      Thanks for sharing that!

  4. Dan,

    Thanks for the kudo.


    You’ve seen leaders who horde information. The team is lost without timely inputs. The leader thinks if they know more than everyone else they are smarter and more powerful. But they aren’t they are cutting off the lifeline that the do-ers need to make valuable contributions.

    Those leaders could be so much more effective if they wouldn’t use information as a weapon against their own people.


    1. You’re right, Matt. That can be so frustrating for a follower; it hamstrings all your endeavors and definitely doesn’t make you feel like you can make a difference!

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