A CEO’s Perspective: How to Create A Thriving Company Culture

By Aimee Meester
May 3, 2023
Planes in formation with a smoke trail

In this spotlight on industry leaders, we sat down with Aimee Meester, CEO of Madison Taylor Marketing, and Peter Arch, CEO of Peter Arch Consulting, to discuss how organizations can create a thriving company culture.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the conversation:

How do you define corporate culture?

Peter: To me, culture is the character and personality of our organization. It’s what makes a business unique. I like to think of it as the sum of the values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes that occur. It also includes leadership, management, employees, communication and meeting styles, workplace environment, workplace practices, policies, and traditions.

Aimee: I agree with that. When I think about culture, I think about the atmosphere that’s created within an organization. It’s a way of saying, “This is our group definition of who we are and how we do things — outside of just products or deliverables.”

Why is company culture so important?

Aimee: Company culture is important because it sets the tone for how things are done, how people behave, how employees treat one another, and how they interact with clients or customers. It’s this overarching set of expectations that guides everything we do.

Peter: Exactly. I think very few organizations recognize the immense value-add that’s generated from a strong company culture. In fact, a lot of early success relies on developing an authentic and compelling company culture. At both Challenger Sports and Gymshark, we created a purpose-driven, positive, and inclusive work environment that kept our staff motivated and highly inspired to do their best work. This approach paid dividends because all of our employees would talk about the work environment and office perks to other people. It was great for our branding, hiring, and retention.

How do you create a great company culture?

Peter: First and foremost, you need to have clearly defined company values that everyone knows and champions in everyday work life.

Aimee: Yes! It all starts with a culture code that explicitly outlines, “This is who we are. This is what we do. This is how we do it.” Then, you have to implement it into every aspect of your organization, from hiring, to employee recognition, to internal and external communication. You can’t just put words on a wall or share out a memo. You have to put them into action in everything you do.

Peter: You have to be intentional about developing critical opportunities for culture building within your organization. This includes creating and celebrating special moments in a way that becomes part of the company fabric – breakfasts, happy hours, birthday celebrations – they’re all a part of culture.

Aimee: I also think it’s important to build a sense of comradery and team through shared successes and failures – and to do that by implementing a set of processes, procedures, and rituals within an organization. For example, every Friday, our team shares our wins from the week. We also give kudos to each other for specific things we did to help each other succeed.

Peter: We did something similar at GymShark and at Challenger Sports in terms of creating a sense of teamwork and comradery. I remember one year, we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 staff members who had no family in town. We also took the entire staff to Las Vegas each year for team bonding and staff development, and throughout the rest of the year, I made it a point to walk the floor every day and take a sincere interest in employee’s work and lives. The goal was simply to create a sense of community that united people beyond their work. What’s amazing is that when we host reunions for past employees, we get a great turnout, and all of them still talk about their fond memories of the team-building events they participated in.

What causes a bad company culture?

Peter: Bad company culture frequently starts with leadership having bad behavior and attitudes. Usually, when there’s a bad company culture, company values don’t align with the reality of the organization’s day-to-day interactions and experiences. There’s also poor communication in all directions.

Aimee: Agreed. Bad company culture typically starts with leadership being afraid to have the hard conversations. Whether it’s redirecting, setting expectations, or even letting go of someone when you need to, oftentimes, many leaders shy away from these kinds of conversations because they want to be well-liked. And while it’s important to be likable, organizations also need leaders who know when to stop walking on eggshells and have crucial conversations that preserve the cultural integrity of their teams.

How do you know if you have a culture problem?

Aimee: One of the biggest signs of a bad company culture is when no one can clearly point to how they are demonstrating the organization’s values and culture code. If people can’t answer that question, then you know there’s a problem.

Peter: If people can’t name the organization’s values or explain how they embody them, then you know without a shadow of a doubt that there’s a disconnect in your culture. That’s why it’s so important to have clearly defined company values that everyone knows and believes in.

Aimee: Exactly! Beyond the cultural disconnect, though, you’ll also know you have a culture problem when things start to fall apart operationally — when your day-to-day operations don’t support who you say you are as an organization. For example, if you say you’re customer-focused, but employees chronically don’t answer the phone for customers, then your values aren’t being upheld, and your organizational goals definitely aren’t being met.

Peter: That’s a great point. Oftentimes, when there’s a disconnect between voiced culture and enacted culture, it means that your organization can’t operate at its highest capacity. You’ll also often see high turnover, internal staff conflict, lack of feedback and recognition, and closed doors.

Who is responsible for creating culture in an organization?

Aimee: Every single person in an organization is responsible for creating culture. It may be set and directory by leadership, but it doesn’t work unless every single employee is working in the same direction.

Peter: Yes, it really starts with leadership, but every other employee must also be bought in. If employees don’t align with the company’s values, then they won’t contribute to the creation of a positive work environment. For example, I think employees should be given roles that involve organizing and leading culture-building activities. The whole initiative should be spearheaded by organizational leaders, but there needs to be significant input and buy-in from all levels of staff.

Aimee: Sometimes, when it comes to building and maintaining culture, you have to show people the value of moving in a certain direction. You need to show them what it means to them and why it’s important. It’s also really crucial for organizations to think about cultural fit when they hire. When you hire for cultural fit, then you should find people who are already naturally bought in just by virtue of who they are.

About Aimee Meester

Aimee serves as the CEO and lead visionary at Madison Taylor Marketing, though she is affectionately referred to internally as the Chief Marketing Aficionado. Aimee has extensive experience in marketing strategy and operational execution with demonstrated success in implementing strategic organizational initiatives. Her ability to turn organizational goals into reality has been roundly recognized by clientele over the years. Aimee’s people-focused approach to partnering with internal and external teams has enabled her to unlock organizational success for both Madison Taylor Marketing and its client partners. It’s also enabled Madison Taylor Marketing to consistently be recognized as both a premier full-service global marketing agency and one of the best places to work in Denver. Connect with Aimee on LinkedIn here.

About Peter Arch

Peter is an experienced entrepreneurial business leader with a proven track record of success in building brands, teams, and companies across various industries, including sports, fitness apparel, and marketing. Born and raised in the UK, Peter graduated from the University of Warwick in England. He later went on to lecture at Aylesbury College, play and coach soccer, and open a gym. After spending his summers coaching soccer in the U.S., Peter collaborated with a few like-minded colleagues to found Challenger Sports, America’s largest youth soccer coaching organization. Following his tenure as CEO of Challenger Sports, Peter partnered with the CEO of Gymshark in 2019 to bring the $500 million fitness apparel brand to North America. Peter collaborated with Denver Landing Pad and selected Denver as the host city for Gymshark’s North American HQ. He then spent the next three years helping build the 25,000 sq ft office, hire a team of 120 staff, and embed Gymshark in the local business community. In 2023, Peter established Peter Arch Consulting. He now works with a team of best-in-class strategic partners to provide a comprehensive range of consulting services for start-ups, emerging brands, and growing businesses. He also provides international companies with a turn-key solution for launching or expanding their distribution and marketing within the U.S. Connect with Peter on LinkedIn here.