Company Culture at 30,000 Feet

Article by:
Floyd Marinescu EO Toronto
Floyd Marinescu
EO Toronto

On a flight home from a Forum retreat in Barbados, I noticed something different— the WestJet flight attendants seemed happier. Even the guy conducting the seat belt-and-lifejacket skit was gesturing like a clown! It was the first time in 10 years of travel that I actually paid attention to the safety announcements, and there was a reason for it.

Around this time, I had finished reading several books on company culture. Having just discussed this topic with my Forum, I was intrigued by what I was seeing on the flight. It seemed I had stumbled upon a company that was actually applying the approach of building culture through higher purpose, core values and valuing their employees. I asked the flight attendants if the behavior I saw was something WestJet cultivated, and if they could describe their company culture.

Without hesitation, they shared how WestJet fosters their core values. Each employee wears a card that has the company mission, core values and the statement: “We are successful because I care;” there are four all-staff events a year, where personal-development opportunities are offered; there’s a Web site that enables employees to send “kudos” to one another; and core values are a key part of the WestJet recruiting process.

The last one really resonated with me. At the time, I was wondering how to evaluate if a strategic hire we were considering matched my company’s core values. The flight attendants told me that when it comes to hiring, WestJet:

  • Asks behavioral questions, whose answers would validate various core values
  • Starts with an open-ended question like, “Tell me about yourself,” and includes fun stuff on their written questionnaire, such as, “What is your favorite type of salad?”
  • Has a three-step review process in which they look for culture fits; they will choose less-qualified people who are culture fits over higher-qualified ones that are not

It was refreshing to hear these employees teach me about the importance of core values in business. Since that flight, I’ve sent a variation of this article to my staff, and it has helped put into perspective what we are trying to do with our own adoption of purpose and core values. Who knew a routine plane ride could offer a 30,000-foot view on company culture?

Floyd Marinescu is the CEO of C4Media Inc. E-mail Floyd at [email protected].

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