Building an Epic Culture

My recent experience of the fantastic culture of the Ritz Carlton Millenia in Singapore led me to reflect on what benefits our own work with Gallup had delivered to Epic Pharmacy, and how it had impacted on our leadership and business cultures.

It’s quite a while since we’ve done any work with Gallup; we did a number of Employee Engagement surveys back in the mid 2000’s, and then around 50 of our managers and team leaders participated in the Strengths Finder program back in 2007. Despite the significant amount of time which has passed since then, both of these programs have left lasting legacies.

One of the outcomes of the first Employee Engagement survey saw us partnering with Red Balloon to design and implement one of their first corporate employee reward and recognition programs, which allowed both managers and peers to acknowledge team members, and then allowed the individuals to decide how they would utilise the reward points.    We’ve had team members try a huge number of Red Balloon experiences, ranging from swimming with dolphins to ordering giant lolly boxes to share with their colleagues.

The resulting culture of recognition has become deeply ingrained in our business, and that program still runs to this day.  We’ve added a variety of other tools now, including our  Epic e-cards featuring our much loved ‘Breadman’ (who lets the recipient know someone thinks they are the best thing since sliced bread) and his friends Warm and Fuzzy and Bee.


When I look at Strengths Finder, my take aways get a lot more personal. Completing this program made a significant impact on the way I viewed myself both as a person and as a leader, and I can honestly say, seven years later the learnings still contribute to my actions and activities each and every day.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Strengths Finder program, it ranks a series of traits from those that you have a natural talent in through to those (which let’s be frank here) for which  you not only have no natural talent in, but no matter how hard you try and how much energy you devote to improving, you will never be anything other than mediocre.

I found this to be incredibly powerful, as I think we are all naturally inclined to be acutely aware of the areas that we perform poorly in, and equally naturally inclined to try our hardest to improve on them. It’s really liberating to flip that thinking, and change it to being aware of your areas of ‘non-strength’ (as my friend Naomi Simson refers to them), but accepting that it is pointless to devote your time and energy in trying to change.

Shifting to an awareness of those traits (and a public awareness if you do this as part of a broader team based exercise) not only completely removes the stigma of feeling inadequate, but allows you to have open dialogue with people about it, and actively recruit people with those traits that you are ranked lowest in to be part of your team.

To illustrate, a colleague that I worked with closely for many years and I had this down to a fine art. The trait of ‘Deliberative’ or serious care in making decisions or choices, anticipating all of the obstacles, is one of my most lowly ranked. This colleague had this same trait as one of his strongest themes, and the balance that this provided meant that we worked brilliantly together, and he saved me time and time again from the potential consequences of some of my more impulsive ideas. Equally ‘Empathy’ was one of his lowest ranking traits, but the fact that we all knew this meant that he could quite comfortably seek feedback and input from me and others to check that he wasn’t approaching things in a way that might be perceived as lacking regard for other’s feelings.

In addition to helping you better manage the areas which  are most likely to cause you challenge, identifying the areas in which your natural talents lie is also incredibly powerful.

When I first got my top five results, it’s fair to say I was less than impressed.  The line up of Communication, Competition, Significance, Focus  and Discipline didn’t exactly make me sound like the most fun filled person to spend time with, to say the very least.

I indignantly marched off to show Stuart and rail about how useless the tool was, only to be even more indignant when he suggested that he thought it was pretty much spot on!

Once I’d worked through what each of these translated into in terms of behaviours though, it got a lot harder to maintain a position that the results were wrong, as I could identify so easily with many of the examples used.

However there was one that I just couldn’t accept and that was communication, ranked as my top strength. Back in 1998, I was recognised as Victorian Pharmacy Manager of the Year and part of my prize was speaking at a pharmacy conference. To this day, reminders of that presentation send me looking for the nearest corner to hide in. I had way too much material for the time and in the pre-Powerpoint era this saw me whipping through overhead projector acetates faster than a whirling dervish while rapid firing my words like a machine gun with the safety switch off.

After that I decided I was definitely not made for public speaking so that was it and my speaking career was going to be a once only appearance. I held that position through until I won the Telstra Award in late 2011, when I was filled with trepidation as I knew not only the awards themselves but the following year would include many speaking obligations.

As I worried about how I would cope, the words of the Gallup Strengths coach came back to me. She’d told me in no uncertain terms that if Strengths Finder had ranked communication as my number one strength then she refused to discount that on the grounds of one bad presentation, but I wasn’t convinced at the time. Years later, I clung to those words for comfort and desperately hoped she was right. They gave me the confidence to get through the first couple of presentations and I discovered that, not only did I actually enjoy public speaking, but that the audience didn’t seem to mind listening either.

The upshot of all this is that this post is not intended to be an ad for Gallup, or a recommendation that everyone rush out and implement these same programs in their own businesses or lives.

More so, it is designed to be an illustration that business culture and personal leadership development, doesn’t just happen. It’s something that needs to be actively created and nurtured, and that identifying programs or tools that work for you and fit your business can really help to accelerate the establishment of great cultures. If the design and delivery is done well, their legacy can grow and develop into something that outlasts the program itself.

The Ritz Carlton in Singapore has clearly used their programs to deliver this outcome, and I’d like to think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing the same at Epic Pharmacy. That said, it can never be set and forget mode, business culture is a living and breathing thing that needs to be actively nurtured and reinforced each and every day.

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