The Adaptive Agency Blog

Building An Amazing Culture Was Hard

by | Jun 23, 2023 | Culture

We spent years developing a great culture. It’s the best thing we’ve done for our business, our employees, and our customers.

Our culture is the unseen force that aligns our team with our strategy and brings out the best in them.

Creating this culture was tougher than I ever guessed.

Here are a few of the lessons I learned along the way.


Lesson 1: The Boss Has To Be All In.

You can’t force a culture into existence. Money won’t do it. Neither will perks. A great culture blooms when the boss and leadership team prioritize it.

It’s my top task, no question about it.

We have a purpose, values, and a lexicon that we use consistently. If we lose focus on our culture, it suffers. When we double down on it, it gets stronger.

We’re in the appointment-setting business for insurance agents. I need my people to schedule lots of high-quality appointments.

But I put a ton of time into boosting our culture, way more than just chasing appointments.

WAY more.

The culture takes care of most of the appointment-setting. It’s built-in. For example:

  • One aspect of our shared purpose is “Protecting More People.”
  • One of our values is “Customers: We understand and deliver on our customer’s definition of success.”
  • Another is “Stewardship: We treat our customer’s business like our own.”

If our people believe in those ideals–if they’re inspired by them–we don’t have to worry about the quality and quantity of appointments.

But if they don’t, we’re back to the carrot and the stick. And that makes employees feel like human resources. Ouch.

We want them to know they’re valued and appreciated. So that leads to Lesson 2.


Lesson 2: Employees Come First.

The old adage goes, “The customer comes first.”

Turns out that’s one of the worst ideas in the history of worst.

I remember Simon Sinek once telling the story of a CEO who said “The customer comes first.” Simon’s response was roughly this:

“Bull. You haven’t talked to a customer in 10 years. But you know who does talk to your customers? Your front-line employees. What are you doing to make them feel appreciated and valued?”

I’ve found this to be 100% true. Employee satisfaction is the fuel that powers exceptional customer experiences. When we prioritize our people, they become the catalysts for customer delight.

Our appointment-setting team has made over a 1,000,000 calls so far this year. That’s a lot of repetitive task work. If they don’t feel cared about, they’ll care less about the agents we serve, and about the clients we schedule.

It’s easy to just set basic rules and play the carrot and stick game, but it doesn’t inspire anyone and it becomes permanent.

Employees come first.

Which brings us to hiring…


Lesson 3: Hiring For Fit Is Crucial.

If we hired exclusively for appointment-setting skills, the results would be disastrous.

We’d end up with the “brilliant jerk” problem.

A brilliant jerk is someone who does the job so well that you can’t live without them. But the impact on the rest of the team is so bad that you can’t live with them.

It’s a tough spot. Most employers experience it.

A ‘brilliant jerk’ may excel individually, but they’ll erode the team’s culture and kill their spirits.

So we choose to hire for cultural fit and coach for skills. It works out WAY better.

I’d rather have a team full of long-term, reliable B+ players than a few A+ players who make their other 60 teammates hate their jobs.


Lesson 4: Be Patient; It Takes Time.

Too many business leaders email a list of core values and assume something will happen.

It won’t.

Transforming an organization is as hard and requires as much patience as transforming oneself.

It’s like any other worthwhile pursuit. It takes gallons of elbow grease.

Then, out of the blue, you realize you’re actually moving forward. And you have momentum to help keep you going.

Meanwhile, watch for small wins and beautiful moments. Each little victory will get you one step closer to a powerful company culture.

If you’ve been on this journey, I’d love to hear what’s worked and what hasn’t. Hit reply and let me know!