A Conversation with MarketSource’s VP of Human Resources, Shelton Guinn
According to LinkedIn, company culture is the shared values, attributes, and characteristics of an organization. It is the result of the way employees interact with each other and the work environment the organization creates—intentional or not. It is also an outgrowth of the company mission, ethics, goals, and leadership style. A strong culture emerges when employees have a clear understanding of expectations for behavior and of the goals the entire organization is marching toward.
At a time when the workforce is undergoing a massive shift, it costs up to 60 percent of employees’ annual salary to replace them if they leave, and B2B and retail consumers alike are looking to do business with organizations whose values align with their own, company culture matters.
Vice President of Human Resources
Shelton Guinn serves as Vice President of Human Resources (HR), delivering an organizational strategy that attracts talent; engages and retains employees; and develops future leaders. He oversees HR, employee training, talent development, corporate social responsibility, communications, and diversity and inclusion (D&I).
It matters to employees today, and it matters to the next generation. According to Eagle Hill Consulting’s Workplace Culture Survey, 63% say it directly impacts their organization’s success. Specifically, most U.S. workers believe culture influences much of their job performance – doing their best work (77%), their productivity and efficiency (76%) and their ability to best serve customers (74%).
Beyond performance, according to Forbes, a rich company culture gives businesses a massive advantage that:
- Fosters innovation
- Names common values and goals
- Leads to employee retention
- Drives diversity
- Provides checks and balances
- Signals a long-term commitment to excellence
- Can result in more efficiencies
- Offers a marketing advantage
David Rodriguez, executive vice president and global Chief Human Resources Officer for Marriott International, which consistently ranks on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to work for, credits its practice of giving leadership power back to its people for its success.
We couldn’t agree more.
“People come to MarketSource for the opportunities. They stay for the culture.”
– Shelton Guinn, Vice President, Human Resources
Operationalized Core Values
Beyond words on a website, we are intentional about operationalizing our core values. They provide us with a framework that guides our interactions and relationships with our customers and each other. They are the scaffolding that both supports us in our daily work and catches us when we fall, which we inevitably do. They are:
- Relationships – Authenticity and empathy allow us to understand one another, embrace what makes each of us unique, and build strong, long-lasting relationships.
- Open Communication – We encourage a culture of mutual support and appreciation, holding one another accountable, and recognizing and honoring our differences.
- Work Ethic – Hard work and determination are non-negotiable—and we must give our all every time, and in every new challenge. We are competitive, action-oriented, and results-driven.
- Serving Others – We strive to be selfless because we know it’s the only way we can improve our clients’ businesses—and our own.
They are embedded in our lexicon, and they come up in daily conversations. It’s not unusual for staff to encounter them through interactions with the partners and leaders they encounter every day. We dedicate a significant amount of time to them during new employee orientation, and they are core to our internship program.
Shelton: I take 1-2 people out for lunch each week. We may or may not talk about work, and that’s OK, because the goal is to get to know them better. I also hold regular skip-level meetings to create opportunities for feedback from people I don’t work with directly. I find that core values come up in nearly every conversation. That’s because they’re in our leaders’ DNA. It’s why I’ve been here 25 years when I thought I’d stay for two.
A Relationship-First Foundation
Relationships are in our DNA. In MarketSource’s early days, reps would check in with customers regularly – even after the sale – and take time to get to know not just their customers but their families. It was natural, because the blossoming relationships were there, and it felt normal to want to connect with them and find out how they were doing, what they were facing. As MarketSource grew, that relationship-first foundation held, 48 years and 6,000 employees later.
Shelton: The work we do can be tough, but the relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to build have helped me navigate my toughest days. Our relationship-first approach also carries over to our customers. Those interactions may begin as transactional, but with intention and effort, over time, they evolve into relationships. In fact, I know some of our customers so well that I’ve been able to have difficult conversations with them, and I still have relationships with several prior customers today and talk to them regularly. And former employees and I are still connected to each other’s families. This kind of longevity is only possible when it’s born from sincere caring and a serving posture.
Relationships built upon vulnerability and trust transcend time, title, and company affiliation.
It may feel counterintuitive to think of corporate culture as meaning anything other than suppressing part of your personality or your true feelings for fear of conflicts, retaliation, or other career-limiting consequences. But when the culture is strong, the opposite holds true.
Shelton: I can attest to this. I was trained to believe that relationships happened outside of work, so it was a tough transition at first. I was skeptical that I could bring my whole self to work. But as I started to take a chance and share more of myself, the response I received was pleasantly unexpected and sincere. A colleague told me, “I know you want to grow and progress, but if you try to do it on your own, it will take you longer. The more I get to know you, the better I can help you get where you want to be.” Talk about a morale-builder and retention tool!
Get Relationships Back on Track More Quickly
It’s one thing to espouse these values. It’s another to give employees—leadership included—the tools to practice them in their day-to-day work. After all, values without tools are just words on a page.
Friction is a natural occurrence in human relationships, but intentional practices that rest upon shared values allow teams to work through the friction constructively and get programs and relationships back on track more quickly. The more teams and supervisors know each other, the more connected they feel, and the more easily they can both build and rely upon the trust required to weather difficult times.
Strong relationships and tools like the Team Rule provide the framework people need to help them jump into the difficult conversations they need to have to move forward and achieve their joint goals. It’s easy to assume too much about what other people are thinking or feeling and about their motivations. The Team Rule forces us not to take those things for granted. Any employee can invoke it at any time with anyone, no matter their position in the company.
When we invoke the Team Rule, we take a respectful and caring approach to our conversations. This approach isn’t meant to be confrontational, but rather to serve as a basis for opening a conversation. In fact, the Team Rule requires that the recipient receive information “as a sign of respect,” so that the discussion becomes productive and beneficial to both parties. We continually see the Team Rule stave off the resentment that can undermine hard-fought relationships.
People bring their whole selves to work. Creating space and a reliable, consistent structure for honest feedback helps employees flourish both personally and professionally.
The Team Rule: “Every person, regardless of their position, is obligated to tell others how they impact them. Those feelings and ‘facts,’ when they seem important for one’s personal or professional development, will be given in a caring spirit. This information will be received as a sign of respect.”
“The Team Rule is critical in a high-performance culture because it requires not only the courage to speak what is on your mind but the humility to listen to understand.”
–Peter Maxwell, MarketSource Vice President Client Services, Automotive
Character Plus Competence
When MarketSource was founded, we established a track record of working exclusively with high-quality, highly qualified, high-performing people. Fulfilling that goal goes beyond hiring smart people to hiring people with character.
Shelton: In the last 20 years, recruiting has shifted to prioritize skill sets over culture fit. We think this is misguided. After all, jobs may evolve daily, but your core values don’t change. When I’m interviewing a candidate, I get to know them by taking the first step to be vulnerable. It helps them feel comfortable sharing more openly about themselves, which helps me discover where their core values lie and whether they align with ours. If they do, their eyes light up, they relax, feel valued, and the conversation becomes fluid.
Nothing demonstrates character more than how you handle your job and your relationships when things go awry or as tensions arise, which they inevitably do.
We’re a learning organization. And since we learn most when we fail, we encourage staff to embrace failure and be comfortable making mistakes. The trust it takes to do this is only possible because of our relationships, and by allowing ourselves and others the freedom to fail, we’re creating space for learning and growth.
Fueling Future Growth
If organizations are living entities, values provide the heartbeat, and employees provide the breath. We aim to create a culture that connects these core functions to foster both employee and organizational growth.
We believe every employee has a leadership responsibility, even if they have no direct reports. Leadership can take many forms, including showing expertise in a skill or knowledge area, or mentoring a less experienced employee. Whether the mentor or the mentee, experienced or early in our careers, we all come to work with our values, and the professional core values we align ourselves with become our entry point into leadership. Whether our goal is to move into leadership or not, we simply can’t grow without them.
Shelton: Investing in the next generation is not only critical to our growth—it’s part of who we are. We want our interns to learn much more than just new skills. Their experience with us should help them discern who they are, what they want from a career, and the kind of company culture they’re looking for. We’ve aligned our internship program with our core values. We want them to experience a rich company culture and see what a difference it can make. Our interns have values, so it makes sense to align them with ours, which they live and breathe during their time with us.
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