Admittedly, Joe Terry is a “super-intense guy.” Whatever he does, he goes all in with passion and tenacity. Prior to joining Culture Partners as CEO, Terry thought the role actually drove the culture. Over the course of twenty years, he admits to adjusting that mindset and now leverages his energy to empower and inspire, as well as leads by example to energize those around him.
“When I first got here, I just thought, ‘You knucklehead,’” Terry says, laughing. “There’s a process and methodology for creating culture and alignment throughout a whole organization, in a way that everyone can own and feel connected to. It opened my eyes to see that this process is something we can teach our clients. Culture Partners is a place that could truly make a difference in the world.”
Founded in 1989 as Partners In Leadership, the firm now known as Culture Partners has spent over thirty years helping companies and organizations meet their full potential by harnessing the power of their culture. This approach is not about the bottom line. It’s about creating work environments that support the both the individual’s and organization’s purpose and meaning, ensuring that it is tangible and inspirational, no matter the job position.
“I arrived in the summer of 2020,” Terry remembers. “And the company was going through a major disruption, both with the COVID-19 pandemic and internally. That disruption unearthed this underlying foundation that was in need of repair. It was just being covered up by the company’s top-end success.”
The firm had a culture problem. The disruption offered Culture Partners an opportunity to bridge that gap. “That’s what made me so excited about the role,” Terry explains. “The company never could have consumed the amount of change we’ve placed on it in the last eighteen months if not for that disruption.”
“It was a chance to start bringing pieces—new and different—together, and at an accelerated rate,” the CEO explains. “While a difficult time for the employees, it’s actually a better time for growth and to really put our own culture methodology—what’s made this company so successful—into practice. It was a chance to reset and set culture alignment using our own methodology.”
The upside was that the company had all the in-house people, intellectual property, processes, and tools needed to fix its own culture. Thus, the mantra “Live the Culture” was born. The company put metrics in place to monitor and ensure alignment with its purpose, mission, and culture to measure employees’ experiences of the transition.
The results have thus far been very positive. “Once we started working toward living the culture, we realized that some hard decisions had to be made.”
The deviation from Culture Partners’ core concepts created a rift between the message the company sent to its clients and the actual ongoings within its walls.
Terry says it is imperative to admit that things were not OK in order to fix the faults. Now, the company works to rebuild trust along the journey in a way that helps everyone feel invested. This trust and transparency makes communication more valuable.
“The biggest shift we’re making comes down to looking out for your team first, then your clients. In that order,” Terry says. “That’s living the culture. If you’re making decisions with them in mind, it’s never a losing proposition.”
Terry says his ideal culture is one where 80 percent of his team wakes up energized about their job and work. That remaining 20 percent? “There are days when you can’t give your all, but knowing your teammates are energized will inspire you to give what you can,” Terry explains. “If all you have is 50 percent, then be the best 50 percent you can be. You want to give a good, solid performance, day in and day out.
“That’s living the culture,” he continues. “If they see their peers giving their all, they’re going to bring their best that day, too. That inspiration, that’s living the culture.”