Culture Report Reveals Executives Disconnected From Reality

There's a scene in the movie, Office Space, that gets me every time. 

Bill Lumbergh, the clueless executive, announces a new culture initiative in an all-hands meeting. "So you should ask yourself, with every decision you make, is this good for the company?" A banner hangs overhead that reads "Is this good for the company?"

It was the beginning, middle, and end of the initiative. 

A new report from the consulting firm PwC shows this type of executive disconnect from corporate culture initiatives is real. A 2018 survey of 2,000 people in 50 countries found large gaps between what executives and employees felt about corporate culture.

You can read some stunning conclusions below or read the entire report here.

The words “company culture” written on a clipboard.


Companies often create a mission, vision, or value statements to help define the culture. Yet the true culture is how people think and act. 

The report revealed a disconnect in how consistently the cultural statements were followed:

Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 8.12.28 AM.png

At just 63 percent, even leaders sense there's a huge gap between the culture message and what people are actually doing. The perception is far worse among employees.

There are two causes that I frequently see.

The first is executives try to define the culture all by themselves. They sequester themselves in a conference room or hold a retreat, and dream up what they think the culture should be. 

I've called leaving your employees out of the process the worst mistake in building a service culture. That's because you need everyone represented to come up with an authentic description of how people should think and act.

The second leading cause of the consistency gap is too many culture initiatives are like the banner in Office Space. They're symbolic, with no real commitment behind them. 

So how should you define your culture? I recommend this proven process.


Employees don't always believe culture is a priority for senior leaders. This graphic is telling:

“culture is an important senior leadership agenda item.”

The root cause is often tied to how culture initiatives play out. The executive team dreams it up behind closed doors, an announcement is made, and employees see little else. 

There may be a culture committee or task force doing some work, but frontline employees don't see that and usually aren't involved. They just see their daily work continue as usual.

The customer-focused companies I researched for The Service Culture Handbook took a very different approach. Leaders in these organizations involved employees every step of the way. For example, a customer service leader at shared customer feedback with her team on a daily basis, and solicited employees' ideas on how to fix issues.


Customer-obsessed employees take a lot of pride in the companies they work for. They love their products and services, believe in the mission, and are often customers themselves.

The PwC report revealed a big gap in company pride between executives and employees:

“I’m proud to be part of my organization.”

I interviewed psychologist Gemma Leigh Roberts for my latest book, Getting Service Right, to get a better understanding of the executive disconnect. She shared some interesting insight:

"Challenging your perception of business performance (which you are responsible for leading) can lead you to challenging your own performance, which can be painful for your ego and damaging for your confidence. In this scenario, sometimes executives choose not to acknowledge facts or consider them irrelevant, which is a self-protection strategy."

In other words, executives are human just like the rest of us. Our egos try to protect us from our personal failings, such as creating a miserable work culture.

Take Action

The PwC report revealed that 80 percent of respondents felt their organizational culture must change in the next five years.

If that's you, what are you going to do about it?

My suggestion is to start by defining the culture you want to have with a simple statement called a customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that gets everyone on the same page.

You can use this step-by-step guide to help you create it. I've assembled some additional culture change resources here.

Does Your Company Have Too Many Missions and Visions?

The vice president shared a draft of her company's new values project.

She had been working with two other executives to create them. They had come up with nine after several brainstorming sessions.

On paper, they looked good. These were solid, reasonable values that were all straight out of the corporate values catalog. Nothing controversial. 

There were two problems. 

The first issue was the company already had a lot of cultural artifacts. A cultural artifact is something that helps people understand your organization's culture, like a mission, vision, or set of values. 

This company already had a lot:

  • Mission statement
  • Service promise
  • Service motto
  • Brand tagline

Now, they were planning to introduce a new set of values on top of everything else. Which led to the second problem.

Some of those nine values weren't accurate. Communication was number three on the list. "Oh, we suck at communication!" said the vice president.

Perhaps you face a similar mess. Here's how you can untangle it.

Focus vs. Confusion

Companies' cultural artifacts frequently feel empty because organizations often have too many or the existing ones are inauthentic.

In the rush to create another tagline, motto, or corporate vision, nobody takes the time to decide what one statement is the most important or ensure all the artifacts are in alignment.

If everything is important, then nothing is important.

In The Service Culture Handbook, I related the story of a restaurant chain I worked with that had too many cultural artifacts.

It had a mission statement, a brand promise, a set of four service promises, and a list of 17 service standards that waitstaff were expected to follow with every guest.

Employees weren't quite sure which was most important. 

This was especially challenging since some of these cultural artifacts didn't clearly support each other. For instance, the mission statement described a desire to create amazing experiences while the service standards emphasized up-selling and efficiency.

At an executive retreat, I posed the question to the CEO, his executive team, and the general managers of each individual restaurant: which cultural artifact is most important?

There initially wasn't a consensus, but it led to a good discussion. The group finally agreed that the mission statement should be the primary guide for the employees. 

Next, they decided to rethink their existing cultural artifacts. Some were eliminated while others were simplified and aligned with the mission. The 17 service standards were slimmed down to 10. 

The restaurant chain's leadership team then communicated the revised artifacts to employees with a renewed emphasis on the mission.

Not surprisingly, service quality improved once employees had a consistent understanding of what outstanding service should be.


Where a Customer Service Vision Fits In

In customer-focused companies, the most important cultural artifact is a customer service vision.

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding service that guides all employees' actions when it comes to serving customers.

What if your company already has some pretty important artifacts?

When my clients face this challenge, I usually suggest two options. Option one is to make one of your existing artifacts do double-duty as the customer service vision.

In many companies, the organization's mission, vision, or values is also the customer service vision. There's no need to add yet another statement to the mix!

For example, take a look at REI's mission statement:

At REI, we inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.

This is why the company exists (hence, the mission), but it also paints a clear picture of what type of service employees should strive to provide. Go visit an REI location today and you'll almost certainly find enthusiastic retail associates who will try to help you enjoy the outdoors!

In some cases, none of my clients' existing cultural artifacts are particularly inspiring. (They decide this, not me.) That's when I suggest a second option: replace one of your existing artifacts with the new vision.

I recently helped a client do this and it was amazing how much the new vision energized employees.


Take the Three Question Test

Here's an easy way to tell if a cultural artifact is actually relevant.

Select one of your cultural artifacts (mission, vision, values, motto, tagline, etc.). Talk to a random sample of employees and ask them three questions about that artifact:

  1. What is it?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How does it guide the work that you do?

You can tell the artifact has virtually no meaning if employees aren't aware of it or can't give consistent or clear answers to those questions.

In customer-focused companies, every employee can give a consistent answer to the three questions when asked about the customer service vision.

You can learn more about customer service visions and how to create one here.