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.

Why Enthusiasm is Worthless and Commitment is Everything

Advertising disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

Okay, excuse the clickbait title.

I imagine some readers are indignant. Enthusiastically indignant, if you will. "What do you mean enthusiasm is worthless?!"

By itself, without commitment, enthusiasm often is.

Here's a story. A training professional, let's call her Susan, attended a conference where Keith Ferazzi was the keynote speaker. His message was that our success in life comes from the people we know, so we should work to build our networks.

Susan was so motivated by Ferazzi's message that she bought his book, Never Eat Alone. She eagerly started reading it while eating in the airport restaurant on her way home from the conference. Alone.

A woman sits in a restaurant, eating alone while reading a book called “Never Eat Alone.”

The Distinction Between Enthusiasm and Commitment

Susan was clearly enthusiastic about the message, but she wasn't committed.

What you can't see in the picture is there were several other people in the restaurant who had clearly just come from the same conference. They each had the same conference tote bag at their feet that Susan had.

You can probably imagine what commitment looks like in this situation. Susan would boldly find at least one other dining companion and strike up a conversation about the conference, Ferazzi's message, or the book itself. 

Enthusiasm is the feeling you project. Commitment is what you actually do. We applaud enthusiasm with more enthusiasm, but commitment is harder.

Why Culture Needs Commitment

I wrote The Service Culture Handbook to help customer service leaders get their employees obsessed with service. An entire chapter is devoted to commitment.

One of the unique features in the book is I included my phone number and email address. I invite readers to call, text, or email with their questions and I've had many terrific conversations.

Commitment is by far the biggest challenge I hear.

One service leader, we'll call him Eric, called me to ask for help. There had been some complaints about his company’s service quality and now Eric's boss, the company's CEO, demanded swift action. Eric wanted to know how soon I could fly out and train his team.

We talked a bit, and I asked him if his company had a customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding service that gets everyone on the same page. I explained that Eric should have one in place before doing any training.

Eric had been responding to complaints by telling employees what not to do, but in my opinion they needed a vision to follow so they all understood what they should be doing instead. That way, any training would be based on the vision rather than a generic set of tips and tricks that wouldn’t fully address the root causes of poor service.

I even offered to help Eric create the vision for his company and then develop training around it.

Eric told me he'd think about everything, re-read my book a bit, and share our conversation with his CEO. A week later, he called again. “Can you come out and train my employees?”

I asked Eric about the vision, but he was impatient. He wanted to put the vision on the back burner and have me do some initial training. What Eric was really doing was trying to pass responsibility on to me for “fixing his people.” I gently reminded him about the importance of giving employees clear direction, and basing the training on that vision.

He seemed to understand and told me he would think about it some more.

Two months passed and I hadn't heard anything, so I sent Eric a follow-up email. He replied and wrote that nothing had been done anything yet, but he would soon start working on a customer service vision for the company.

Think about Eric as a leader. Two months ago, poor service quality was an emergency, but that was enthusiasm talking. When it came time to do the real heavy lifting, a lack of commitment stalled any progress.

What a Commitment to Service Culture Looks Like

Contrast Eric's story with this one from Tim Chan.

He emailed to tell me he worked for a grocery delivery company in Malaysia, called HappyFresh. Tim told me he was following the steps in The Service Culture Handbook and had just worked with his team to create a customer service vision.

Now Tim wanted some advice on helping employees stay focused so they could continuously improve service. In other words, Tim was eager to remain committed. (You can read more about Tim's story here.)

The process Tim followed can be broken down into three major steps.

  1. Create a customer service vision. Here's my step-by-step guide.

  2. Engage all employees with the vision, using this simple plan.

  3. Align everything around the vision, including training.

The steps are actually very simple concepts. The real challenge is remaining committed to the culture journey over the long haul. Creating a service culture isn't a short-term project. It's a way of doing business.