Our culture makes us proud, happy to come to work—and more competitive

By Beth Caron

Great Clips CEO Rhoda Olsen has been in the news lately, talking about the culture here at Great Clips corporate and how important it is to the way we do business. For instance, she told a reporter from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal that our aim is for franchisees to feel inspired and motivated after every interaction they have with the home office.

“It’s really about building a relationship with our franchisees so they trust us,” she said. “Every interaction we have helps a franchisee decide whether they are going to build a salon, buy another salon or do a marketing program.”

I couldn’t agree more with Rhoda. One of Great Clips’ greatest assets as a franchisor is our corporate culture. It’s built on mutual trust, kindness and respect.

Though it’s intangible, our culture contributes to our productivity, our profitability and—perhaps most importantly—to the pleasure we take in coming to work. Our culture is key to our relationships with franchisees and it’s something potential owners take into account when they decide to invest in Great Clips.

If you’re wondering exactly what a corporate culture is, I came across a definition from Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, co-authors of Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business. (You might remember a blog I wrote about Professor Frei’s presentation at our leadership conference a couple of years ago.)

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“Culture guides discretionary behavior and picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Employees make hundreds of decisions every day and culture is their guide.”

I would add that a company’s culture goes beyond a “rule book” or operating manual. It’s a set of deeply held values that make it easy—automatic, really—to make the right decision, even when things get stressful. And creating a positive culture is not something that just happens.

We work at building the culture here at Great Clips and maintaining it. As Rhoda said, we don’t want our valuable relationships with salon owners to develop into an attitude of “us versus them.”

“Sometimes they don’t think we really understand what’s going on—and they’re right,” she told the reporter. “We’re not operating salons, so if we don’t listen to them, we don’t know what’s going on.”

We try very hard to listen closely to franchise owners, understand what challenges they’re facing and help them grow their businesses. Of course, we require compliance with Great Clips programs and standards, but we want our relationships with salon owners to be encouraging, rather than demanding.

“We have a … document that says you’re required to do certain things, but we never pull that out,” Rhoda said. “Once you pull that out, you’ve lost the game. If you can’t rationally influence them and gain engagement for an initiative, it’s not going to work.”

Rhoda’s remarks got me thinking about how important a positive culture is to almost any company—large or small, commercial or non-profit, service or product-focused. A positive culture can lift a good company to great. A negative atmosphere can doom one that might otherwise offer a great product or service. That’s why we encourage owners to develop positive cultures in their salons.

Frei and Morris pointed out that a company culture—good or bad—is not some mysterious element that just materializes: “In fact, it’s something you get to design, build and nurture, just like other aspects of the organization.”

In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Frei and Morriss identified three elements that contribute to an effective company culture. These are things many of our franchisees incorporate into their own businesses, and everyone at the home office focuses on when doing their work:

  • Clarity: Company leaders know exactly what kind of a culture they want to build, and the role it plays in achieving high performance and profitability.
  • Communication:  Good communication is such a vital ingredient in a positive culture. And it has to come from the top down—when the owner or the CEO openly talks about and practices our values, it electrifies everyone else. (You go, Rhoda!)
  • Consistency: We have to relentlessly practice our core values, even when the business is slammed. When positive values become second nature, customers know they are people first, not just another notch on the cash register.

I came across so much good information about creating a positive culture that I’m going to share some more thoughts soon, and periodically throughout the year. Like I said, a positive culture is not something that just happens. We work at it, and it really makes me proud that Great Clips’ culture meets such high standards.

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