Profile - How We Improved Our Culture

Q&A With HR Director At AIA

AIA's Wendy EidenA few years ago, something just didn’t seem right at Top 40 distributor AIA Corporation (asi/109480). Sure, sales were solid and customers were happy – but AIA’s culture was flawed. “We had a problem with silos in the past,” said Wendy Eiden, HR director at AIA. “Some departments weren’t working well together, there were communication barriers, and there were other obstacles that we knew we had to overcome.”

Rather than brush aside the company’s weak point, AIA’s executives decided change needed to become a priority. Through surveys and honest conversations, the Wisconsin-based distributor began a culture overhaul. “Nothing was sacred,” said president and CEO David Woods. “As leaders of AIA, we started to understand what we could be doing better. We found out our people wanted more training and they wanted to see a career path for themselves.”

See what culture-improving steps AIA took and how you can do the same.

Counselor: Why did AIA need to improve its culture?
AIA: We had some employees who had the skills, but didn’t function well in a team. We also had managers who didn’t manage people well. We had to repot some of those individuals because they weren’t willing to work in a team environment. We recognized that it takes continuous effort to improve and maintain a positive office culture.

Counselor: What were the most impactful steps that AIA took to boost culture?
AIA: We’ve put more care in hiring for culture as well as skillset and experience. We’ve noticed an improvement in customer focus. We’ve also put emphasis on getting our account coordinators to regional meetings, ASI events and customer on-site visits. We’ve focused on industry certification and training, too.

Counselor: How have those steps benefitted AIA?
AIA: We’ve made better hires, continued to promote leadership, and we’ve seen more positive relationships. Also, there’s now a non-tolerance of negativity, which is leading to happy, empowered employees.

Counselor: What role have AIA’s leaders played in the efforts?
AIA: A good office culture breeds from the top down – some leaders had to learn how to set the right example of effectively working with others in a positive and productive manner. One act that improved culture tremendously was David Woods’ transparency with goals during monthly all-company meetings. This transparency created trust between employees and leaders.

Counselor: What programs does AIA have in place to make sure office culture continues to improve?
AIA: Our employee awards ceremony, employee council, Fit ‘n Fun Days, monthly employee newsletter and Friday song breaks are all examples. Plus, hiring Jim Roccia, our VP of sales and marketing, has brought better collaboration among field sales, business development and marketing personnel.

Counselor: How did AIA handle any pushback from employees?
AIA: We encourage positive behavior, but we’re open to hearing all feedback – even negative. We may not agree with it, but we promote respecting one another and being open to other views and opinions. The fact that our employees feel comfortable voicing their difference in opinion is a display of our positive culture.

Counselor: Does AIA recruit differently now based on new culture standards?
AIA: Yes. David Woods conducts culture reviews for all new hires prior to an offer being made. We want to ensure that the employees we hire not only have the skills and experience, but fit in well with the culture we’ve created.

Counselor: What advice do you have for other firms that want to improve office culture?
AIA: Visit a bunch of other companies and see what they do. Don’t ever think you’re done. Think outside the box and don’t fall into the stigma that experience is more important than attitude. Hire people who can be change agents.