Creating Culture: You are the people you spend time with
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Creating Culture: You are the people you spend time with

Creating Culture: You are the people you spend time with

One of my favorite quotes led me to a leadership epiphany on workplace culture:

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

You have probably heard that hundreds of times before. I know that I’ve repeated it hundreds of times to my three boys, at new employee orientation, and to any young person who asks me for advice.

The point of this quote is that each of us is the one responsible for who we allow into our circle of friends. We must audit the people around us, make sure we are spending time with people who make us better, inspire us, and encourage us in all areas of our lives.

Leadership epiphany 

Has it hit you yet, the “Ah-ha” moment? My leadership epiphany is that the employees who work in our organizations do not get to choose the people they work with, people they spend more time with than their family and friends. As leaders, we choose it for them. (See my short video on this topic on YouTube.)

Then we complain that we have good employees whose morale has gone down, who are not performing like they once were. We have good employees quitting our company. Then we blame it on the Great Resignation, the younger generation’s lack of work ethic, and that all they care about is money. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Great employees hate working with lousy employees. Leaders who compromise the people they hire and compromise those they allow to stay are polluting their workplace culture. Every leader is responsible for the average of the five co-workers your employees spend the most time with. Audit that!

I disagree with the way the following adage is worded: “Employees don’t quit companies, they quit leaders.” While that is true, it is incomplete. The correct way to say it is, “Employees don’t quit companies, they quit people.” Employees quit because of the people they work with (co-workers) and for (leaders).

You can’t hire your way out of a bad culture

The 2 biggest mistakes companies are making right now are 1) hiring to fill vacant positions with just anyone, and 2) keeping poor performers.

Too many companies are trying to solve their staff shortage issue by hiring people as fast as they can just to fill positions, and by keeping employees with bad attitudes. Both are huge mistakes. “A” players hate working with “B” and “C” players. Unengaged employees are like squatters taking up space and sucking the energy out of your organization. 

The #1 priority for businesses today must be focusing on keeping their top talent by improving their internal culture.

Stop trying to find great employees; instead focus on becoming the type of business great employees find.

What is fueling the Great Resignation?

The Great Resignation is a mass, voluntary exodus from the workforce. It is here, and it is quite real. Turnover is nothing new, and neither are corporate retention strategies. But the extreme turnover happening today across industries is a different phenomenon that requires a different approach. And it has caught many business leaders flat-footed.

There are numerous reasons, most originating from the pandemic that started in early 2020. According to a LinkedIn survey, 74% of respondents said the time spent at home had caused them to rethink their current work situation. More than 50% cited stress and burnout in their job as a reason for looking elsewhere. Others did not like how their employer treated them over the past 18 months, ranging from a lack of genuine concern to employees being forced to take concessions while senior executives didn’t. The WFH dilemma opened a Pandora’s box for many employees and has become a contentious issue for many organizations. And finally, yes, the extended unemployment benefits caused a lack of urgency for many to return to the workforce.

We saw a booming economy during the past decade, which always results in most businesses losing focus on the customer and employee experience. Businesses must stop thinking Ping-Pong tables and Friday happy hours create a strong company culture.

A professional awakening

For many, the pandemic has been a similar experience to that of people who have survived a near-death experience. It has caused employees to reevaluate their professional careers, not only what they want, but also what they aren’t willing to tolerate any more. This professional awakening has caught a lot of leaders and companies flat-footed. However, too many leaders are using the Great Resignation as a crutch. The significant percentage of people who have quit over the past 18 months is a result of poor company culture, where leaders are focused solely on productivity and bottom-line profits.

I have seen firsthand that the companies with the strongest company culture—long before the pandemic—are significantly less affected by the so-called labor shortage. And the organizations that churned and burned their team members, and those where a “great workplace culture” was only lip service, are the ones being hit the hardest by the employee turnover.

John R. DiJulius III, author of The Customer Service Revolution is president of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that works with companies including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Nestle, PwC, Lexus, and many more. Contact him at 216-839-1430 or

Published: May 5th, 2022

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