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When Culture Walks the Talk

Spotlight on Culture: Join your peers at ICMI Contact Center Connections from October 28-30 in Chicago. Take a deep dive into case studies and expert guidance for boosting your culture!


So many conversations about culture waft through the customer experience space – complete with checklists, charts, and consultation. We likely agree that culture is at the root of many improvements that enable us to meet our business and employee engagement objectives. You can do all of those things with humanity at the core. I know you can because I've seen it done. Today, I'm going to share an idea, include some data to bolster the credibility, provide a true case study as evidence, and then challenge you with a call to action. Let’s go!

I bet you have these words on your wall:

  • A vision statement that defines the desired future state of your business.
  • A list of values that define what you hold dear.
  • A mission statement that defines the actions that need to be taken.

Do those words and actions support and embrace these four humanizing elements?

  • Business Goal Alignment: Mission, vision, and values – “the words on the wall.” These are the framework for intentional, deliberate, and prescriptive behavior, thought, and action.
  • Community Support: Create and cement your brand reputation as a business that cares about its employees, clients, and the community it serves.
  • Employee Engagement: Attract great new talent and retain existing great talent, inspire productivity and innovation.
  • Walking the Culture Talk: Live and breathe the first three elements as if your business depends on it – because it does.

Sometimes you see the “words on the wall” spring to life as they were intended to do, allowing you to deeply connect with them and inspiring your team to be part of something bigger than itself.

A story is evidence of the possibilities. I will share one with you that actually happened. It began as many stories do, with one small act: an employee shared a personal story on a company intranet during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October 2014, setting in motion a chain of events demonstrating how one business walked their culture’s talk. And so it begins…

In July 2014, I made an overnight business trip for Blue Shield of California to our call center in Redding. As the trip grew closer, I thought about the last time I spent the night in a Redding hotel room many years ago.

I don’t remember what triggered the attack. Maybe I was not obedient enough, or maybe I did not buy him the right kind of soda. No matter. I remember the beating, being struck in the head, the sexual assault, the strangulation, losing consciousness, waking up in the hotel room alone. I remember looking in the bathroom mirror, the bloody broken blood vessels in my pretty hazel eyes and the dark bruised handprints on my throat. I remember my throat burning when I tried to swallow, how my body ached. I remember him returning, the “but baby, I love you” speech, the explanation that sometimes I just made him so mad. I remember. It was one night in a relationship defined by escalating violence. That night there was no help, no police, and no doctor. That night I didn’t tell, but I remember.

I divorced him and started my life over. I accept responsibility for making choices that placed me in danger, but not for his actions. I have never and will not describe myself as a “victim.”
I believe that the woman who placed herself in danger died in that hotel room in Redding, and a new woman was born that night. I know the woman who lives behind those pretty hazel eyes. She works and plays, she laughs loud and often, she is safe and strong, she lives on her own terms, and I like her.

Those memories don’t rent much space in my head today, not much.

Earlier that year I had a conversation with a friend. I know him, and I trust him. We enjoy spirited discussions and will defend our positions vigorously. One particular conversation became overly contentious, even by our standards. Our talk concluded, we hung up the phones. Normally, that would be the end; normally, our next conversation would be friendly. Normally. Not this time. This time he called back and apologized for being tough on me. His voice was warm and gentle, and I accepted his apology. All of those years after that night in Redding, it was not the argument that nearly brought me to tears, it was his apology. In that one moment, I did not hear his words. I heard that old record in my head, “But baby, I love you”…and I clicked it off. 

Domestic violence does not end when the last bruise heals.

The story provoked comments from readers that broke along two lines. One group was supportive, empathetic, and kind to the woman who wrote the article. The other group’s comments were quite unexpected and different; they mostly began something like this: “I've never told anyone what happened to me before…” Their personal stories poured out into the light, as if they finally felt they had permission to share their truths.

The comments spawned into conversations and we asked ourselves, “What business is this of ours?” The answer to that question lies in the following statistics:

  • People who have experienced domestic violence are:
    • More likely to have heart disease (70%)
    • More likely to experience a stroke (80%)
    • More likely to develop asthma (60%)
  • There are business effects, too:
    • Approximately 8 million days of paid work is lost in the US annually
    • $8.3 billion is spent annually, on a combination of:
      • Higher medical costs ($5.8 billion)
      • Lost productivity ($2.5 billion)
  • And yet, from a human resources perspective:
    • Just 30% of businesses in the US have a formal policy for addressing domestic violence
    • Only 20% of businesses provide domestic violence training for their employees

That data was compelling enough to take the logical next step: schedule a meeting. But not just any meeting…a big one. In January 2015 a strategy session was conducted by the Corporate Social Responsibility team, along with the Cares Team members (one representative from each of the major campuses), Human Resources, the Blue Shield of California Foundation, and me. On the wall were three huge Post-It notes, each with one simple word:

LEARN | SERVE | GIVE

These simple words captured our promise to educate (learn), our commitment to volunteer (serve), and the privilege to donate (give). This is when the effort became real. We were going to make a plan, take action, and make a difference. We would not be deterred. We were coming together to create something greater than ourselves.

The plan required two groups of key participants to work together to orchestrate all of the activities required deliver on the promises and goals we had made. The first group was composed of internal Blue Shield of California people from Corporate Social Responsibility, the Cares Team, the Employee Advocate (that’s what they called my role), HR, the executive team, and the Blue Shield of California Foundation. The second group was composed of people from domestic violence organizations colocated geographically with each of the major Blue Shield of California campuses, including One Safe Place, Women’s Center Youth and Family Services, The Center for Violence-Free Relationships, Jenesse Center, Inc. – Domestic Violence Intervention Program, StrengthUnited (a CSUN community agency), W.O.M.A.N., Inc. (Women Organized to Make Abuse Nonexistent, Inc.), and No More.

The plan was presented for approval, approved in its entirety, and brought to life. Remember the four humanizing elements? Let’s check our results and see if we met the goals.

  • How did we Align with Business Goals?
    • The mission statement of Blue Shield of California is “To ensure all Californians have access to high-quality health care at an affordable price.” The mission statement of The Blue Shield of California Foundation is “Improve the lives of all Californians, particularly the underserved, by making health care accessible, effective, and affordable, and by ending domestic violence."
    • Improving the psychological and physical safety of others contributes to the bottom lines of all businesses. Reducing the incidence of domestic violence helps promote affordability of health care and toward the goal of ending domestic violence.
  • How did we Support the Community?
    • Direct support from the employees to local domestic violence organizations:
      • Blue Shield of California matched more than $22,000 in employee donations.
      • Individuals/teams volunteered at domestic violence service providers locations.
      • Employees donated suitcases filled with items local charities needed to help their clients, based on their expressed needs.
    • Blue Shield of California funded and her employees built a sparkling beautiful playground for the children at “One Safe Place” in Redding. The children staying there can play and experience joy, safety, and sunshine.
  • How did we Engage Employees?
    • Roadshows were conducted at each of the six largest campuses. The introduction to every presentation began with the simple question to the attendees: “Whose life, or the life of someone you know, has been touched by domestic violence?” In every session, every attendee raised a hand. The meetings also included information from both the Blue Shield of California Foundation and local Domestic Violence service providers.
    • Human Resource and Employee Benefits supported the mission by:
      • Extending a Community Service day benefit, giving employees eight hours of paid time off per year to volunteer at a nonprofit organization.
      • Matching monetary contributions for donations made by employees to charitable organizations, up to $1,000 per year.
      • Implementing a Corporate Workplace Domestic Violence policy.
    • Other engaging activities:
      • Executive blogs about the impact of domestic violence, including their personal stories.
      • Over half of the employee population wore purple (the color that signifies domestic violence), shared photos, and took the NoMore.org pledge to end domestic violence.
      • Hundreds of Blue Shield of California team members attended the roadshow presentations, gained education, resources, opportunities to volunteer and donated to end domestic violence.
  • Did we Walk the Culture Talk?
    • Yes, by meeting the first three elements.

Why does this all matter? Well, it matters to the business because it supports the corporate mission and enables it to live its values; it engages employees by providing education, resources, to demonstrating care by contributing to their psychological, emotional, and physical safety; and it's socially responsible, contributing meaningfully to ending domestic violence. It matters to employees because it inspires trust in the business's commitment to "walk the talk"; demonstrates that the business takes employees' safety and quality of life seriously; and makes a meaningful contribution to the communities they live in. Finally, it matters to me personally because I, like many others, want to work with people and businesses that are willing to take on difficult challenges for the greater good. And because the story that started this journey – that was my story.

Now here's my call to action for your culture:

  1. Know that people move when something moves them.
  2. Find something meaningful to improve for your business, community, and people.
  3. Encourage action so people rally around it, work together, and solve it.
  4. Share your journey to inspire others to follow in your footsteps – let’s break the internet with tales of good acts.

In closing, I remind you to “work and play, laugh loud and often, be safe and strong, and live on your own terms.”

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