How a 70-year-old company infused new life into their culture: an interview with Mary Miksch.

Hello, True Story readers! As part of my ongoing blog post series that features women business leaders, I’m delighted to introduce my next interview with Mary Miksch at Neil Kelly. Neil Kelly is a prominent Northwest design/build construction company that helps people love their homes. Mary Miksch is the company’s fearless Training Director. In this position she heads up the company’s training and onboarding initiatives.

Keeping a culture vibrant is challenging at any time. But it’s particularly challenging in the Covid environment. Losing our ability to interact face-to-face can definitely take its toll.

Mary, along with Don Scharff, Marketing Director, and Bob Hestand, Chief Human Resources Officer, decided to take a proactive approach. They engaged True Story to help reinvigorate their culture by taking a fresh look at their company values.

We met with a core group of leaders and decided this work needed to come from the “ground up.” To do so, we spoke with 21 employees across the company to get the inside scoop on what the company meant to each of them. We made sure to get a broad cross-section in terms of roles, tenure, geography, and level of seniority. The answers led to the “Neil Kelly 9,” and the results were galvanizing.

Below is my interview with Mary about the journey in crafting the company’s new values.

What sparked the need for this internal messaging project?

We saw a need for a common language that would unite us. We’ve grown quite a bit in the last few years which has led to different divisions and different geographies. We needed something that all of us could hear and say “yes, that’s who we are.” It was magic timing that True Story came to us.

Can you describe the process?

The process was very easy. True Story met with us and was open to hearing what we were looking for. We had some really creative brainstorming sessions. Then True Story interviewed stakeholders across the company. Together we made sure it was a diverse group: folks who have been with us for a long time and folks who are new, folks in different geographies, folks in different roles, etc.

Why do you think this type of internal messaging matters?

It all comes down to engagement. When things get busy, people can start to wonder: why am I here? Creating messaging that unites and gets everyone excited can really impact productivity in a positive way. It really creates a sense of belonging.

Do you think there’s been a shift in terms of how internal employee communications are done?

I think there’s definitely a much stronger focus on engagement in general. Leaders are becoming more aware of how important the employee experience really is.

What was the reaction of the “Neil Kelly 9” when you presented them to the employees?

We presented the “Neil Kelly 9” at an all-company meeting. When we read the “Neil Kelly 9” aloud, the response was immediate. It was so powerful for everyone to hear the words. It was a moment that people now talk about. I heard things like “I want to send these to my client.” “We should put these up on our walls!” Our president, Tom Kelly, has received so many emails and messages about how meaningful the “Neil Kelly 9” are to people. There’s a real excitement and energy now. And many people are saying it was our best all-employee meeting ever, even though it was over Zoom.

Does company culture matter? If so, why?

Absolutely — more than ever. There’s a famous quote that states “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Without a great culture, no strategy will survive. Employee engagement is so important for retention and recruitment. When leaders invest in these kinds of internal projects, the return is immeasurable.

How have company cultures shifted in the face of Covid?

Without physical proximity, it’s been challenging for cultures to remain connected. It’s easy for employees to feel isolated. More than ever, we need to create internal communications that reinforce the message to employees: “you’re a part of the team.”

Where do you see company cultures headed over the next five years?

I think all company leaders will need to recognize that the work environment will be different, even when the threat of Covid is reduced. Given that, leaders will continue to have to figure out ways to maintain connections. Creative efforts like the “Neil Kelly 9” and intentional meetings will become more important in order to maintain team cohesion.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Words really do matter and the value of hiring an expert to craft your words can’t be overstated.