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Filling a Job or Building a Team?


WestJet. Image by David Millican from Pixabay.

What makes an organization a “good” place to work? What do prospective employees look for? For most, brand value, salary and perks seem to top the list of tangible benefits, and many hiring managers believe that this alone is sufficient to attract top talent and “solid” employees. But what many often overlook is the importance of workplace culture; a positive and empowering workplace culture will almost always lead to loyal and motivated employees. On the flip side, a negative and toxic workplace culture will result in internal instability and demotivated employees, regardless of how talented and qualified they are.

What companies need to consider are the intangibles, which are far more important. Leaders who inspire and empower their staff and hire based on fit with the company culture will experience much more favourable results versus those who hire purely based on skill. Typically, there are four types of culture in the workplace: team culture, performance-driven culture, conventional culture and progressive culture.

Team-oriented companies hire based on fit first, followed by skills and experience second. This culture tends to offer employees more flexibility and autonomy. Research supports the idea that employees who work in this type of environment tend to be happier and more productive.

In a performance-driven culture, leaders are driven and have high expectations of their employees, as the objective is to succeed. This type of culture is more aggressive than team-oriented cultures, however, employees learn to think outside of the box and challenge themselves to push the boundaries of the status quo.

Conventional culture, also known as traditional company culture, is an “old school” mentality. Roles are clearly defined and companies that fall into this category aim to provide high-quality customer service. More often than not, this type of culture also follows proper procedures, protocols and processes.


The progressive work culture resembles, somewhat, the team-oriented culture in that it focuses on people who have the ability to bring positivity and confidence to the workplace. This culture, however, also aims to build positive experiences for its customers by first creating positive work experiences for its employees.

WestJet Airlines’ senior manager of talent Lisa Helfrick says its company culture is without a doubt a competitive driver in attracting top talent. She explains, “Its original core principles are today represented by four values, which cut to the heart of the WestJet ethos: act like an owner; care from the heart; rise to the challenge; and work together to win.”

Currently, 86 per cent of the 14,000 “westjetters” participate in the airline’s employee-share purchase program which sees them receiving a profit share each year, based on the success of the airline. This concept of sharing profit creates a “we can do this together” attitude which, in turn, creates a positive and empowering workplace culture.

Helfrick says that when the company is interviewing potential employees, it seeks to identify evidence of the airline’s four core values. As well, putting others first, going above and beyond, natural leadership and ownership, problem solving and learning agility, and professionalism during conflict or crisis are also key characteristics WestJet looks for in new hires.

For Monique Popko of First Edition First Aid Training Inc., organizational culture is necessary when it comes to business structure. “It works to a company’s benefit to have an organizational culture that is continually evolving; one that is too rigid allows for no growth.”

Popko doesn’t believe that “filling a job” is the right way to go. For her, building a positive team environment can have huge impacts on the business and the team’s well-being. “It’s about a good work-life balance,” she explains. “When hiring, I of course look at qualifications but I also invest time in looking at the person, finding out their likes and dislikes, how they deal with conflict etc. and how they complement our existing team.”

Putting people first is a key ingredient to building successful teams and also creating positive workplace culture. It has been proven that when people feel valued and have their voice heard, they are more productive and willing to go above and beyond for the company.

A 2018 Nielsen survey indicated that a higher salary was most often the reason for accepting a new job – but there were other reasons that followed closely behind compensation. The survey revealed that employees were likely to leave due to lack of interest in their job, followed closely by not feeling valued and/or respected as well as the lack of opportunities to grow within the organization.

Helfrick adds that WestJet has a notably flat organizational structure. “The distinct lack of hierarchy sees the CEO and all senior executives making in-flight announcements, serving drinks to guests and pitching in with cabin-cleaning duties alongside the front-line crew.”

Yasmin Abraham, senior vice president of Kambo Group, says, “Our culture is both team driven and progressive. We believe in working in a collaborative manner; where all ideas and opinions are heard and respectfully challenged. We want to get it right rather than be right. Also, we value progress over perfection; we encourage our staff to be the best they can possibly be – to question the status quo and to improve every day.”

Abraham echoes Helfrick and Popko’s comments, “We believe in building a team and not just filling a job. We’re a people-first organization, both in the services we provide and in the company culture we promote. We believe family, health and career success should not be mutually exclusive.”

So, then, if a positive workplace culture ensures retention, loyalty and increased performance, what does a toxic workplace culture lead to? Helfrick says, “Lack of attention to maintaining a company’s reputation as an employer has damaged large companies with clear business strategies. If employees do not believe in the product and purpose of the business and their role in it, how will the guests be convinced to buy the product?”

The WestJet story is one that continues to inspire its employees as well as its customers. “As WestJet pursues an ambitious global agenda and continues to advance the guest experience,” says Helfrick, “we believe WestJet’s competitive culture, one that brings the humanity in flying to our guests in an industry that has become so commoditized, will continue to be our greatest advantage. We continue to invest heavily in people programs across the mental health, inclusion, psychological safety and work environment initiatives to further the human experience in our workplace.”

Helfrick is proud of WestJet and its continued success built on the airline’s culture. “Culture has always been WestJet’s differentiator against our competitors which has enabled us to attract and retain top talent – and we believe that talent, development and culture strategies are inseparable from business strategy. When selecting talent, we hire for values that align to our core beliefs in addition to honing in on the unique ideas each individual brings or could bring to our business. The diversity of thought within our employee base at all levels is what drives the growth mindset, grit and innovative nature of our culture, which has ultimately resulted in 52 quarters of profitability – unique results for a younger airline competing within a low-margin industry.”

A company’s culture can either make or break its employees. Creating a healthy and positive workplace culture that aligns with the company values will contribute to a more engaged and loyal group of employees.