Can a Culture be Created that Does Right by Clients, Employees, Shareholders and Society?

On Monday night, I attended a presentation on culture this week put on my InvestOttawa.  The presenter was Nazim Ahmed of Canvas Pop/dna11/Crated.  Nazim is a true entrepreneur and clearly he and his partner really get culture.  Not only did he do a great job making the point on the importance of culture to an organization, but he acted as a great ambassador for his companies and the city of Ottawa.

The talk first got me thinking back to my days running KorTrack (makes me so sad that I can’t put a hyperlink worth anything here) and how much different it is working at a small company versus the larger companies I have worked at since.   KorTrack was a blast.  The staff was super diverse, but we managed to be really tight and make it work in spite of our differences.  Like my good friend – and fellow KorTracker – Red Curtis liked to say, we were the Sweathogs (I guess that makes me Gabe Kaplan with Red as Travolta?).  To be fair, KorTrack was 12 people united in a cause.  Could we have kept our tight culture if we grew to 50 or 100 or 1000 or 10,000 or … ?  I have struggled with the answer.

Based on my own experiences, I think the culture of a company starts to fracture at a relatively small number of people (although the Cognos culture was pretty solid for a company of 3000 employees).  The fact that Nazim and his team have kept it up past 50 employees is impressive.

So, this had me thinking on Monday night.  Can a large company have the kind of culture that allows for the pleasing of clients, potential clients, employees at the same time?  Especially if you throw in investors and doing the right thing for society?

I wake up on Tuesday morning to a video that literally rocked me.  Of course, you can almost immediately guess this is the WestJet Christmas video.  When I first watched this video just over 24 hours ago, it had 900,000 or so views.  As I type this it is just north of 7 million!  By the time you are reading this … well, you can check for yourself.

There have been a number of takes from both pragmatists and cynics about this being a stunt, but let’s face it, the evidence through real-time polls and historical evidence says the opposite.

I don’t want to be a “Case Study of One” but come on …

If I was looking for a job in the airline industry would this make me want to work at WestJet?  Of course!

Was it the right thing to do for those people (and the people they will now donate tickets too)?  Damn straight!

Did they do it for their own benefit?  Again, of course.  But who cares?!?!  Why should anyone feel they can’t gain by doing right by others?  There are clearly situations where everyone can win.

Are WestJeters proud of this video?  I haven’t spoken to any, but I can only assume.  I felt proud as a Canadian watching this video.  And I’m not “that guy.”

Would this make me more likely to fly WestJet?  Totally!

I have flown WestJet recently even though I am fairly loyal to Air Canada (because of the loyalty program which might be a blog upon itself some day).  And, I have to be honest here … I find the Air Canada in-flight experience slightly better than WestJet.  The flight attendants tend to be really good on both airlines, but most of the Air Canada planes are newer with better – and no charge –  TVs.  I do get a bit of a different experience by “having status” of course.   But, from now on, I’m going to take the time to preload movies and forget my Aeroplan points to fly WestJet first.  I literally feel an obligation to do that now.

Did Air Canada and Aeroplan play a role in this?  Of course they did.  Not because they did stuff “wrong” per se, but in a year where I have spent crazy hours flying on planes to Hawaii and Europe getting 1/4 Aeroplan qualifying miles and then having to face annoying ads before movies like the one below (which was likely WAY more expensive than the total cost of the WestJet experience), my “acceptance” of this status quo was wrong.  I want to do right by people who do right.

So, in closing, I want to thank both Nazim – for showing how in can be done locally on a mid-sized scale – and WestJet for showing that large corporations can do the right thing for everyone (at once!).  Culture can be great in companies of all sizes!  It gives me hope.

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