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Kate Finley Shares Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture

“At the core of being a millennial is the desire to make a difference and to know that the brands and causes they support also make a…


“At the core of being a millennial is the desire to make a difference and to know that the brands and causes they support also make a difference.”


Having a mission statement for “why” your organization exists simply is not enough. For a company to be truly value-driven and strong in its culture, all decision-making must radiate the company’s “why”. Your team needs to know that their organization values more than just revenue. This means that certain short-term, financially centered decisions may need to be foregone. Revenue should always be a factor in business, but when you treat revenue as a goal (or worse the only goal) your organization will suffer. In the short-term you will have employees that sacrifice integrity for a bonus or new clients, and in the long term you’ll develop a toxic environment with high turnover. However, when you treat revenue as a result, you will cultivate a team that is impact driven.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Kate Finley from Belle Communications for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.

Kate Finley is the founder and CEO of Belle Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm based in Columbus, Ohio. She launched Belle Communications at age 28 with no funding and completely bootstrapped her business. This month, she hired her 10th employee and will celebrate five years in business which are both major milestones, especially for a woman-owned startup.


Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?

Kate Finley: Belle thrives on seven principles (we call them Core Belle-iefs) that serve as the foundation for our culture and the standards by which we live and work. If I had to choose three they would be:

  • Think BIG: Innovate & Strategize
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  • Care


KC: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”

KF: People love to peg millennials as lazy and entitled, but often they’re just motivated by different things than previous generations. Millennials value authenticity, opportunities to lead and the ability to contribute in a meaningful way. At Belle, we offer progressive benefits like unlimited vacation and the ability to work from home, but I find what motivates my millennial team most is working in a purpose-driven, positive, collaborative environment that encourages big thinking and provides opportunities to contribute at all levels.

To engage and retain millennials, you have to ensure they get the WHY of your organization. At the core of being a millennial is the desire to make a difference and to know that the brands and causes they support also make a difference. This mindset extends into the decisions we make as an agency on a day-to-day basis. We choose to partner with brands that align with our vision and values, which, in turn, makes our team feel engaged in the work they’re doing. They see the difference they’re making in the results they achieve and this drives them toward continued success.


KC: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?

KF: I think too many companies offer perks and try to call them culture. A strong, healthy work environment is built on a strong, healthy foundation. It requires a relentless commitment to open communication, authenticity, innovation and care across all levels of the organization. It’s hard work but the results are so worth it.

KC: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?

KF: I’ve seen companies make the mistake of thinking the work is done once they’ve created a mission statement. To cultivate a truly purpose-driven company, the mission has to be ingrained in the culture of the organization and have buy-in from everyone.

“I think too many companies offer perks and try to call them culture.”

KC: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?

KF: As entrepreneurs, our drive to succeed can be both a blessing and a challenge (curse is too strong a word). We often look forward so much we forget to enjoy the moment and embrace where we are. We keep our team focused on the BIG IDEA and vision. We’re tasked with ensuring that, when it’s all said and done (um, does that ever happen?), we achieve our goals and continually raise the bar. The pursuit of excellence is a big part of what keeps us going.

Some of the busyness won’t change. But it is necessary to turn off the “boss mode” sometimes to stop and appreciate where you are. Personally, a brief reflection allows me to celebrate the meaningful moments that make up each day, show appreciation to my team and connect with the people around me.

KC: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?

KF: My biggest influence has been learning from my mentors and other entrepreneurs. When you’re launching a business, every day brings new challenges and often you have to figure things out as you go. The advice of other entrepreneurs, who had been there and faced those challenges, was invaluable to me when I was first starting out. I still regularly meet with a business coach and rely on my network for advice, because I always want to continue growing.

Also, the book “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott is my top recommended book for business leaders. Its lessons have helped me to be very intentional about building a workplace that celebrates open, positive communication. As the CEO, it is especially important that I am able to communicate clearly and with empathy to preserve our company culture and empower my employees to do their best work so that we can meet client goals.

“Annually we take a trip to somewhere fun where we unplug from our inboxes and client work for a few days to focus on culture building.”

KC: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?

KF: It obviously depends on the situation. If your relationship with your boss allows, ask if you can share feedback on how you think your working relationship can be improved. Bosses are people too, and sometimes candid and constructive feedback on how they are managing you can go a long way. But if it’s just a toxic work environment, look for other opportunities and get out of there as soon as you can. Find a place where you can thrive.

KC: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?

KF: We operate in a virtual, work-from-anywhere model, which you might think would leave the team feeling siloed, but for us it does exactly the opposite. This model allows our team to work where they feel most productive. We also use tools like Sococo (a virtual online office) and Slack that help us to stay connected and easily collaborate on projects.

As a team, we make time for personal interaction with daily video check-ins and weekly virtual hangouts. We have Slack channels dedicated to talking about babies (fur babies and actual babies), music, random things happening in our lives and Beyonce…yes, seriously. And annually, we take a trip to somewhere fun where we unplug from our inboxes and client work for a few days to focus on culture building. Not having the overhead cost of an office to maintain affords us the luxury to travel to exciting cities like Chicago, Nashville and Savannah!


A note to the readers:

  1. Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization. If you learned one thing in this interview, please share this with someone close to you.
  2. Be the leader you wish you had.

Originally published at medium.com

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