How to Cultivate a Great Corporate Culture

As the founder and CEO of the sixth busiest independent pizza company in per-store sales in the United States, Nick Sarillo of Nick’s Pizza & Pub has garnered national media attention for the impetus behind his business’ success—an inventive, purpose- and values-driven approach to training and leadership. Under Sarillo’s direction, Nick’s Pizza & Pub, located in Crystal Lake and Elgin, boasts an 80 percent employee retention rate in an industry in which the average annual turnover is close to 150 percent. Sarillo’s forthcoming book (Portfolio, 2012) will highlight his “on purpose” principles for building an inspiring, high-performance organization from the bottom up.

“People think it’s enough to talk about a great corporate culture as if it’ll magically appear in an organization. In fact culture doesn’t ‘happen.’ It can take root only if the owner and leaders of a company make the conscious choice to be great. I define culture as the behaviors of people in an organization at any given moment.   What typically happens is we end up with a culture by chance, unless we make the choice to be explicit about the culture we want.”

“As an entrepreneur starting out in a new business, I didn’t have this clarity, for I was buried in day-to-day tasks, just keeping my head above water.  Only seven years in did I learn about defining our purpose and our values to make our desired culture explicit.   What developed out of my passion, what I had in my heart and soul, became a clear expectation for us all.  The days of me feeling frustrated and thinking “they just don’t get it” went away, and passion became purpose. We now operated around a clear statement — our purpose statement — that conveyed why we were here at Nick’s and the experience we were creating for our team and our guests.”

“As we got clearer and more disciplined around how important the values and the purpose are to our business model, we started to see more great behaviors on the part of our team.  Since then, we have created a system for recognizing the positive behaviors in each team member and tying these behaviors back explicitly to our purpose and values.The clarity around this system has garnered some nice results as people in our company continue to reach higher potentials while also feeling they are part of something meaningful at work. ”

“You don’t need to be a big sexy company in a sexy industry to have a sexy culture. We can reap all the benefits of a world class work culture, including more enthusiastic teams, lower attrition, more innovation, better customer service and ultimately better financial performance — simply by disciplining ourselves and our organizations to make culture top of mind in every decision we make and every action we take!”