Improving Corporate Culture, the Profitable Way

Dave MacKeen

CEO, Eliassen Group

Dave has held leadership positions within the Technology Staffing industry for over two decades, including the roles of CFO and President, prior to becoming CEO of Eliassen Group in 2010. During his tenure as CEO, Dave has spearheaded tremendous company growth, more than doubling the size of the company over the past six years.

Recently, a healthcare client opened my eyes about the value of the work we’re doing. I shared that   Eliassen Group’s purpose was to positively impact the lives of our clients, consultants and  the communities in which we operate. She stopped me: “You’re not just impacting lives, you’re saving lives!”

That’s exactly what I needed to hear to remind me about the greater meaning we serve. And it’s a striking illustration of why it’s important to instill a culture that embraces, creates, and rewards aspirational goals.   Think of the possibilities.

Getting Past the Day-to-Day

Let’s be honest, it can be easy to get caught up in the daily challenges inherent to staffing (you know what I’m talking about). That’s the beauty of a strong corporate culture, though. It does the job for you of elevating your work to a shared commitment to success, a visible reminder that “we’re in this together.”

Over nearly 25 years in the industry, I’ve learned a few things about what makes for a vibrant, forward-looking culture.

Culture only counts if you’re profitable.

Investing in your culture—through parties, trips, sports, you name it—makes a lot of sense. But if you can’t afford it, the fun ends.

Financial discipline and holding people accountable are what enables you to build a successful culture.

So even though technically we’re not putting profits before people, we never lose sight of the end game. This is true on an individual as well as an organizational level. If you’re performing at a high level, we’re not going to micromanage you. If the business is killing it, you’re going to benefit from the upside and unlimited compensation. Motivation and hard work breed more of the same.

This is our company.

New employees are often surprised by the atmosphere in our strategic discussions. In particular, executives who ran multi-million dollar accounts and businesses aren’t used to being challenged in front of their peers and direct reports.

We don’t stand on hierarchy. People speak up. Decisions don’t belong to a small group at HQ, they belong to all of us, so you better expect that we’re going to ask the tough questions. It’s not always easy, but it’s always productive.

More than just words on the wall.

Culture goes beyond clichés and motivational posters. Employees dictate the culture, and we as leaders create the environment that reinforces it. It can be as simple as setting up softball and cricket teams as we have in some offices, or as formal as the Eliassen E-tank.

Based on the Shark Tank concept, we introduced a contest to solicit innovative ideas for best practices. I may or may not have dressed up like an ocean creature during the process. Employees voted on winners to advance, and our two finalists delivered their pitches real-time at our company kickoff meeting. You might not be surprised to learn that we ended up investing in both groups’ ideas.


Employees must have a forum to share their culture-building ideas. We hold town halls, and I personally make it a point to ask individuals on a regular basis “What are the things we are doing as a company that we should start doing, that we should stop doing, and that we should keep doing?” That’s how we came to relax our dress code (to not just business casual, but casual relaxed) and ‘lose the tie’ except when it matched our end clients’ work environment.

We also ask our employees for a rating on “their ability to affect organizational change.” A useful metric, it lets us know if we’re practicing what we preach. Currently, we’re running about 7.2 out of 10. Not bad, but it’s not where we want to be and we’re working on it.

Look to the future.

I’m proud of the culture we’ve built at Eliassen and the accomplishments and awards we’ve earned. But I’m not content to rest on our laurels. A cohesive culture compels you to set your sights on the future What are you bringing to the table tomorrow?