What a tornado taught this team about workplace culture

August 11, 2015, 1:30 PM UTC
Courtesy of Farmers Insurance

The Fortune 500 Insider Network is our newest online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Deb Aldredge, chief administrative officer of Farmers Insurance, has answered the question: How do you build a company’s culture?

I joined Farmers Insurance several years ago after spending the majority of my career in the brokerage business. The move to insurance was largely driven by the financial crisis and a desire to try to bring a greater sense of stability to my personal and professional life during a time of great instability and uncertainty.

Every career move brings its own set of unique challenges. For me, the biggest challenge was building new relationships and support while ensuring that the company’s values aligned to my own.

I quickly realized that what made Farmers so special was its core value of serving others and building stronger communities. The best example of this can be seen in our work in Joplin, Mo. in 2011, after the community was devastated by an EF5 tornado (tornado with winds over 200 mph), killing more than 150 people and destroying 8,000 homes and businesses in the area.

Our role extended far beyond preparedness and response to recovery, which included providing financial support, food and water. More than 500 employees volunteered thousands of hours on the ground to rebuild homes, and the community recovered in half the time estimated by FEMA, or three-and-a-half years instead of seven to 10 years.


We realized that the camaraderie we saw take place in Joplin reinforced and strengthened the company’s culture of caring and giving back. In this era of commoditization, a unique value proposition is essential in attracting the right customers and employees to your business. Doing the following three things will help you and your company build its culture:

Know who you are

What’s unique about your company? What do you want to be known for? Figure out where can you create the most value to truly differentiate your company’s customers, employees and leaders from others’.

Hire for shared values

Companies often hire for technical skills and hope that the individual will share the same values as the company. In reality, teaching technical skills is far easier. Understanding your company’s values (e.g. integrity, teamwork, giving back to the communities, etc.) and integrating them into the key people activities (e.g. hiring, promotions, performance reviews, etc.) drives greater consistency and alignment between people, processes and plans for the company. It’s important to be explicit about the values and how these show up in the work environment.

See also: So you messed up at work. Here’s what you do next

Engage in purposeful work

Employees are looking for purpose and meaning in their work. A competitive compensation and benefits program, opportunities for development and advancement, and access to effective and engaged managers are now table stakes. The differentiators for companies have become increasingly harder to achieve. At Farmers, for example, we recognize our reason for being is to help customers identify and plan for the unknown risks that could impact their lives while being ready to respond immediately if disaster strikes. Your work should create purpose in people’s lives. Looking for ways to create value, serve others and engage in purposeful work that matters will resonate with people of all ages.

The effort to help the residents of Joplin rebuild is a true testament not only to the resilience of these communities, but also to the power of a company that aligns its efforts with its employees’ and organization’s values.

[fortune-brightcove videoid=4406425369001]


Read all answers to the Fortune 500 Insider question: How do you build a company’s culture?

How Wells Fargo’s CEO built the team at the world’s most valuable bank by John Stumpf, chairman, president and CEO of Wells Fargo & Company.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion