Press Herald Business Editor Carol Coultas asks a question about HR and culture at the Nov. 6 Business Breakfast Forum at the Portland Public Library. Offering insight and advice were, from left, Angela Hansen of KMA Associates; Cynthia Murphy of CEI; and David Pease of Bangor Savings Bank.

How HR drives culture

A workplace’s culture increasingly plays an important role in attracting and retaining workers, especially in a hiring environment such as Maine’s, where a below-4 percent unemployment rate has been the norm for nearly four years.

Creating and maintaining a good workplace culture puts HR in the driver’s seat. Once the department that primarily handled on-boarding, payroll and benefits, HR personnel now push to define and sustain a company’s culture so that it is a place where people are eager to work.

How to do that —  and how to do that if your company is too small to have an HR department — was the topic of the Nov. 6 Portland Press Herald Business Breakfast Forum. Joining moderator Carol Coultas were three HR professionals: Cynthia Murphy, workforce development specialist with CEI; David Pease, head of talent, diversity and inclusion for Bangor Savings Bank; and Angela Hansen, HR consultant with KMA Associates.



Here are some of the takeaways:

• How do you define your company culture? Just ask. Several of the panelists said there are surveys that help a company assess what kind of workplace culture it has. But really listening to employees also will give insight (in a one-on-one conversation, the boss should speak for 20 percent of the time and the employee for 80 percent.) Murphy said if you want to get a handle on your company’s culture observe what happens when employees think no one is watching.

• Make sure you understand your company’s culture and then hire with those values in mind. Pease said the bank prizes integrity, confidentiality and kindness, and looks for those qualities in every new hire so their values align with the bank’s. Managers are stewards of that culture. Many performance problems can be boiled down to having an employee whose values don’t align with the company’s.

• Acknowledging an employee’s good work when it happens and with specific feedback goes a long way toward keeping that person engaged and happy, said Hansen. They need to know their role, clarity of expectations, have good social connections at work and have the tools to do the job well. Supervisors should look for opportunities to offer recognition every week, not just during performance reviews. Pease supported that advice, and noted that 33 percent of employees in the U.S. are looking for new jobs at any given time.

There are many things you can do to create desirable culture that don’t cost anything. Among them:

• Make sure every job has real purpose


• Recognize and appreciate employee contributions

• Involve employees in decisions

• Make sure your managers/leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence – a combination of street smarts and social smarts – to understand and improve culture. If they don’t, it can be learned.

• Ask employees what should be done differently to improve service or products; empower them to make changes

• Transparency doesn’t cost anything. Managers who share information rather than keeping it close to the vest build trust.



More about the panelists:

Cynthia Murphy, Senior Program Director, Workforce Solutions, CEI

Cynthia Murphy

Cynthia helps companies develop workforce solutions, including working with employers to create a people strategy that delivers a competitive advantage. She also has extensive experience helping marginalized job seekers find work. Prior to joining CEI, Cynthia had a 25+ year career in the for-profit sector leading commercial operations for subsidiaries of Thomson Reuters, a global information business.





David Pease, Senior Vice President, Director of Talent, Diversity & Inclusion, Bangor Savings Bank

David Pease

David has spent more than 30 years in HR. He knows that culture is an important employment topic. For employers – culture is what makes you unique – your competitive advantage – your promise – why should people work for you and not somewhere else? For job seekers – they should seek corporate culture that align with their personal values, will leverage their strengths and passions and allow them to perform at their highest level. When the organization’s culture and a candidate’s skills & interests are congruent – that is employment gold!


Angela Hansen, Consultant, KMA Human Resources

Angela Hansen

Angela is an HR professional with more than 20 years of experience in employee relations, leadership, performance management, policy development, benefits, recruiting and corporate compliance. She is a public speaking pro and enjoys helping groups enhance their understanding of human working relationships through her engaging and relaxed style. She has presented on a broad range of subjects, including: managing conflict; engaging in difficult conversations; performance management; creating a positive work culture; and social styles.


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