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Cirrus Logic Vice President and Chief Culture Officer Jo-Dee Benson on crafting a unique company culture.

By Rachel Merriman

With her bright red glasses and wild, curly hair, Cirrus Logic Chief Culture Officer Jo-Dee Benson wouldn’t look out of place up onstage rocking the bass guitar. It’s no surprise then that Benson is the mastermind behind Cirrus Rocks, the internal brand for Cirrus Logic that provides a uniting rhythm for the semiconductor company’s employees.

“We make integrative circuits for audio applications, and a lot of our employees are musicians. It’s a theme that has really evolved and resonated with our organization,” Benson says.

Benson first came to Cirrus Logic in 1995 as the director of marketing and communications, then expanded her role to vice president of human resources 10 years later. With her new position came new challenges: the company’s employee-turnover rate was high, and it was difficult to lure experienced talent to open positions.

“We really, truly did have to reinvent ourselves as an organization. We didn’t have the strongest leadership, our employee morale was very low, we had layoffs every quarter and our voluntary turnover was very high,” Benson says. “The lifeblood of our organization is experienced talent, primarily design engineers, and we found it difficult to attract and retain the talent we needed for our organization. We took that as a challenge and really got to work.”

Benson used her marketing expertise as a jumping-off point to create Cirrus Rocks, a brand that reflects the Cirrus Logic mission, vision and core values. With a powerful brand in place, she then set out to create exciting, engaging programs that fit the Cirrus Rocks brand and resonate with the company’s employees. Her method was a huge success: Today, Cirrus Logic is nationally recognized for its company culture and was ranked No. 9 on Fortune’s 50 Best Small and Medium Sized Companies to Work For list in 2014. Want to know more about how Cirrus Logic does it? Read on for Benson’s tips on creating a great company culture.

Define your mission, vision and core values.

“They are the foundation of the company. No matter what your company is going through, if you can stay true and steadfast to those practices, they will get you through the tough times as you’re transitioning and evolving as a company.”

Apply marketing principles to creating great company culture.

“The basic principles of marketing are knowing who your customer is and knowing what your customer wants. Our employees, as we see it, are our customers. Listen to your employees and make sure they’re being heard, all while reinforcing and focusing the key messages of vision, mission and core values in order to exceed their expectations.”

Build an internal brand around themes that resonate with your organization.

“Our internal brand is Cirrus Rocks, and we tie all of our corporate culture to that theme. We sponsor HAAM [Health Alliance for Austin Musicians], we’re involved with corporate battle of the bands, we have a Cirrus Rocks monthly concert series. But the brand has to resonate with your employee population. You can’t make people have fun; they know when you’re forcing it.”

Create a culture-immersion program.

“When you bring experienced people on board, they also bring their experiences with other cultures into the organization. That can erode the amazing, cool corporate culture you’re trying to build for your organization. You can’t lean back and assume it’s going to sort itself out. You have to have a plan in place to make sure all of your employees get aligned with the mission, vision and core values of the company.

“We tackle this through our culture-immersion program, School of Cirrus Rocks. Current employees reflect on recent experiences they’ve had that tie to our vision, mission and core values, and we ask them to talk about living those core values every day in the work environment. Through the power of storytelling, they share what it’s like for them to work at Cirrus Logic.”

Tie programs back to your organization’s mission, vision and core values.

“We give back to the community and do wellness programs. We have a Cirrus Logic kids’ club, where we get our families involved. We have guitar classes for our employees. Our employees work so hard and sometimes they don’t get the opportunity to go out with their spouse, so we sponsor a night out with their spouse. We have wine tastings and cooking classes. We did a drivein movie, where everybody had Cirrus Rocks snuggies. It sounds goofy and funny, but all those little things are the glue that makes our organization so unique.”

Don’t guess what employees want. Ask, and let them know you hear them.

“We survey our employees at minimum once a year, sometimes two or three times a year. We use a methodology through the Great Place to Work Institute to measure ourselves on an annual basis and find out what employees want. It’s a great way for us to find out what’s going on in the organization that we may not know about. Good or bad, we want to make sure we’re addressing those opportunities or challenges.

“Employees need to be heard and know that they’re being heard. You can’t just guess what employees want because it’s always changing. And that’s OK. To sustain a culture, it takes commitment, communication and constantly listening. It’s awesome to see employees constantly pushing us to be better leaders , not just leaders in the company, but also leaders in the community. It’s a healthy dynamic.”

Find out if your corporate culture is good or bad.

“When it comes to corporate culture, we measure it. I’m a believer that every company has a corporate culture, good or bad, and every company needs to find out what that baseline is and what their culture is all about.”

Make small gestures.

“The smallest gestures make the biggest impact, like sending a handwritten thank you note. It’s almost retro. Tell someone they made a difference. I try every day to reach out to someone and tell them, ‘Thank you for this,’ or, ‘You made a difference on that,’ or just acknowledging what’s going on in someone’s life. If they’re having a tough time with their family, knowing who their kids are, just recognizing those things makes a difference.”

Be consistent and patient.

“I’ve always said it takes five miles to turn an aircraft carrier around. It doesn’t happen overnight. It took us four years to really turn the corporate culture of the company around. And it was fun every step of the way. We did a whole bunch of things right, but every once in awhile, we didn’t. We learned from it. Most importantly, our employees gave us the benefit of the doubt that we were really trying to make Cirrus Logic a great place to work.”

Watch the Cirrus School of Rock culture-immersion camp video: youtube.com/watch?v=o1404hiy_pc

Watch the You Can’t Beat Working at Cirrus Logic video featuring Cirrus Logic employees: youtube.com/watch?v=cbqabsx4kce

For more information, visit cirrus.com.

 

Cover photo by Great Place to Work Institute.

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