What Does it Mean to Have a WOW Culture? See What it Takes!

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Kelsey Lotus Wong Delivering Happiness Blog Post Wow Culture

Culture is a system of shared knowledge, beliefs, procedures, attitudes and artifacts that exists among a group of humans. This occurs in families, in countries, and definitely in companies. Worldwide.


The idea of co-creating a WOW culture was most formally coined by Zappos, the American online retailer who took an ordinary business and made it extraordinary. While their core operation is a call center, which is not necessarily sexy or exciting, they’ve done something really special there by building a culture that WOWs from the inside out. But, what does it mean to WOW?

To illustrate the value of WOW culture, I will begin with a story about my Lyft driver. 


This morning, I took a Lyft and my driver told me about his life. He comes from the northeast African country Eritrea and he was a pilot there for 7 years. During the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the plane industry was shut down and he was forced to look for work elsewhere. After applying for Visas in 7 different countries, the United States was the only country that accepted his application.


Though he was a Commander and top ranked pilot at his former company, in the U.S., he has to start from the bottom because he will be flying a different plane.

The process to become a pilot involves the pilot-in-training to pay $250,000 and spend 2-3 years in school. He also cannot leave the country to visit his family because his green card hasn’t been approved due to restrictions from the U.S. government. He hasn’t seen his family in 4 years.


He then told me of a friend who works for another airline company outside the U.S. This company pays their pilots-in-training while they train, it provides health benefits including generous maternity leave and on-site day care, it houses its employees when they’re in between moves. From the CEO to the custodian, everyone is paid not just a living wage but a thriving wage. No company is perfect but generally the people love to come to work everyday.


Delivering Happiness Equation-black

Despite this alternative offer, Noah chose to stay in the U.S. with this airline so that one day he can bring his family here. Despite the odds he believes in the American dream and wants his family to have access to better opportunities. The last thing he said to me when I got out of the car, “Always follow your dream.


Why do I tell his story?  


You can see that the concept of culture lives everywhere and that it can have both meaningful and sometimes detrimental effects on people’s lives. The culture of a country and its policies. The culture of a company and the way it treats its people. Noah’s cultural value of family.


If our culture is a set of beliefs, values, norms, and behaviors then nearly everything we see and touch lives within one sense of culture or another.

And now as business owners, leaders, directors, and employees at every level but even more so as human beings, we have an opportunity to intentionally shape the cultures we live in.


sallie mae delivering happiness coach consulting


So how can you build a culture of WOW at work?


After defining WHAT you do (the mission), ask yourself WHY you do it (the purpose), then HOW you will do it (the values). As you look at the HOW think about what a WOW might feel like:

  • How might your company WOW your employees?
  • How might your company WOW your customers?
  • How might your company WOW your shareholders?

What’s helpful is to know what your people value. Don’t just guess, ask them!


You can start small by striking up a conversation with a colleague or hosting a Culture Discovery lunch gathering/meeting for your team to ask these questions:

  1. What are your personal core values?
  2. When do you feel most valued and appreciated?
  3. How do you want to be recognized, rewarded, and appreciated at work?


Try something medium scale.

  1. Get a pulse for the current culture, try the DH Culture Pulse Survey for free.
  2. Go to a culture event to learn more about what you can do Culture Summit, Culture Conference, or find a local event or meetup on Eventbrite or Meetup (keywords “workplace culture, organizational culture, company culture, future of work etc.).


Or do something larger scale like bringing in some coaching or consulting support to:

Smurffit Kappa Delivering Happiness Masterclass
  1. Develop Your Company’s Core Values & Behaviors
  2. Develop Your Company’s Higher Purpose
  3. Learn Happiness/Wellbeing at Work habits to support your employees
  4. Redesign Your Organizational Systems & Practices to be in alignment with your company culture
  5. Transform the way you see, do, and be together!

From what I’ve learned about culture after 5 years working for DH and 8 years in the consulting world is that it’s all about learning and growing together. How do we do that? By asking, listening, and sensing into what’s real and true in your organization. When it comes to culture, there is no one size fits all design. Every organization has its own unique cultural DNA.

A few examples of how other organizations build WOW in their culture:

  • belong anywhere airbnb mission purposeAirbnb’s purpose is “Belong Anywhere” and it hosts “Airfam” dinners where they offer a small budget for employees to host cultural dinners to coworkers to create more connection.
  • Zappos' values “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness” and created a Wishez program that grant wishes to staff members in need complete with a dressed up fairy godmother to deliver it.
  • Nordstrom’s value is “Do the Right Thing” and they live it with their famous return policy that allows customers to return virtually anything anytime without a receipt.
  • Toyota’s promise to employees is to “go the extra mile” and during a major company relocation they paid for their employees’ moving fees, helped employees’ spouses find new jobs, and flew people out in advance to look for housing and to feel out their  new city.
  • Southwest values “Freedom” and they have no change fees and bags fly for free.

southwest bags fly free policy


But WOWing one another doesn’t always have to cost money. Meaningful recognition goes a long way, like hearing someone’s story (maybe the story of your next Lyft driver). And no one knows your business better than the people who work there. Ask them, “how might we create a culture where people feel highly engaged and valued? How do we WOW?”

Your people will recognize your sincerity and thank you for it!


Do you want to create a WOW culture of both happiness and productivity? Discover how:



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About the Author

Kelsey Lotus Wong

Lotus Wong is a Creative Facilitator, Experience Designer, and Culture Consultant. With a passionate curiosity for transformation, Lotus is committed to co-creating the conditions for people to come into wholeness, expand their capacities, and bring their wildest visions to life. In 2014, Kelsey joined the "happiness bus" at DH and has since sat on nearly every seat in the bus. From marketing to community building to culture consulting, it's been a wild ride! These days, Lotus consults with DH and the innovation company, DSIL Global. When she's not supporting leaders and organizations, Lotus spends her time writing, world-traveling, and floating in the sea.


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