How Culture Design Can Take You from Good to Great

February 21, 2023
February 21, 2023 Jamie Notter

This is the second post in a new series of case studies that showcase several different ways in which we have worked with a client to solve a particular presenting culture issue.  

Nonprofit Association Goes from Good to Great with a Multi-Year Culture Design Project


This organization was in good shape—they had an employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) of +40 (trust us, that shows high engagement). But they knew they could do better, so they did a culture assessment plus a culture change project with us, and three years later their eNPS rose to a +50. Here’s how it worked:

  • Their culture assessment revealed existing culture patterns around collaboration and transparency that were causing them to spin their wheels in some key areas.
  • They implemented targeted changes, like aligning everyone around new core values, rolling out a new project management system, and training the whole staff in conflict resolution.
  • Result: during the “great resignation,” they managed to increase engagement, and their new employees were 100% clear on what the culture stands for and why it is so successful.

“I’m extremely proud of the work my Deputy and the rest of the staff have done on our culture. We want to be an employer of choice, where talented individuals seek employment and then remain with us since it has a strong workplace culture. This has served us well.” – Executive Director


PROPEL was selected to lead the American Association of Endodontists (AAE) through a culture design process that included a culture assessment, developing culture priorities and a playbook of culture change action items, and then more than a year of culture change coaching for the Deputy Executive Director and HR Manager to help implement the plays and measure the progress and impact.


AAE had all their staff complete our WorkXO culture assessment in the fall of 2019, and they identified a number of underlying culture patterns that were getting in the way of them reaching their potential. Within Collaboration, for example, they saw a pattern that we see frequently in organizations—they were valuing collaborative individuals more than they were valuing collaborative groups.

Overall, they obviously valued collaboration in the culture (their overall score of 3.7 out of 5 is above average). People were generally willing to help each other out, and they cared about building solid relationships internally. Yet their silos and boundaries were fairly strong, and they were not very successful at maintaining cross-functional communications. This wasn’t on purpose, of course, but their culture had evolved to the point where group collaboration among departments wasn’t happening as much as they felt it should.

Related to the cross-functional communication issue were their scores on transparency, which showed that their culture wasn’t emphasizing the basics of communication and information sharing. While trust and credibility were strong inside the culture, employees were indicating that the basics of information sharing—sharing information when people ask, creating mechanisms for proactive information sharing, and making transparency the default—were less present inside the culture.

See also  Culture Assessment versus Engagement Survey

Once they saw these patterns, we took them through a process of identifying a set of culture priorities and then specific plays for a culture playbook of action items that would improve their already strong culture. Only five months after completing the survey, the internal culture team had written up drafts of 48 distinct “plays” for the culture playbook—specific things they would change in the way they do things that would fix the patterns they saw. In March 2020, we convened the team to prioritize the plays that they would pitch to the leadership team, which included developing core values, providing training in conflict resolution, and rolling out a comprehensive project management system. Management approved the top plays, and they were ready to run with it.

Then the pandemic hit.

Like everyone else, they sent everyone to work from home and had to make major pivots (don’t you still hate that word?) in how they delivered their programs. It was crisis mode for several months, but they didn’t let the culture work fall off the radar. In June they did a quick re-prioritizing of their plays, since obviously their reality was quite different. They stuck with creating a clear set of core values, and they created a specific team to work on their biggest play—implementing a comprehensive project management system.

“We weren’t bad at project management, really, but every team had their own system for doing things, and that was a big reason why people were not getting the information they needed; it made it harder for teams to work together at the specific times they needed to,” said Trina Andresen Coe, AAE’s Deputy Executive Director, in explaining why the project management play was so important to their culture change efforts. They researched tools and ended up hiring a consulting firm to help them develop a system and train employees in how to use it.

This play took almost a year to develop and implement, and in the meantime we worked with AAE to implement several other plays, including offering online conflict resolution training for all of their staff. In addition to their disjointed project management, they found that internal collaboration was being hindered by the staff’s inability to successfully confront and manage their conflicts and tough conversations. So we ran everyone through our “Managing Conflict with Confidence” online course, which included three separate live Q&A sessions for the staff to help apply the learning.

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In the summer of 2022, AAE decided to check in with staff to measure the impact the culture work was having. In an internal survey, they asked staff to agree/disagree with 6 statements that described the results they were hoping to achieve back when they saw those key culture patterns around transparency and collaboration back in 2019. The statements included (among others):

  • We have sufficient role clarity that allows me to work efficiently and collaboratively with others with limited friction
  • When we face internal issues, we address them directly so they get handled and are not lingering.
  • I feel connected to the big picture and I know how my work supports the strategy of the organization.

Of all the statements, staff rated “agree” or “strongly agree” 94% of the time. And even more importantly, at the end of this survey, they included the employee Net Promoter question, so they could compare the results to the original culture assessment in 2019. This question—would you recommend someone you respect to work here—is scored on a ten point scale, and then the Net Promoter Score is used to come up with a single number, between -100 and +100. Their score from 2019 was a +43, which is quite high (our average among all companies to do our assessment is a +19). As we mentioned above, they had a strong culture coming in, and they were trying to go from “good to great.”

In their 2022 survey, they improved their eNPS score to a +50.

That’s what “good to great” looks like.

“I’m extremely proud of the work Trina and the rest of the staff have done on our culture,” said Ken Widelka, AAE’s Executive Director. “We want the AAE to be an employer of choice, where talented individuals seek employment and then remain with AAE since it has a strong workplace culture. This has served us well as we, and other employers, seek high performing staff.”


In the middle of the “great resignation,” AAE intentionally created a culture where people are more engaged, more productive, and more successful. Their culture journey is ongoing, of course, but they now have systems and processes in place for planning out their culture change work and measuring the results on an ongoing basis.

This is what it looks like to do culture right.


More information about how PROPEL can help you solve real business problems by aligning culture with success:



Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.