Paul A. Larkins: Achieve peak performance

Paul Larkins, President and CEO, SquareTwo Financial

Every organization has a culture, whether it is purposefully created or not. A great culture, when combined with great operations, contributes to a healthy, productive work environment that spurs employees to reach their peak performance.

Culture is multifaceted. It is unique to each organization and grown organically, which makes it difficult to define. That said, culture is best described as the personality, character and soul of a company. It includes the concrete aspects of work life, such as compensation, benefits and career development, as well as the non-concrete characteristics formed through employee and leadership attitudes, behaviors and values.

Culture is also an extension of your brand and reputation, which means it impacts all your stakeholders, whether clients, partners, investors or the public.

Unfortunately, some companies discover the important role of culture only after they’ve had a crisis, whether a disgruntled employee, product failure or financial misstep. A company that allows operational achievement to rule the day can quickly lose sight of the importance of building strong culture. While operations might determine what goals must be achieved, company culture defines how those goals are met, and to what degree of success.

Recipe for a strong culture

The secret to creating a strong company culture is two-fold: equal parts tightly-knit community and recruitment and retention of a team of A players who focus on the what and the how of peak performance achievement. Top performers are driven, ambitious, innovative and hardworking, and they typically excel at working as a team toward a common goal.

Building a strong culture doesn’t happen overnight. It is an active process that is the responsibility of every employee. Culture cannot be “handed down” from the top, although it is leadership’s responsibility to create an environment for culture to flourish.

For a strong culture to take root, management must provide employees with the tools they need to excel — from health insurance benefits and fair compensation plans to the right technology and resources to do their jobs.

The company also needs to nurture a healthy cultural environment that inspires participation and engagement from the entire workforce. This includes building a work community that inspires camaraderie between colleagues and helps employees feel eager to come to work each morning. In such an environment, employees are working under the best possible circumstances and motivated toward peak performance as individuals and as an organization as a whole.

Putting values into action

Once a company has the plan in place for strengthening its culture, the next step is to define company values and put them into action. The values of SquareTwo Financial are focus, alignment, accountability, integrity and trust. Here’s what it takes to transform those values words into daily practice.


Every company operates as an interdependent community where it is in everyone’s best interest to help colleagues succeed. The finance and HR departments may not seem to have much in common when, in fact, employees from both departments are looking beyond their specific roles to advance a common company purpose.


Employees are encouraged to evaluate their own actions and their consequences, and are rewarded for being action-oriented, results-driven and passionate. Top-performing companies don’t overlook accountability. Instead, they are deeply obligated to excellence, with employees expected to bring their A game to work every day.

Integrity and trust

Character is essential to long-term success, personally and professionally. Sound moral and ethical principles are part of culture; they are traits that hiring managers look for when recruiting. Employees are encouraged to — and recognized for — always acting in the company’s best interest. They also strive to build strong, meaningful relationships with each other, partners, clients and other stakeholders.


All employees are focused on achieving individual goals as well as the company’s strategic objectives. Employees have a deep understanding of how they fit into the broader organization. And as a result, they are constantly evaluating how to better achieve their goals, and goals of their department and the company.

Paul A. Larkins is president and CEO of SquareTwo Financial, a leader in the $100 billion asset recovery and management industry that along with its network of legal partners employs about 2,000 people in North America, including 160 in the state of Florida. For more information, email [email protected] or call (303) 296-3345.