Ignore Culture at Your Peril (Part 1)


Part 1: Culture is the Essential Glue

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap] PRESENT TO A LOT of different groups and when I say, “Culture is the essential glue,” I get a lot of deer-in-the-headlights looks. Even people in our own business, in recruiting and HR, push culture down the priority list. Hey, cat-hanging-treeyou can always put up some posters, right? Like that cat hanging from a tree saying, “Hang in there!”

But it IS the essential glue. It’s just as important as your marketing strategy or R&D or the ERP system you choose. At Decision Toolbox our culture is so robust that it helps shape our business plan. Over the next four posts, I’ll give you my take on why culture is so important, share 10 characteristics of great culture, and explain why culture is all about putting “the why” first.

Love ‘Em and Keep ‘Em

To me, a great culture is about having fun and loving your work, but I’ll lead off with a reason that resonates with most people: it can save you money. How? It’s crucial to retaining your top talent, and replacing talent is expensive. A 2008 SHRM study estimates that the total cost, including recruiting, training and loss of productivity, could run as high as “90% to 200% of an employee’s annual salary.” Ouch.

At Decision Toolbox we put culture first and it works. We have a lot of people who have been with us for at least 5 years, and quite a few who have 8 years with us (by the way, if you’re keeping score, the national average is 4.6 years, according to the US Bureau of Labor). All but one of my C-level execs have been with DT at least 10 years.

Enough numbers. HOW does great culture keep people on your team? At DT it does so by helping people love their work, and I’ll give you an example.

At our last nationwide All-Staff gathering, we asked everyone to write down why they work at DT. Similar reasons came up again and again: they love our flexible virtual model (everyone works from a home office) and the fact that they are more like partners than employees. But one of the biggest reasons is that working at DT means being part of something special and unique. Jay Barnett, our founder, boils it down to this:

Recruitment is too important not to be done really well. Work is too time consuming to not be loved.

Respecting Me Respecting You

I could write about DT all day, but there are other great examples out there. If you shop at Trader Joe’s, you’ve probably noticed how upbeat their people are. They’re bagging my groceries and they’re smiling and having fun . . . not like the baggers at some other places. That enthusiasm makes us respect them, don’t you think?

It’s because Trader Joe’s culture is unique and goes deeper than Hawaiian shirts. It helps their people respect themselves by helping them feel they are part of something that’s bigger than themselves and something that’s unique. TJ’s culture even comes across in their marketing: while other grocers promote freshness or low prices, Trader Joe’s promotes quirkiness and fun.

The story’s similar at Starbucks. The average tenure of their Baristas is six years! They make coffee for a living and earn something close to minimum wage, but they LOVE their jobs. I’ve ordered lattes at other coffee houses without really noticing the person behind the counter, but Starbucks Baristas stand out. I naturally respect them because they clearly respect themselves, and respect comes from the culture.

Great Culture is Intentional

In successful companies, culture is intentional. It makes sense to recruit people who already have strong self-respect, for example, but a lot of companies seem to be good at deflating that quality. DT, TJ’s and Starbucks deliberately pump it up. You take an intentional approach to managing your P&L or controlling inventory, right? You owe it to yourself — and your employees — to do the same for culture.

Next up in this series: Five Characteristics of a Great Culture.

Kim Shepherd
Kim Shepherd
AS CEO of Decision Toolbox, Kim Shepherd leads the company’s growth strategy, primarily through developing partnerships, alliances and as an active member of the Los Angeles and Orange County human resources community. A recognized thought leader by HR organizations nationwide including the Human Capital Institute, Kim is a regular speaker at national and regional events on various business models. Kim joined Decision Toolbox in 2000, and brought her unconventional approach to the company she had admired as a client. Today Decision Toolbox is 100% virtual, with more than 100 team members working remotely across the U.S. This company is a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise. This unique business model has played a key role in the company being awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Decision Toolbox was also named one of the "Fastest Growing Private Companies" by the Orange County Business Journal in 2012. In addition, they have been named 3 years running to the INC 500/5000 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies and have been a 7-time recipient of the HRO Today’s Baker’s Dozen for Midmarket and Emerging Markets. Calling Kim unconventional is an understatement – her former endeavors include 10 years as a TV and Foreign Correspondent, a stint at Club Med and a near miss at a spot on the Olympic ski team. Kim is an active member of the Adaptive Business Leaders Executive Roundtable and the National Association for Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter). She served on the Executive Board of Trustees for Girls Incorporated of Orange County and is also the Board Chair for Working Wardrobes. She is also a former member of Impact Giving. Kim is the recipient of the National Association of Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter) 2013 Innovator of the Year Award, the 2014 Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year, and the 2015 Family Matters Award from WomanSage.







"No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it."