As Times and Values Change, Instilling Corporate Culture Takes on Greater Significance

Corporate culture was a fundamental aspect of business long before it became a buzzword and rallying point over the past 20 years. In the past, it was viewed in simplistic terms, notes Robert Woodhull, marketing manager for Woodhull LLC of Springboro, Ohio. That meant being a good person, treating employees with respect—the time-tested “taking care of those who take care of you.” That was the formula used by Woodhull’s grandfather when he was running a dealership. Life was simpler, and these fundamentals matched that generation’s attitude toward work and relationships.

But the changing times dictated a more focused approach on corporate culture, and as companies sought to put a face on the values it represents, CEO Susie Woodhull decided to lock in a values system. It was a team effort, with input from admin, warehouse, delivery, service, sales—every facet of the company.

Robert Woodhull,
Woodhull LLC

“We mixed it up with separate groups, and Susie brought them together to make the mission, vision and culture push, and that’s how we developed the more tangible aspect of how we do it,” Robert Woodhull said. “I feel it’s all based in the family approach. I look at co-workers as an extension of my family, which allows us to collaborate better and fill in gaps. We protect each other, and all those things ultimately provide the customer with a better end-product and service from us.”

Much of what Woodhull LLC developed used an approach in which everything employees say and do is a direct representation of ownership, which is reflected in the product, service and overall interaction with the customer. The best juncture to instill the company’s values, Woodhull said, is during the hiring process: people are chosen due to their skillsets, but become members of the family during the training process, ride-alongs and learning about every aspect of the operation and the people behind it.

It’s the team as a whole that drives the machine and backs it up with excellent service.

– Robert Woodhull, Woodhull LLC

“We emphasize that it’s a village that makes us successful,” he noted. “It’s the team as a whole that drives the machine and backs it up with excellent service. From day one, we have new hires engage with every member of the company to support and understand the importance of that collaboration.”

As part of this month’s State of the Industry report on corporate culture, we’ve assembled eight vignettes of dealer journeys through the process of establishing and maintaining a values system. From clarifying previously established mores to transforming broken cultures, these paths have oftentimes been painful but necessary for dealers to connect their identity and beliefs with their go-to-market approach with clients, vendors and other partners.

John Lowery,
Applied Imaging

As a young salesperson, John Lowery used to fill in his time between sales calls by listening to motivational speaker Zig Ziglar’s wisdom. Lowery was always looking to soak in a little knowledge and perspective, and one Ziglar nugget that stuck with him was the belief that “You can get everything you want out of life if you help enough people get what they want.” As Applied Imaging of Grand Rapids, Michigan, started its initial growth spurt—when it had fewer than 100 employees—Lowery and his leadership developed a three-point mantra that sought to leverage Ziglar’s notion: have fun, build team unity and hit the number (attaining preset goals).

That was 2003, and as the dealership’s revenues continued to billow and the management team expanded, Lowery saw the need to take the next step in expanding Applied Imaging’s identity. Quarterly management meetings entailed book reports: managers and managerial candidates immersed themselves in business improvement titles such as “Good to Great,” “Tribal Leadership,” “Dream Manager,” “Raving Fan,” “Start With Why,” “Multipliers,” “All In,” “Leaders Eat Last” and “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” It took nine quarters to cover the required readings, and managers took notes that outlined what they liked about each book and the aspects they believed should be added to Applied Imaging’s values doctrine. The managers felt it was important to define the dealership’s purpose as a company as well as the culture. With the purpose already set (a passion for service), Applied Imaging set out to codify its culture.

It’s about creating that right balance in forming an environment people want to be a part of.

– John Lowery, Applied Imaging

The managers developed 150 words that described the culture at Applied, then whittled them down to a core of 12 that became the genesis of Applied Chemistry and the Elements of Success, borrowing from the chemistry elements table. Those 12 core elements are Build Team Unity, Hit the Number, Fun, Success by Selection, Service, Knowledge, Community, Humility, Creativity, Dream, Family and Integrity. Each core has a color-coded subgroup of elements, totaling 101; for example, under Humility, there’s Modesty, Courtesy and Respect, among others.

“When you get the right mixture of people, products and process, add Applied Chemistry, our Elements of Success and expand with the sub-elements, it really tells people who want to work with or for Applied Imaging what we’re all about through this really great description,” Lowery said.

Every other year, Applied Imaging publishes the “Culture Book,” which contains an extensive selection of testimonials from employees covering the gamut of all 12 core elements. These tomes underscore the degree to which the dealership makes its value system an essential part of how it conducts business.

Casey Lowery,
Applied Imaging

Casey Lowery, the company’s chief operating officer, notes that codifying the company’s values has had a salutary effect across the entire organization. “The more we focus on culture, the more people enjoy coming to work,” he said. “Happier employees take care of customers, and I feel it’s translated across everything that we sell. When clients get really good service from the team, they’re open to looking at other products and services from us.”

When Applied Imaging opened its new facility, it added a plant wall behind the stairs leading up to the second floor. Applied Chemistry is embedded into that wall, representing the company’s belief that its culture is a living, breathing aspect that mirrors its identity. It’s also a prime conversation starter when clients and other prospective partners visit the dealership. Quotes representing most elements also adorn the walls at Applied.

Happier employees take care of customers, and I feel it’s translated across everything that we sell.

– Casey Lowery, Applied Imaging

These values are hardly window dressing. In the case of Community, the company asks each employee to provide 19 hours of community service annually, which is 8,000-plus hours on the company’s dime per year.

“It’s about creating that right balance in forming an environment people want to be a part of,” John Lowery said. “There are a lot of chemicals that get released in your body—serotonin and oxytocin—when you do good for somebody. We don’t do it because we expect anything or try to get any business. We do it because communities are so good to us and we try to give back to them.”

Barry Simon,

Barry Simon remembers when mission statements became all the rage in business back in the 1980s and early 1990s. The president of Little Rock, Arkansas-based Datamax had one as well. But when the company experienced significant growth in 1993, the surge created staffing issues and company morale took a hit. As Simon sought to reconcile staffing to accommodate growth, he heard a common theme among the managers in regard to Datamax’s stated purpose: “That’s your mission statement…it’s not ours.”

In 1994, Simon turned to Mike Riordan of Riordan and Associates, who introduced pivotal topics such as success by selection, attitude, skills, knowledge and teams. Armed with that starting point, Simon and his managers huddled off-site for several days and turned the company’s mission statement into a company philosophy that became the basis for the “Datamax Little Blue Book.” The premise of the Blue Book also traces back to Ken Blanchard’s “Raving Fans,” and Simon has turned it into a rallying slogan of Creating Raving Fans.

“I told our team, when people ask where they work, they should say Datamax, and when you’re not at Datamax, you’re not at the best company,” Simon explained. “I don’t want them saying that we’re just OK. I wanted people to get really excited about it. The same holds true with our customers, I want them to say that we take really great care of them as opposed to us being the lowest-priced provider. When I took the philosophy to the people, they understood what it meant and really bought into it.”

I told our team, when people ask where they work, they should say Datamax, and when you’re not at Datamax, you’re not at the best company.

– Barry Simon, Datamax

Datamax devised a seven-point philosophy that speaks to its fundamental values: 1. Market advanced products and solutions backed by outstanding service to the business community. 2. Compete with honesty, trust and value, not simply on price. 3. Have employees with a sense of urgency dedicated in providing consistent, professional solutions to customers’ needs. 4. Invest in the continued development of Datamax’s employees, skills and knowledge. 5. Provide an environment in which employees have the opportunity to achieve a career path with stability. 6. Recognize and accept the responsibility of being an involved corporate citizen in the community. 7. Above all, Datamax believes its Raving Fans will come from its passion to be the best. Robert Caldwell, the company’s vice president of marketing, came up with the tagline: Relevant Technology. Rave Results. (His team also authors a monthly newsletter, The Rave Review, which further illustrates the company’s culture.)

To better explain how Datamax’s values aligned with dealing face-to-face with clients and partners, the company took it a step further by creating a 14-point Principles of Operation. It covers the gamut from carrying out the company philosophy to honoring commitments, communicating complaints and concerns, getting the job right the first time and making decisions based upon the good of the entire organization. The most cherished principle is “We have the right to disagree,” which leads to basing decisions on the good of the organization.

Staring down the pandemic entailed Simon taking stock of his obligations and responsibilities as they applied to the Principles of Operation. “We talk about honoring commitments a lot,” he noted. “As we were going through the pandemic, if we’re telling people that they’re important, how can we let anyone go until we know what this is all about? We chose not to let anyone go.

“In building an organization, culture and communication are ongoing. You never arrive.”

Van Seretis ,
Premium Digital
Office Solutions

Corporate culture isn’t a talking point limited to larger organizations; it’s a vital operating credo regardless of whether a dealer has 20 or 200 employees. In the case of Premium Digital Office Solutions, the head count rests at the lower end. While Van Seretis and his partner, Alan Schwartz, don’t publish their core values or highlight them in physical form, they represent a core family-based approach to doing business. Seretis ensures every aspect of the way Premium Digital does business on a daily basis reflects the unity and support necessary to best position team members for success.

The owners are both products of Pitney Bowes and were engrained with a corporate, Fortune 500 approach. Thus, when they began their own company, the idea was to modify it to a philosophy that was less stuffy, but still containing corporate elements. At Premium Digital, professionalism is still shown on the floor, but it’s infused with a laid-back, fun, personable atmosphere.

With fewer than 20 employees, maintaining a family-centric identity has been key. Employees are encouraged not to miss family-related functions, even the most seemingly mundane activities such as walking a child to school. According to Seretis, it’s all about framing a mindset—take care of business, but don’t miss out on those aspects of life that can be fleeting.

“We want people to come into work feeling good,” he said. “If someone comes in with a bad mindset or attitude, do you think they’re going to do a great job of selling? No. We’re as professional as dealers come, but we provide a lot of leeway. It’s like taking a cruise ship and boiling it down to a speedboat atmosphere. I can make a turn on a dime if I need to.”

We preach in our weekly meetings that honesty, integrity and the full customer experience are exactly what we need.

– Van Seretis , Premium Digital Office Solutions

Premium Digital encourages its salesforce to sell the way that they would like to buy, being mindful to avoid the car salesman pitfalls. It’s an approach that underscores the consultative method of selling and enhances the dealer’s reputation as a problem-solver.

Being located in Parsippany, New Jersey, with scores of OEM branches and competitors in close proximity, using honesty and integrity as the fundamental underpinnings is essential for the survival of the dealership. “We preach in our weekly meetings that honesty, integrity and the full customer experience are exactly what we need,” he said. “I hate to say it, but we can’t tolerate anything less. If we’re not taking care of our customers with honesty and integrity, and being there for them, we’re not going to do a good job of retaining them as a client.”

Ray Belanger,
Bay Copy

A corporate culture exists whether it is intended or not. In the case of Bay Copy of Rockland, Massachusetts, the culture has been more naturally occurring since it debuted as Bay State Business Products in 1972. President Ray Belanger continued the family-based atmosphere entrenched during his father’s leadership, and it’s been pivotal in establishing an impressive tenure that sees many employees with 25 to 40 years of service under their belts.

“From an employee standpoint, we want every member of our team to feel valued, appreciated, and to know that they’re an important part of our organization,” Belanger noted. “When you see people day in and day out, they do become part of an extended family. We all depend on each other to get the job done, and we all care about each other. Over the years, we’ve participated in each other’s family events – weddings, anniversaries and, unfortunately, wakes and funerals. Our people are our single biggest investment.”

From an employee standpoint, we want every member of our team to feel valued, appreciated, and to know that they’re an important part of our organization.

– Ray Belanger, Bay Copy

Long-term customer engagements are cultivated by treating each client as if it is the firm’s only one. Job follow-ups and customer feedback enable Bay Copy to measure the engagement’s success. A quick-response protocol keeps equipment humming along with as little impact as possible. Maintaining a high degree of industry knowledge is buffered by involvement in industry organizations that share best practices, and community involvement such as the local chamber of commerce helps promote business and fellowship.

“We have a very open form of communication and collaboration,” Belanger said. “We encourage input from all of our employees, and we mentor our newer team members so that they quickly feel at home in our organization. We recently made a strategic hire to help us expand into the health care market, and I had the chance to travel and spend a few days on the road with him. We encourage this type of mentoring and collaboration company-wide.”

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

That was the rallying cry that emerged from a 2015 roundtable discussion on the importance of workplace culture for XMC. The company saw the want and need for more clearly defined values, which led to the creation of a committee that included every department at the Bartlett, Tennessee-based firm.

XMC called upon a third-party facilitator, PathShare HR, and during a two-day workshop that produced mounds of sticky notes, the dealer was able to narrow its focus and discussion to three critical items: its mission statement (the why), core values (the what) and the behaviors associated with those values (the how).

Alyssa Hirsh,

“XMC was founded on the principals that the customer should always be given the red-carpet, white-glove treatment,” related Alyssa Hirsh, director of culture and HR. “Bob Hamilton’s vision for growing his dealership was to always under-promise and over-deliver. Our core values reflect the expectations of how we interact with both internal and external customers. Being Visionary, having and upholding Integrity, keeping a Team-Mentality, showing up every day being All-In, all while remaining friendly and Likeable. These core values come together to spell VITAL, and that’s the lifeline that defines every decision made and experience given at XMC.”

In an effort to ensure the VITAL core values were a living and breathing embodiment of XMC’s aspirations, its culture committee held quarterly workshops in conjunction with its PathShare HR partnership. This enabled them to measure every aspect of its business against the stated core values, from leadership and communication to awards and recognitions, celebrations and fun.

Our core values reflect the expectations of how we interact with both internal and external customers.

– Alyssa Hirsh, XMC

“We continue to discuss openly and evaluate our ability to deliver VITAL both as a committee and amongst leadership and all teams within XMC,” said Hirsh, the company’s recognized Culture Warrior. “On monthly companywide calls, we recognize the team members who best displayed each of the five values as well as an overall VITAL champion. On an annual basis, we have People’s Choice Awards for the same categories.”

Culture has always been a key focus at Loffler Companies. Given the events surrounding the past 16 months, the Bloomington, Minnesota, dealership continues to refine and build upon its culture much the same way it does for other business actions—a process that calls for the dealer to plan, implement, check and adjust.

James Loffler,
Loffler Companies

Establishing values was the easy part, according to President James Loffler, as it was a reflection of the family and the team that has made it successful. Leveraging actions that are fundamental under the Traction EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) enabled it to more clearly define its core values of Positive Attitude, Integrity, Innovation, Customer-First Focus, Professionalism, Drive for Results and Trustworthiness. Those core values were developed through an employee survey, with input and approval from the executive team.

“Critical to our success is that our core values are clear, shared, understood and lived by our employees in all our locations throughout the company every day,” Loffler said. “Following these values is the foundation of why we’re here, how we conduct business, and why Loffler is perceived and received so favorably in the community and across the country by clients, vendor partners and the industry.”

Critical to our success is that our core values are clear, shared, understood and lived by our employees in all our locations throughout the company every day.

– James Loffler, Loffler Companies

Values are only actionable, Loffler feels, when one can ensure that everyone within an organization believes the values are representative of who they are, and that they can live those values as well. Otherwise, success will be minimalized. In addition to gauging whether a prospective employee is a good fit for the organization based on their core values, current employees are evaluated on how they’re meeting those values during their annual reviews.

In addition to strong core values, Loffler also has a defined purpose of “Helping Others Succeed.” This past year presented a real opportunity to focus on helping others succeed in and out of the office.

“It’s a pretty tight knit work group at Loffler, and it’s quickly apparent if an employee doesn’t fit our values or doesn’t take actions that work to meet our mission,” Loffler said. “Loffler’s mission statement is: We’re an independent professional services organization dedicated to providing superior managed IT solutions, office technologies and services. The foundation of our success is based on exceeding the expectations of our clients, employees, partners and community.”

Culture had long been a challenge for Altek Business Systems of Telford, Pennsylvania. The company turned over sales reps at a fairly substantial clip from 2013-2017, with 30 having come and gone. What’s more, the reps had something of a deleterious impact on the overall morale of the company. At the end of a successful 2017, the sales manager and director of operations both left for competing firms.

In 2018, President Ray Derstine made several decisions to rectify the company’s issues, including hiring a consultant to address its core values and better define the company and what it aspired to be. A two-day offsite meeting examined what Altek wanted to emphasize to its employees and clients, and the dealer opted to use the Traction EOS program. In devising core values and a mission statement, they came up with some straightforward principles: being customer focused, having honesty and integrity, and being collaborative with internal and external partners. The idea was to promote a culture of driven professionals. The mission statement was equally clear: great people with great attitudes, selling great products and services.

Scott Flaherty,
Altek Business Systems

“After we built all the core values, the consultant asked if we would interview and hire based on these values. We said yes,” noted Scott Flaherty, director of operations. “Then he asked if we would fire based on these values.”

A long pause followed, but the answer was yes.

The turnover reached a crescendo in 2019, and for two weeks in August, Altek literally had no one left in sales. But Flaherty, who had assumed control of the sales department mid-year, added two reps before the year was out and four more in 2020. All the reps were 35 and younger, and none had industry experience. Yet they banded to produce the second-best sales year in company history—all because the new sales unit was built on culture.

“We thought that if we were going to build a culture, we needed people who aren’t a part of that culture to not be here,” Flaherty observed. “We wanted to make sure we had the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

It wasn’t just about flushing out the wrong attitudes, it was ensuring that Altek fostered a competitive environment with a solid work/life balance. A committee was formed to schedule fun quarterly events, including ax throwing, happy hours, bean bag throwing and Octoberfest. There’s also a level of spontaneity, such as taking an afternoon to play Wiffle ball behind the office.

We thought that if we were going to build a culture, we needed people who aren’t a part of that culture to not be here. We wanted to make sure we had the right people in the right seats on the bus.

– Scott Flaherty, Altek Business Systems

The iconic ringing of the bell by reps has given way to technology-infused recognitions. Altek integrated SalesScreen into its CRM system, which features pre-chosen pop-up videos to celebrate accomplishments. A 65” video board in the bullpen plays the videos. Reps are also incented with coins that can be redeemed for token awards, such as leaving an hour early or arriving an hour late. The company also hired a dedicated CSR to check in with customers on a regular basis, and she’s become the unofficial face of the company, which has helped to augment relations with clients.

“We expect more from our reps, and this allows us to push them,” Flaherty said of the enticements. “We have first-year reps that are doing $35,000-$45,000 a month consistently, and we couldn’t get that from reps who had been in the industry for three to four years. We do have a lot of fun, but as a result, we’ve gotten better performances, and it’s because of our culture.”

Erik Cagle
About the Author
Erik Cagle is the editorial director of ENX Magazine. He is an author, writer and editor who spent 18 years covering the commercial printing industry.