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Ignore Culture at Your Peril, Part 1

By Kim Shepherd, Chief Executive Officer
And Tom Brennan, Senior Writer

Hang in there!

Part 1: Culture is the Essential Glue

I 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, you 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 great culture (hint: hanging posters is not one of them. Goodbye, kitty!).

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6 Responses to “Ignore Culture at Your Peril, Part 1”

  1. April 23, 2013 at 6:17 pm, JOHN WEBSTER said:

    Couldn’t be truer especially in healthcare, where the customer is generally in a miserable condition and needs a tender supportive nudge towards their goal


    • April 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm, Kelly Graham said:

      Hear, hear, John! Nothing worse than feeling miserable and getting a disengaged nurse or doctor attending to you. Thanks for chiming in!


  2. April 29, 2013 at 4:33 am, Five Characteristics of Great Culture | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] singlehandedly trying to make up for that by being the Chief Evangelical Officer for culture. In Part 1 of this series I argued that executives shouldn’t ignore culture. Heck, “not […]


  3. May 13, 2013 at 6:03 am, Great culture knows WHY | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] the first part of this series I explained why I’m passionate about convincing people that culture is as […]


  4. July 11, 2013 at 5:06 am, Top 10 Ways to Balance Heartspace and Business Success | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] and soul of recruitment.” Decision Toolbox’s CEO Kim Shepherd recently posted a blog series on the importance of culture, and heart and soul are recurring […]


  5. January 13, 2014 at 5:20 am, More Leveraged Growth Fuel for Inexpensive Business Growth | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] Virtual won’t work for every company or every employee, but it is growing in many professional categories. DT has been 100% virtual for over 11 years now, and people love it. There are two keys to success: first, hire people who are smart, passionate and entrepreneurial. Second, create a strong virtual culture to accompany the virtual infrastructure. DT CEO Kim Shepherd offered great tips along those lines in her blog series, Ignore Culture at Your Peril. […]


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