CV #27 Comfort Research: How to Build a Culture of Awesome

Sitting on an uncomfortable bean bag chair in their college dorm room back in 1997, cofounders Matt Jung and Chip George looked for a way to give the bean bag an upgrade. Surveying their surroundings, they found foam mattress pads and began to shred them and restuff the bean bag chair. A few hours later and the chair was good as new. Their friends took notice and they realized that a business idea was born: The Fuf. After some success with trunk sales on their college campus, they approached a General Manager at Meijer and convinced him to purchase 50 bean bag chairs. They sold out in 8 days. Since then, Comfort Research has created and sold over millions of units of the Fuf, as well as pool floats, pet beds, and other affordable furniture. 

CV #26: How Team 1 Plastics Lives their Championship Dream

In the mid 1980s, three young plastic engineers (Jim Capo, Craig Carrel, and Gary Grigowski) recognized the need for a company to supply the international automotive suppliers setting up operations in the Midwest, specifically in Battle Creek, MI. United by their common dream to start a plastic injection molding company, they turned to their friends and families to raise the $110,000 they needed in capital. Eighteen months later, with only $2,000 of their original capital left in their bank account, they made their first profit. From there, (with the exception of the recession) business took off.

CV #25 Macro Connect: The IT Company that Plants Trees for their Customers & Donates +80 Hours a Month to Serve the Community

Macro Connect is not your average IT services company. Beyond providing affordable IT Services to schools in the local Detroit, MI area, they care an extraordinarily amount for their community, customers, and team-members.

Their commitment to their community starts with their physical office space. They recently finished a 1.5 year renovation of Hunt Street Station, the former Third Precinct for Detroit’s Metropolitan Police Department for over 63 years. The decision to renovate the Third Precinct was driven by their desire to preserve a piece of history and expand development outside of Eastern Market’s district.

Zingerman's: There is No Hierarchy of Human Beings

There is No Hierarchy of Human Beings: Treating Employees as People First

Since the beginning, Co-Founders Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw cared about people. “Early on, we didn’t have the formal structures, or explicit convos about values and beliefs, but they were happening,” said Amy Emberling, Co-Managing Partner of the Bakehouse. “In the beginning, our values were the values of Paul, Ari, Maggie, and Frank. We didn’t formalize the values, but they were very much lived.”  Zingerman’s mission statement and guiding principles weren’t created until almost 11 years into business in 1993.

Back in the early 90’s, Amy recalls how these values were lived out while working with Frank Carollo, then Managing Partner and Founder of the Bakehouse. She shared how at the end of every shift, he would shake co-workers’ hands to thank them for their work. He would also ask team members if he would see them again tomorrow, letting them know that he was looking forward to working with them again.

Now, 26 years later, Amy continues the tradition of shaking team members’ hands and thanking them when she hands out paychecks every other Friday. Even though most people have direct deposit, it’s the thought that counts.

“People can never receive enough warmth.” -- Amy Emberling, Co-Managing Partner of the Bakehouse

Skidmore Studio: The Creative Studio that Starts their Week in the Kitchen & Ends it in the Family Room

Start the Week in the Kitchen: Weekly Monday Standup

Every Monday, Skidmore Studio begins the week with a standup meeting in their kitchen. The purpose of the group meeting is to start the week off on the right foot: celebrate wins, provide updates on the studio, generate positive energy, as well as what to look forward to this week. To increase engagement and promote leadership opportunities, a different team member leads the meeting every week.

The weekly standup always kicks off with either a game, icebreaker, or question for team members to think about. These icebreakers are a great way for team members to get to know each other outside of the office individuals, as they almost never have to do with work. 

After the ice breaker, the meeting follows a relatively standard format, with the opportunity for everyone to participate:

EDSI Solutions: Scaling a Culture of Servant Leadership

Serious About Servant Leadership? Define How to Live It.

In 2006, when Chief Servant Leader, Kevin Schnieders, transitioned into his role, he quickly recognized the need to define their values. He gathered a group of 12 EDSI leaders throughout the country with the goal of uncovering what those values were.

However, after two days, there wasn’t much progress. “I remember telling my wife in frustration, I’ve done all the analytics. These people have nothing in common. I’ve got nothing. I’m no closer than I was two days ago.” In hindsight, Kevin realized he was looking at the wrong information: he was focusing on who they were in terms of background, demographics, positions, not how they treated one another.

Tasty Catering: Growing a Culture of Leaders & Family

Like Red Caffeine, IMPACT, and  Mojo Media Labs, Tasty Catering didn’t always have a great company culture. In fact, Tasty Catering began its cultural transformation in 2006, when two young and promising team members (one of whom was Tom Walter’s son) challenged Tom’s command and control leadership style. Though it wasn’t easy, Tom realized he needed to change his top-down approach and become a more collaborative leader. This realization, coupled with defining their seven core values, began their cultural transformation as a company.

ACE Metal: How to Overcome Language Barriers, Teach Emotional Intelligence, & Create Wellness in the Workplace

1. Overcoming Language Barriers in the Workplace

ACE is especially unique because of their diverse workforce. They have five distinct cultures and languages within their organization: Serbian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Polish, and English, and team members from a diverse range of socio economic statuses, education, and backgrounds. How do they overcome these language barriers?

  1. Define How You Live Your Company Values  

Company values are key in creating company culture, but without defining how you live them, they can only be so effective. This is especially important when you have a diverse mix of cultures and backgrounds.

For example, Chief Relationship Officer, Deb Benning, shared with me that one team member said, that if someone made a mistake, he would never trust that person again. How do you explain to this team member, that it’s ok to make a mistake, so long as you’re living the values? You explain your value of “Trust” and what it means at ACE.  

CV #19 Tuthill: How We Help our Team Members Come Alive & Wake the World

The Path to Aliveness: Awareness –> Responsibility -> Aliveness

What does aliveness mean? To Tuthill, aliveness is about uncovering the things — whether they are activities, people, roles, or all of the above — that give you energy and bring you to life. They think about aliveness in five categories: purpose, connection, energy, present & engaged, and the full spectrum of human emotions (sad, angry, scared, happy, excited, tender).  To help team members discover what brings them alive, Tuthill hosts a series of three, three-day retreats, for groups of 11-12 team members from various levels of the organization.

The results of these retreats have been incredible: saving marriages, saving the company millions of dollars, and initiating job transitions. Because Tuthill wants their team members to join the retreats with open minds, I can only share a general overview of how they uncover aliveness. Here’s how it works:

CV #18 Red Caffeine: On Culture Reinvention, Emotional Intelligence & the “Platinum Rule” in the Workplace

1) You Can Always Reinvent Your Company Culture

Kathy Steele, Red Caffeine’s CEO and Founder, took me through the same presentation she takes every new team member on their first day– a presentation on Red Caffeine’s history and reinvention as a values-driven company. Kathy believes that sharing their origin story grounds team members in their company core values and helps to create an inclusive team environment. The origin story has a strong impact on team members as well. As Graphic Designer, Albert Davis, shared with me “It [sharing the history of Red Caffeine] made me admire Kathy even more than I already did. She started from her house and made it into an awesome thing that it is now. She was pretty transparent – she showed the pitfalls and the process. She shared how Desert Rose fell apart and the mistakes she made and what she would do better. I’m early in my career, and you know what, it helped me realize that as long as you can look at what you did wrong and move forward it’s not that bad.”

CV #13 Scribe Media Pt 2: The Power of Language, Defining Your Culture, & Bringing Your Whole Self to Work

  1. The Power of Defining Your Culture in a Living Document

PAUSE: You absolutely must read Scribe Media’s Culture Document.

It is an incredible google doc that explicitly outlines Scribe Media’s company culture. The Culture Doc outlines who they are (purpose), what they’re trying to achieve (mission), what they believe (their values), and their principles (how they apply their values to their actions) on a daily basis. For those of you who are thinking, “what’s so unique about writing your culture down?” The answer is that the culture is defined, intentional, and explicit. The Culture Document provides a clear outline of how they treat one another and make decisions. Furthermore, the document provides transparency and accountability. The best part of the Culture Doc - is that it’s lived out. I both witnessed this during my visit with Scribe Media and also heard it countless times from tribe members - it’s not just online, it’s reality.

CV #13 Scribe Media Pt 1: A Story About Radical Generosity

Before I can even begin to tell you about the phenomenal culture at Scribe Media, I have to share a bit of JT’s personal story with you, as it sets the framework for everything else in this blog, especially this short story about radical generosity.  

JT got to know the founders of Scribe Media, when he decided that he wanted to document his life story for his children. Together, JT and Tucker, Co-Founder & previous CEO of Scribe Media (formerly known as Book in a Box) wrote JT’s story “I Got There: How I Overcame Racism, Poverty, and Abuse to Achieve the American Dream.”

In short, JT grew up with an orphan mother and a father who was a pimp and a drug dealer. He moved around often as a child, described himself as “po” because they couldn’t afford the “or” to be poor, has 23 half siblings, and suffered abuse from his father’s prostitutes both physical and sexual. He started his professional career by cleaning toilets, worked his way up through various careers––exceeded in sales–– and eventually became the President of Headspring Technology. After a couple of years as President, JT decided he wanted to write a book about his life so that his children would know where he came from, which is how he stumbled upon Scribe Media and unintentionally became the CEO.

CV #17 Pegasus Logistics: How to Become a Culture of Learning


Despite it being the busiest time of the quarter at Pegasus Logistics Group, Candice Gouge, VP of Talent & Engagement, and Lance Shipp, CFO, were kind enough to make the time to chat with me. This was my second time visiting Pegasus and we dove deep into how they became a culture of learning and development. 

Pegasus wasn’t always a culture of learning and development. In fact, they didn’t begin to focus on learning and development until 3 years ago, as a result of a company reorganization and the desire to invest more into its employees. Recognizing the long-term importance of talent pipeline and internal promotion (both on employee engagement and bottom line success) they began their journey of becoming a culture of learning and development. As Candice stated, “A culture of learning starts with the leaders of the organization believing that learning is important and supporting it.” 

Today, they have multiple robust programs including: Individual Development Plans (IDPs), 1-2-1 Check-Ins, Foundational Leadership Courses for everyone in the organization, a 10-month Next Level Leadership Course for supervisors with direct reports, a 42-Week Peer Development Plan, which is a rotation program for recent graduates, monthly lunch and learns, and an LMS system which keeps track of all the content. Throughout the day, I learned about these programs, observed a 1-2-1 between Candice and Lance (a huge part of their culture), and crossed an item off my bucket list--driving a pickup truck in Texas (but that’s another story). I could write a book about all of their material, but I’ll keep it to the most digestible and easy to implement. Here’s what I learned:

CV #16 Mojo Media Labs: 5 Takeaways on Company Culture with Mojo Media Labs


1. A Short Onboarding Survey Goes a Long Way

When Mojo Media Labs onboards a new team member, they have them fill out a simple survey of their favorite things and preferences. Examples of questions include: How do you like your coffee? What’s your favorite food/snack? What’s your learning style? Who’s your celebrity crush? What’s your preferred way of communication (text, call, slack, email)? The survey helps Mojo Media Labs to know how to celebrate, reward, and recognize their team members. For example, on Director of Culture & First Impressions, Ashton Adair’s, first mojoversary (one year of employment), her office was decorated with actor John Krasinki photos because he’s one of her celebrity crushes. Now, 6 months later, she keeps the photos up because it’s a reminder to her that her team members know and care about her.

CV #15 Call-Em-All: How they Turned the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team into a Formula for Success & So Much More

1. Turning the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team into a Formula for Success  

Everyone on the Call-Em-All team—interns included—has to read Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dsyfunctions of a Team. In short, this book is about the five major root causes of dysfunction in teams and the keys to overcoming them. 

Inspired to create a highly functional team, Call-Em-All studied the five dysfunctions and thought deeply about how they could address them as a team. They “call-em-all-ized” their solution and came up with their formula, or code of conduct. The best part about this formula is that it 1) Acknowledges the most common challenges from the get-go, so team members are aware of them. 2) Normalizes and gives team members common language to address the five dysfunctions, whenever they arise. It’s not uncommon to hear team members say any of these phrases (below), especially the starred ones.

CV #14 Venturity: Culture-Driven Results


1. Turn Down the Wrong Clients

Venturity’s business model is built around long-term relationships with clients, which is why it’s important that they share Venturity’s 5 passions (core values), primarily “valuing great information and exceptional service.” The business development team works hard to understand what the potential client values before doing business with them because they’ve seen what happens to team morale when a client is not a culture fit.  Director of Business Development, Abby Fuqua, said “It’s important that Clients find real value in what Venturity brings to the table, because it’s not just about transactions, it’s about relationships. Our ideal clients are great people too!” And when it seems like a client is much more transactional than relational, they refer them to do business with someone else.

CV#12 Vital Farms: Understanding Their Multi-Stakeholder Approach to Business


Founded: In 2007 by Matt O’Hayer and his wife, Catherine Stewart. After returning from life on the ocean, Matt and Catherine wanted a way to get back in touch with their roots. Matt had raised chickens in his youth, so with a little convincing, Matt and Catherine bought a 27-acre piece of land and began raising hens. Over time, twenty-two hens turned into 1,000 chicks and they went from selling to farmer’s markets to Whole Foods. Driven by the desire to bring ethically produced food to the table and to scale the model of pasture-raised eggs, they have partnered with over 130 small farmers and produce over a million eggs a day.

Purpose: To bring ethically produced food to the table.

Employees: 110 | 2017 Revenue (estimated by Forbes): $100M

Community: Community/Environment is one of Vital Farms’ 5 stakeholders. The company holds quarterly meetings for all its farmers, and are active in the Springfield community, regularly hosting tours of its plant and farms.  Vital Farms took a regenerative approach to the design and construction of its first full-scale egg packing plant which opened last fall, including restoring native vegetation to the site, and creating a multi-stage rain garden, which holds and filters water falling on the property before returning it to the local aquifer.

CV #11 Vanderbloemen Search Group: United in their Purpose to Staff Churches


Founded: In 2008 by William and Adrienne Vanderbloemen in Houston, TX. William combined his 15+ years of experience in ministry, with his expertise in HR to create the first staffing firm for churches, ministries, and faith-based organizations.

2017 Revenue: 5.8 million | Employees: 40

Purpose: To staff the church.

Values: Broadband Love, Unusual Servanthood, Wow-Making Excellence, Ridiculous Responsiveness, Solution-Side Living, Ever-Increasing Agility, Stewardship of Life, Constant Improvement, Contagious Fun

 Community: While their purpose is already community-driven, Vanderbloemen Search Group is working on official engagement programming outside of their roles. Today, they take service days with the whole team and volunteer in local non-profits in Houston.

CV #10 t u r n e r b o o n e: How to Create Good Energy in the Workplace


Founded: In 2004 by Ellen Turner and Laura Boone. Through their combined experience working in furniture dealerships and manufacturing, they were inspired to change the commodity-style office furniture business into an experience that goes way beyond transactional procurement. 

Employees: 30 employees | 2017 Revenue: 28 million

Purpose: To contribute to their clients’ long-term success by elevating the human experience through workspaces that improve employee engagement, collaboration, and innovation.

Values: Accountable, Caring, Accessible

Community: Most recently, every Friday in June they sent a different team over to help build a house in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity. They support the local art community by featuring artwork by local artists in the showroom. They have a rap music studio in the building and they also offer their space to the community to host events.

CV #9 Taylor English: Be the Law Firm You Wish To See in The World


Founded: In 2005 by Marc Taylor, Joe English, and Scott Duma, among others. They had been practicing law for years and were tired of the traditional ways of doing things, so they built this law firm to incentivize the type of environment they wanted to work in.

Revenue: 50 Million | Employees: 215

Values: Opportunity, Accountability, Gratitude, Excellence

Community: Donated thousands of hours of pro-bono law, board-level guidance, coaching and advocacy, as well as financially supporting local charities. They also provide office space for the nonprofit Georgia Appleseed Center for Law & Justice in their space.