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Welcome to my blog on company culture! I’m traveling the country visiting companies with great workplace cultures and writing about them. Why? Find out here.

Julia Kortberg


EDSI Solutions: Scaling a Culture of Servant Leadership

EDSI Solutions: Scaling a Culture of Servant Leadership


Founded: In 1979 by W. Robert Schnieders in Dearborn, MI. Educational Data Systems, Inc. (EDSI) started out providing relocation services to 50 dislocated auto workers and has expanded its services to include workforce development, customized training, and consulting for both the private and public sectors. Today, the company is led by Chief Servant Leader (CSL) Kevin Schnieders and has over 54 locations across the country.

Employees: ~700 | Revenue: $61 M

Mission: We provide successful business services and jobseeker placement and retention services for various government programs and corporations across the country. We must strive to create enthusiasm in our clients, see through their eyes, understand their needs and deliver more than they expect.

Values: Show Up. Smile. Support.

Painted Picture (Vision): Link to EDSI’s 2020 “Painted Picture” 

Community: Every EDSI office participates in at least 2 community service events each year.


As defined by the founder of the Servant Leadership Model, Robert Greenleaf, “The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. EDSI has an impressive culture of servant leadership, starting with Chief Servant Leader, Kevin Schnieders, that has scaled successfully over time. Since transitioning into his role as CSL in 2006, the company has grown from $16M and 200 team members to $61M and over 700 team members.

To gain a deeper understanding of how servant leadership plays out in the organization, I spoke with the following team members through a variety of both in-person and virtual interviews: Chief Talent Officer, Arlene Jones, (21 years); Chief Servant Leader, Kevin Schnieders (28 years); Regional Director, Colleen Henning, (18.5 years); Bilingual Facilitator, Daniel Rivera (16 months); Betty Tran, Community Outreach and Engagement Specialist, (9 months); Kevin Watson, Director of Business Development, (8.5 years); and Reina Kimso, HR Director, (14 years). Here were my main takeaways:  


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.

A few days later, as he was driving on the highway, EDSI’s values came to him: Show up, Smile, Support. The alliteration stood out to Kevin “There’s something about the brain and threes,” he said. But beyond the alliteration, was their meaning. “These people show up for one another when they’re most needed. They’re positive. They’re always looking for what the solution can be moving forward, and then they smile: they put other people before themselves.” In other words, servant leadership.

While Kevin’s instinct was right about alliteration and a set of threes making it easy to remember, he realized that just because team members remembered the values, it didn’t mean they lived them. “For a year, I was running around telling people show up smile and support,” he said. One day a team member approached him and said, “Kevin, I get ‘show up.’ I get ‘support.’ But what’s smile about?”

Recognizing the need for clarity, Kevin defined 45 ways to live out the values in the first time he wrote it out. This draft included statements like, “I care enough about you to tell you that you have toilet paper on your shoe.” With feedback from the team, he narrowed down the list to 12. In hindsight, he says he would stop at 9 because “there’s something about the brain and threes.” (see below) 

Similar to ACE Metal and Scribe Media, defining the behaviors of values, the “Daily Ways’ at EDSI has been instrumental in showing the team how to live the servant leader values.



·      I always arrive on time

·      I am the best me that I can be today

·      I use my judgement and take initiative

·      My word is my bond


·      I wonder

·      I am self-aware

·      I treat my colleagues like customers

·      I am part of the solution


·      I live my professional life in service of others

·      I love other people’s perspectives

·      I do what is best for the blocks

·      I talk with people not about them

While defining the behaviors of how to live values is certainly a step in the right direction, here are three ways that EDSI integrates values into the organization:

“Someone told me you have to take the values off the walls and put them in the halls.” – Kevin Schnieders

Integrating the “Daily Ways” Into the Organization 

1.  Keeping Values Top of Mind: The Daily Ways Videos

Every week, Chief Servant Leader, Kevin Schnieders, records and sends out a 2-minute video to all ~700 EDSI team members with a story or example of someone living out the daily ways. This serves a few purposes: 1) It creates a weekly touchpoint from Kevin with a team of 700 team members 2) It shares how the value is lived 3) It reinforces the importance of the daily ways and keeps them top of mind.

These videos go a long way. In every one of my eight conversations with EDSI team members, the daily ways videos were mentioned. “The videos are good inspiration and a great way to see how Kevin lives them” said Bilingual Facilitator, Daniel Rivera. “They also help me to feel very connected to the headquarters and senior leadership.”

 EDSI uploads all of their Daily Ways videos to their YouTube channel. Here’s an example of “I live my professional life in service of others”, where Kevin tells a story about radical generosity.

2. Recognizing Values: Show Up, Smile, Support Coins

Another way EDSI reinforces living their values is through recognizing and rewarding team members with Show Up, Smile, Support Coins. The coins are simple. On one side is the EDSI logo, and on the other side are the words “Show Up. Smile. Support.” The purpose of these coins is to recognize team members for when they go above and beyond in living a daily way or value. To nominate a colleague, a team member or manager simply goes online and fills out a brief form. From there, it goes to Kevin, who then personally writes a hand-written note or email recognizing and thanking them for going above and beyond in living the EDSI values.

“The reason I give out the coins is so that team members know that I’m hearing their stories as well, and to me, that has even more significance because of the role I’m asked to play for the company,” said Kevin.

In addition to receiving the note and Show Up, Smile, Support Coin, the team member also receives an additional coin to give to another team member. This helps create a culture of generosity and peer-to-peer recognition. Since starting this reward and recognition program, four years ago, EDSI estimates that they’ve given out over 3,000 coins. While the coins hold no monetary value, they are treasured by team members, some keeping them on their desk even years later.

3. Rewarding Values: Personal Improvement Plan (PIP) Evaluations

Another way in which EDSI integrates values into their organization is by including the values in their bi-annual performance reviews. The performance review is based 50% on values and 50% on skills and performance. Team members are asked to evaluate on a scale of 1-5 how they feel they are living up to the daily ways for each value. Their manager does the same and they have a discussion around it. At the end of the year, team members are rewarded with merit increases of 0-5% based on both their performance and values. Including the values on performance reviews and basing merit increases off them, keeps values top of mind for team members.

The Little Things That Matter Most: Maintaining Touch Points in a Growing Organization

While the Daily Ways videos and Show Up, Smile, Support coins are great ways to keep the smaller company feel as the organization grows, Kevin also works hard to maintain personal relationships with team members through annual Town Hall Meetings.

 Town Hall Meetings

Four years ago, Kevin found himself complaining that he didn’t know people the way he used to. At the time, they were an organization with 450 team members located in 35 offices across the country. The idea occurred to him to do “Town Hall Meetings,” where he would visit the offices and meet with groups of 10-12 team members at a time to have personal conversations. His goal was to visit 450 people in 45 days. Then 600 people in 60 days and now 700 people in less than a year.

While the Town Hall Meetings include company-wide updates and a check-in with how things are going professionally, the primary purpose of the meeting is to develop deeper relationships. Town Hall Stories, where team members share what they look forward to in the next 60 days, are the highlight of any Town Hall.

“We try to make stories as specific as possible. So for example, if someone shares that they’re going on a cruise, we ask them where, and when,” said Kevin.

From there, Executive Assistant, Jennifer Sarkisian will put the date and details of the cruise on Kevin’s calendar. When the date rolls around, Kevin can reach out wishing them a relaxing vacation. “It only takes 30 seconds to reach out and it makes a big difference,” said Kevin.

In fact, since he’s started reaching out to team members, it’s quadrupled the number of times team members will reach out to him, and mostly with personal updates.  

“Even though I’m in Philadelphia, I feel very connected to our headquarters in Dearborn. Kevin’s response time is 3 minutes!” – Daniel Rivera, Bilingual Translator

As you can imagine, it’s difficult to keep track of four years of Town Hall stories with over 700 team members. To be intentional about remembering everyone’s stories, Kevin and Jen have come up with a solution: baseball cards. The card includes an employee picture and tidbits of information including their birthday, work anniversary, favorite food, fun facts, and their Town Hall stories. Before entering the Town Hall meetings, Kevin will review the cards as a refresher, helping to build strong relationships.

Retaining Talent Through FIT and Career Sculpting

 While EDSI is a growing organization, they are also a relatively flat one. To help keep team members engaged at work and learning new skills, they have created two powerful programs: Functional Improvement Teams (FIT) and Career Sculpting.

 1. Functional Improvement Teams: FIT

A FIT is an 8-week project, designed to have team members across the organization work together to solve an internal company issue. The goal of the FIT is two-fold: learn a new skill while working to solve a business need. At the end of the 8 weeks, team members present their findings to leadership.

An example of a successful FIT project was asking teams to build an internship program that could be replicated and consistent across all EDSI offices. The results of the FIT provided EDSI the initial framework to create a consistent and meaningful internship experience that they continue to use today.  To date, EDSI began the FIT program 4 years ago and has completed over 16+ FITs.

To be part of a FIT project, team members must be nominated by their managers or directors. From there, EDSI leaders pose FIT project ideas and send them out to the list of team members, who can then indicate their interest.

Community Outreach and Engagement Specialist, Betty Tran, is a great example of someone using FIT to explore their interests.  Betty used her passion for language and helping others to increase the quality of non-English services through a FIT project. “I love working on side projects that I’m passionate about outside of my daily role,” said Betty.

The FITs also have a positive impact on leadership. As Chief Talent Officer, Arlene Jones shared, “I get so excited watching a FIT presentation at the end of 8 weeks. There is so much passion and energy. I love watching these cross functional teams, from a variety of locations, working together to bring bright ideas to important EDSI initiatives. It’s a great way to grow their skills on work that is interesting to them and maximizes their strengths.”

2. Career Sculpting

Another way in which EDSI helps their team members grow is through their Career Sculpting program. In this program, a less experienced team member is matched with someone who is more experienced. They meet to learn more about their position, field, and general career advice.

Similar to FIT projects, team members are nominated by their manager or director to participate. For the first month of the Career Sculpting program, team members meet once a week for an hour to help establish the relationship. For the second month, they meet bi-weekly, and by the third month, they are meeting on a quarterly basis.

In addition to providing guidance as team members navigate both personal and professional challenges, career sculpting also helps with retention. As Chief Talent Officer, Arlene Jones shared, “I have been working with someone for the past 8 years. We went through meetings that focused on enhancing customer relationships, handling employee situations, the loss of a family member and more recently the fact that she didn’t want to do what she was doing anymore. She confided that she was thinking she had to look for other opportunities. This is somebody we wanted to retain. This is also someone who was generally very private and the thought of talking about this was hard. However, we pulled the information we had discussed over the years along with her strengths and eventually talked about opportunities that I thought could fit those strengths and benefit EDSI. She is currently working in a completely different capacity that she never thought was an option at EDSI.”

Soft Landing: Transitioning Team Members Out of the Organization

EDSI is truly unique in the way they care for their team members throughout their lifecycle at the company – even when it’s time to leave. While the goal is to retain team members and help them grow within the organization, EDSI recognizes it’s sometimes not a great fit. Team members who have been laid off, have a contract ending, or struggle with culture adjustment, are given a soft-landing; i.e. 30, 60, or 90 days to find new employment.

Throughout the 30, 60, or 90-day period, EDSI encourages team members to take as much time as they need to schedule interviews and search for a new role –  so long as they can maintain their current performance. The program is very successful.

 “The psychological damage that comes from being unemployed is very significant, so it’s much better off if you’re looking for a job, while you still have one and most employers want to hire you because you have a job. We’re in the business to help people. Even if it doesn’t work out with us, we don’t want to see you unemployed.  It’s worked beautifully and it’s another tool in the toolbox.” – Kevin Schnieders


EDSI is in the business of helping people and they’ve built an organizational culture that does the same. While, they are growing significantly, they continue to be intentional about creating frequent touchpoints between leadership and team members. By integrating the values of servant leadership into the organization, they have created a business that helps clients, team members, and even profit margins grow.


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