When you think about great corporate cultures, your mind likely jumps to, you know, all the brands that corporate culture consultants, speakers and thought leaders tend to focus on: Zappos. Starbucks. The Container Store. Southwest Airlines. Generally companies with great B2C (retail) customer service or at least, like Pixar, high consumer visibility.
But company culture is just as important to companies in B2B, which are more likely to fly under the public radar. Here’s a nifty example of a company in the B2B arena with a carefully and intentionally constructed corporate culture. The company is BlueGrace Logistics, a company that you’ve never heard of and may never again. What they are is a logistics company that helps North American businesses move their freight in what they claim is “the simplest and smartest way possible.” They’ve been on the Inc 5000 in both 2012 and 2014 (a list of the fastest-growing companies in America), and also–and they seem just as proud of this–on the list of Best Places To Work from 2011 through the current year.
Here’s my interview with BlueGrace CEO Bobby Harris.
Micah Solomon Often it seems that discussions of corporate culture focus on B2C companies like Zappos and Starbucks. But you’re a meat and potatoes B2B logistics organization. I am fascinated by what you have done to create a culture. Can you share several of those things with me?
Bobby Harris, CEO, BlueGrace Logistics It certainly isn’t as common to see culture so prominent in a B2B company but I still haven’t figured out why it isn’t. Having a great culture addresses so many of the core things you need to succeed at running a hyper-growth company. The culture is meant for everyone including the customers but most important are the employees and the internal energy. When we put our employees first and they in turn take care of the customers, it always works.
Here are a few things we really stress:
Hiring: The best trick for enhancing culture starts with the hiring process, we’ve become very good at finding the culture fits.
Peer-to-peer recognition (money!) and mentoring: Our workspace is very open and almost always executives are on the floor (I’m writing this from an open cubicle myself). We stress peer-to-peer recognition and allow employees to give each other $50 bonuses when they see fit, paid by the company. Everyone gets a mentor for the first 6 months and then they go into an executive forum that focuses on anything the employee’s desires including personal growth outside of work. We discuss core values and our forward vision weekly and the team knows where we are headed.
Anonymous employee feedback weekly–directly to the CEO: We don’t ask for feedback annually–we ask for it weekly and do it via a new question each week which they answer anonymously that comes directly to me. They also include suggestions and everything that is submitted is responded to by me personally and the top ideas are shared at our Monday morning company-wide meeting.
We do also do some of the things other high-culture organizations do, such as theme days every month, and we have what it is considered by many to be the biggest Halloween party [the event is adorably named BooGrace–Micah] in Florida every year and our annual pet food drive for homeless animals was the 2nd largest in the US last year.
Dress code: “Wear what you’d wear on a first date”: We have a “first-date” dress code where employees wear whatever they deem they would on a first date and the policy works great.
Micah: My specific professional area (as a consultant, author and speaker) is company culture as it improves customer service and the customer experience. Can you talk about this?
Bobby: We hire empathetic people and those who have a background in serving others with a smile. We also know that everyone has a bad day, week or month at times and at any given time many some of our people are dealing with personal struggles.
Having a place where they want to be in all times good and bad creates an energy that fuels positive interactions with our customers. I strongly suggest to all companies that they open up social media to their employees, it allows them some time to interact with the world when their workload lightens. The content that comes from it allows their peers and our clients to them at a personal level. It’s very powerful in helping create a customer serving culture.
Micah: How did you get interested in the idea of culture?
Bobby: Since the day I started my first business I realized it was imperative. You spend more hours with your coworkers and at work than with your own family so it only makes sense to surround yourself with positive people and great energy.
Micah: Anything you’ve tried that hasn’t worked?
Bobby: We’ve overthought it at times but any initiative that isn’t working is usually easy to unwind. The biggest decision that is a threat to culture is easily the hiring of the wrong person. Hiring a misfit is far worse than meets the eye and you have to push them out as quickly as you identify that trait.
Micah: What’s next for BlueGrace Logistics?
Bobby: As we grow we keep an intense amount of focus on ensuring we all know each other. We are now approaching 200 employees and we are committed to keeping the relationships as personal as they have always been. We have also seen our franchise system grow very fast and employees and are being added daily. To that end we plan on adding more focus to our franchise system by assisting and encouraging culture initiatives system wide.
Micah Solomon is a company culture consultant, company culture speaker, customer service keynote speaker and a bestselling customer service author, most recently of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service