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How to Improve Your Company's Culture

TAMPA (MainStreet) -- There's so much talk about company "culture," it's easy to be cynical. But it does exist, and it is important to your business, says Bobby Harris, CEO of BlueGrace Logistics.

BlueGrace is a freight and logistics service provider founded in 2007. Given the strong growth expectations for the freight and logistics industry, the company began franchising in January 2011. It currently has 20 franchised locations and four company stores in 12 states.
Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, with Bill Gates at Berkshire's annual meeting, the corporate world's "cultural" event of the year.

Harris is a big proponent of good company culture. He believes it fosters positive work environments, which leads to employee retention and, of course, increased sales. BlueGrace even has a full-time culture coordinator who plans company events, potluck lunches and other initiatives as well as a community manager that manages all of its social media efforts. Combined they assist to keep a strong positive company culture, Harris says.

How do you define culture?

Harris: Culture means something different for everybody. Is it a family-run business? Is it a corporate-run business? For me, having culture doesn't mean it's a good thing because you can have a bad culture. Culture is almost interchangeable with the word spirit. We believe the way the world's evolving so quickly, especially in our industry, at the end of the day we can count on two things: our brand and our culture.

[We invest in culture] as much as anything we do. The way we measure our success is how much we enjoy coming to work so that's why we spend a lot of effort and time to make sure that we're at a happy place.

We do a lot of different things here even though we're growing very fast. We try and keep a small company feel. [As CEO] I try and know everybody intimately. We feel that social media has been a big boon for us in allowing us to have a little insight into everybody's lives and vice versa.

What did you do to create the culture?

Harris: You can't just use that as idol verbiage. You really have to come in every day with that commitment.

You have to do little things every day to address it. Many times people don't get to know their CEO, [who tends to be] stand-offish or private. I think that probably from the ground floor up most of us know what's going on in each others' lives and we don't come in here being so guarded. For instance, social media allows me to know that Billy's son hit a home run last week.

We also allow people a lot of freedom here. If you hire the right people they won't abuse it. Our franchises are an extension of that. We hope they adopt [the culture]. A lot of that is interacting with them the same way we do with our employees. Franchisees come here a lot. They fly in. We have an open door here. We constantly have a steady flow of franchisees that come in and hang out here and get a feel and learn things. We really encourage them to be around it. And we're constantly communicating with them.

What can detract from culture?

Harris: We always say that if you start losing focus and don't make culture primary -- if you start making that number five or six on your list -- it will fall away. Nothing is more important. You can also find people that don't fit the culture. You can't let them remain in the system.

How does culture translate into sales?

Harris: A good culture fosters happy people. Happy people are by far more productive people and happy people take better care of their customers. If you have the right culture, you're going to reduce turnover, your customers will feel it and your customers will stay with you a lot longer. A lot of people say success breeds happiness but it's the other way around: Happiness breeds success.

What would you suggest to other businesses that may need to improve their culture?

Harris: Really foster your employees to recognize each other. That's probably the most important thing. We have a peer-to-peer bonus program. We want them to recognize each other [for work that's done above and beyond] with us providing the resources [to reward them]. We put a lot of positive press up on the plasma TVs -- a customer comment or what's going on that's good in their life.

Focus on something important for the entire organization. A lot of our people have a strong desire to assist animals. We made the Humane Society a primary charity. We have several people who donate their time. We will pay them half of that time. If you want to leave a couple of hours early every few week, as long as you do your equal amount, say eight hours of charity, we will pay four hours of charity as regular time.

We also have free beer Fridays. Again, we rely on the responsibility of everybody here. They all enjoy to spend time with each other.

You can never have enough organized sports for your company. It's healthy and there is a lot of opportunity for people to get to know each other.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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