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Creating a Culture That Drives Success

Creating a Culture That Drives Success
Co-founders of Comfort Research Matt Jung and Chip George

Every year, Forbes publishes its list of 25 “Small Giants,” which celebrates businesses that favor greatness over growth through their community involvement, commitment to staff and industry excellence. Three recent winners were Vistage members, each of them in one of Chair Steve Johandes’ Grand Rapids Michigan-based groups. The commonalities don’t end there. These leaders each attribute a great part of their success to building a culture that values, celebrates and incentivizes employees.

Dwight Strayer is COO of Service Express, Inc., which specializes in data center maintenance for server, storage and networking equipment.

Mike Marsiglia is managing partner and shareholder at Atomic Object, a consultancy that designs and develops custom software for businesses.

Matt Jung is co-founder of Comfort Research, which is best known for manufacturing and selling Big Joe brand products.

Q. What are your core values?
To help our employees achieve their personal, professional and financial goals.
Give a s**t, think long term, own it, share the pain, teach and learn, and act transparently.
Find a better way, do the right thing and expect the best.
Q. How did you land on those values?
Our founder would take us to breakfast and had us go through a goal-setting program. When the founder stepped back from day-to-day operations in 2002, we knew we needed a mission statement. We looked at each other and said, “What do we do here?” We help people hit their goals.
Our founder, Carl Erickson, took a step back and asked the question, “What are the behaviors that people exhibit when they contribute really well to the business?” We wrote down our observations to be sure that, as we grew, we stayed true to who we were.
We’d identified 11 things that were going to be great for the customer, but they weren’t really impactful. We were in an advisory board meeting and Vistage Chair Jeff Hutsell says, “You guys just find a better way.” I woke up that night like, “That dude just gave us our core value.” That’s part of our essence. We don’t stand still.
Q. How did you ensure that your mission was ingrained in your staff and team?
From the president down to the frontline employees, we have “ROIs”—responsibilities, objectives, indicators—that are visible to everyone. Anybody in the company can look up anyone else to see exactly what they’re doing and how they’re performing. We also have a quarterly report that everyone fills out with priorities and goals for the next 90 days. It helps people break down large goals into smaller segments. This creates alignment from the top down and the ground up.
When we hire a new person, there’s always a conversation about our values. We also built an internal recognition program that focuses on those values. We announce these recognitions every morning during our company-wide stand-up meeting. We’re team oriented, so recognitions are peer-to-peer, not top-down. Overall, our philosophy is simple: Hire a team of smart people and create a culture in which they feel safe and empowered to do great work.
We have the FAB (Finding a Better Way) Award because we didn’t want to create a suggestion box. Anybody can suggest anything, and the highest vote-getting suggestion gets $2,500. But you have to be part of the implementation. You don’t get to throw out an idea and walk away. We also have similar awards for Expect the Best, which we call the Awesome Award. It’s peer-topeer, and that comes with a week’s paid vacation. The DiRT Award is about “Doing the Right Thing,” not at Comfort Research, but in life—like donating bone marrow or saving a drowning kid.
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