What kind of “culture” are you encouraging at your business? A lighting manufacturer and a retailer share what works for them.
“Your business has a defined culture, whether you know it or not – and whether you planned it or not,” quips Cathy Choi, president of light bulb manufacturer Bulbrite, which was founded by her father (Andrew Choi) 40 years ago. When Choi took over the reins in 2009 upon his retirement, she thought very deliberately about the transition and hired a consultant to help. “My father had built a values-based company and I wanted to do the same,” she notes.
Deciding what that “culture” would be was a company-wide effort. “We closed the company for half a day and held a workshop where everyone had a part in the process of defining who we are as a company and what our values are,” she recalls. Not only did Choi set out to intentionally create the company culture, but she didn’t want it to be “her” way. “I wanted everyone to be aligned as to what our values are,” she explains.
One of the exercises was to discover what each person liked to do when they were not at work. “You couldn’t say, ‘be with friends and family’ because everyone says that,” Choi comments. From there, the group found common ground and also characteristics they shared such as creativity, pride in accomplishment, or striving for excellence. “We whittled our list down to six or seven core values and [brainstormed an acronym] that would make it easy to remember,” she says. The result was the BE BRITE chart that is prominently placed in the headquarters.
Games and fun activities are centered around the BE BRITE culture, one of which is having custody of a giant rubberband ball on their desk (in a display case) and the number one parking spot for a month. “Everyone nominates someone who they have noticed going that extra step in meeting the BE BRITE values that month. The winner is announced at the monthly company meeting,” she remarks. Management can be nominated, but they can’t “win.”
Every Thursday, the company has a 30-minute training session on a variety of topics – ranging from product knowledge to customer service – that covers the “Educate Yourself & Others” portion of the BE BRITE acronym.
Bulbrite’s hiring process is based entirely on how well the candidate fits in with the company’s culture. “We don’t do personality tests, but we interview extensively [face to face] based on value alignment,” Choi states. In fact, every job in the company, from warehouse worker to an executive position, goes through that process. Even if Choi has heard through the industry grapevine how terrific a lighting industry member is at a certain job, if she is considering him/her for Bulbrite, the interview steps are the same. While the hiring process may be a time-consuming one for all involved, Choi says it’s well worth the effort. “Once someone is in the door [starting their first day], it’s too late to find out they don’t fit the culture,” she affirms.
At the multi-generational family-run retail chain Capitol Lighting, the interview process is also very thorough and includes a written personality test. “We hire slowly and conduct several interviews, but what is most important is a cultural fit. We are a team [atmosphere]. What matters most is attitude, attitude, and attitude,” according to Eric Lebersfeld, vp/marketing.
For Capitol Lighting, as with Bulbrite, there are core values that have been agreed upon by all of the employees. At Capitol, the acronym is the word PRAISE. “We wanted it to be simple and memorable,” Lebersfeld states. Of course, “praise” is one of the things that the management team embraces most. “Recognition is the easiest thing to give, but so many times people forget to do it. People don’t leave a company because of the paycheck, they leave due to a lack of recognition,” he explains. “We’ve started giving out a PRAISE Award on a quarterly basis to two employees who have been nominated by their sales manager for [exemplary service].” Winners receive $250, a certificate, and lunch with the senior manager of their choice.
The first 15 days for a new employee at Capitol Lighting is an intensive training program to help get new hires up to speed. “We have some great tools in our toolbox and a pretty robust training program that encompasses three things: internal systems, general sales training, and product knowledge,” Lebersfeld comments.
As part of those training sessions, new employees are taught about “Moments of Truth,” which are the subtle ways that employees impact customers. “How you greet someone or answer the phone can either enhance your relationship with a customer or crush it,” Lebersfeld explains. “We have a list of core values that we adhere to in our corporate culture. We want our business to be the best place an employee has every worked. We want to make sure everyone feels productive, realizes that they are adding value, and that their professional needs are satisfied.”
It is no coincidence that both Bulbrite and Capitol Lighting have had a good portion of employees happily remain with the company for several decades. Teamwork and shared goals are the secrets to establishing an incredibly successful and harmonious business.