Honest Listening: What Peter says and one practice

Honest Listening: What Peter says and one practice

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.

Peter Drucker

When she walked into my office, she was clearly nervous. We had worked together for six months. In the next five minutes, she shared a very personal medical condition, how the treatment would take her out of work, and her concerns about her job and her health. There were tears.

I heard the words – and knew the next step was to leverage the policies we had in place to help all of our people get the same level of support and organizational compassion.

Somewhere in those five minutes, I heard some other unspoken messages:

  • I want to be a mom more than anything
  • I am scared
  • I love this job
  • I trust you to help me Scott, that is why I am sharing this

Within the unspoken words is the space where empathy happens, where we get to really understand what matters to people, and where the passions and fears exist that help us truly know someone.

The next time you have a conversation, listen for the unspoken messages. What do you notice? This is the real practice of honest listening, and it takes putting them first.

Honest Listening: The data behind psychological noise, and 1 experiment

Honest Listening: The data behind psychological noise, and 1 experiment

I was listening to a speaker recently who shared some startling statistics on our brain activity:

  • We all have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day
  • 95 – 98% are the same we had the day before

So I tried an experiment: at the end of every day, I wrote down the thoughts that seemed to be clogging up my brain during that day. The kind of thoughts that I kept thinking about, but did nothing about. As an EOS® implementer, I have been taught by Gino Wickman to call this stuff head trash.

Funny thing happened – after writing down the head trash each evening, I slept better, and after a few days those thoughts became a lot less prominent in my daily 70,000.

Honest Listening

Honest Listening

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Stephen R. Covey

I heard this quote a couple of weeks ago and for the first time I understood. I have carried it around as a lens for myself for the last few weeks and it has changed several conversations for me – for the better.

Try an experiment ~ write it on a post-it, on the top of some meeting agendas, or any other way to remind you of it as you interact with others. Let me know what you notice: scott@thetrugroup.com

Honesty Quote

Honesty Quote

A great nugget that I wanted to share with you today. A quote from a friend around the sharing of difficult truths:

Truth without love is mean.

Love without truth is a lie.

Rodger Price, Leading by DESIGN

One of my core beliefs is fear only motivates for the short term, but love motivates for the long term. (p. 20 – People-Centered Performance)

There is lots being written about honesty today, and I want to make sure no leaders in my community forget the Love part, because the outcome is tragic to a relationship.

Lead well!

Strategic Time: Are you at 10%?

Strategic Time: Are you at 10%?

How much time do you, as a leader, spend on the strategic work of your business?

Wondering what strategic work is? First, here is what it’s not:

  1. Simply being in a room with your peer leaders and your team leader: Harvard Business Review (Stop Wasting Valuable Time by Michael Mankins) did a study on leadership teams and found 65% of them focused on talking at each other with information and not with each other to solve the biggest issues for the organization.
  2. Building an agenda with what the team wants to talk about: When studying leadership teams and how they structured meetings, the outcome was 3 hours per month spent on strategic issues. Ever been in a meeting where ‘input into your area’ or ‘issues being raised about your team/group’ ended up in you defending your team with the outcome being low trust, no decision, and multiple people leaving feeling like ‘that was a waste of time’? Be honest – given the choice, we build agendas that keep people ‘out of our business’ and don’t invite their input and help.

The solution is actually pretty simple, and yet not easy because too many leadership teams don’t fit the description of healthy (a cohesive, functional, open and honest, fun-loving team that enjoys working together).

Here is what strategic work is:

Weekly

  • Getting into a room each week to do a quick review of the health of the business (metrics and people/customer stories)
  • Providing an open and honest update to peers on the status of the big work for that quarter (we call them Rocks in EOS) and closing the loop on all the things people committed to doing after last week’s meeting
  • Picking 1 to 3 big issues the team feels need to get addressed and fixing them
  • Leaving with a clear idea of things to do, messages to cascade, how effective the meeting was, and what we can do next week to make it more effective

Quarterly

  • Spending a day together reviewing the long-term plan, getting on the same page around the progress to the plan for the year, updating the biggest issues/obstacles/opportunities for the year, putting a new 90-day plan in place for what has to get done, and solving a few big issues
  • Doing a fun activity together where work is NOT the topic, but connecting with each other on a more personal level is

Yearly

  • Getting away to do the quarterly work in a longer term way

It is always about spending time on the important things, and it begins with a commitment to spending 10% of your time being more strategically focused as a team. This quote showed up today in my inbox and I hope it challenges the excuse I hear most often from leaders when I share a picture of strategic time:

“I don’t have the time.” …almost always means, “this is not a priority.”

Seth Godin – sethgodin.com

If your team is spending too little time on strategic stuff or you want to step back and really look at your time, here are two great lenses to help you:

  1. Stop Wasting Valuable Time by Michael C. Mankins
  2. Read pp. 165 – 198 in Traction: Get a Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman

Time is a gift, so use it for the most important things. I hope this helps start a great conversation with your leadership team.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

Lessons in Honesty: My Menlo Tour

Lessons in Honesty: My Menlo Tour

Recently I took advantage of a culture tour of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor. While I have been on the tour seven times over the past seven years, I always leave with a key lesson or two that I can practice in my own work. This time the word radical hit me as I thought about their commitment to transparency.

Menlo’s business is software development, and they are recognized as a leader in workplace culture. If you want to know more, Rich Sheridan has just published a second book to give you a glimpse into their culture, Chief Joy Officer: How Great Leaders Elevate Human Energy and Eliminate Fear.

Here are three ways Menlo makes their goal of transparency part of their daily work:

  1. A project manager shared why/how projects that get behind are discussed – “If a project is going to get behind, I expect them to tell me right away. Our practiced response is to smile and ask one question: What do I know now that I did not know earlier? I cannot help fix it if I don’t have visibility to the issue.”
  2. They work really hard to avoid hallway project management which is the side conversations where decisions get made after the meeting. Avoiding this is a cultural norm.
  3. Pay levels are posted on the wall, so everyone knows who is classified where and salary is transparent.

I am always amazed when companies open the book on pay and levels, creating transparency in an area that many people find very hard to openly share. This is radical transparency, and it is a commitment to honesty that I have to believe sets a standard that makes people think “If we are open with that, then it should be safe to share ______________ (fill in the blank).” It also makes me ask the question of myself, “How can I practice radical transparency?”

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

The Most Valuable Hour in Your Week

The Most Valuable Hour in Your Week

We get busy.

The ‘To-Do’ list on Monday often starts with what was left on Friday. Then the messages start coming in from the people that depend on us for things — boss, peers, customers, kids, spouse, aging parents, our team, and friends. Then we respond like we have on every other Monday — we get to work.

If you stood back and considered your day, how confident are you that you are working on the most important stuff? How confident are you that you are successfully balancing the competing priorities in your life?

I was coaching a highly intelligent and capable leader who was struggling with this feedback: “You are not following up with some of your peers on key work, and are getting the reputation of not following through.” Her life was much like what I described in the first paragraph. I simply asked the question, “How do you prioritize your work when the list gets long?” Her response: “The list is always long, so I just get to work.”

The good news — she did not need marriage counseling, a spa weekend, or even a job change. She just needed to practice managing herself.

For this practice, I asked her to set aside an hour a week to step back, reset her priorities, reset herself, and THINK about the work/business that was being entrusted to her. The result? The top 2-3 priorities started getting done every week, her follow-up was more timely with key peers, and she made time for the important things while letting a few other things go. The feedback from her leader three months later supported the impact: “The sales team is feeling more connected to your work and the impact you are having on our business is exactly what I expected when we hired you.” Her feedback was: “I feel like I am having an impact and I worry/think less about work when I am not there.”

This is a practice Stephen Covey called sharpening the saw, and Gino Wickman calls a clarity break™. The people targeted with this solution are leaders who have big goals, many resources to get focused, and a world that wants a great deal from them because of their position, personal capability, personality, and power. The simple solution? Spend an hour or two a week to reset yourself and make sure you are focusing on the things that matter to you, so the barriers that are getting in the way of your own focus and joy get removed. Is your life more like this last sentence or the first paragraph of this post?

In working with and coaching leaders who live that first paragraph every week, and ironically becoming that person, the only habit I have found that allows us to be our best is to stop doing and spend some time thinking. To work ON our life and take a break from being IN our work. Try it — get away from your desk to a quiet place, turn off your phone, and spend time to review your priorities, think about the people that matter, solve a couple of big issues you or your team has placed in your hands, and plan your return to work with new focus.

I am still working on being 100% successful on that one hour a week,  so expect it to be hard.

Here is a short video where I explain the form I have created for myself to use during my TRU time. This is named after my focus of generating TRUst and facing some of my important TRUths that I want to live by.

Our work as leaders starts with us working on our own clarity, confidence and energy/joy for our work. Start making that a priority this week by practicing a clarity break!

Extra resources to learn more:

Matt Jung: Finding a Better Way | Part 3: Culture Guest Blog Series

Matt Jung: Finding a Better Way | Part 3: Culture Guest Blog Series

I was introduced to Comfort Research before I ever met Matt Jung. The first time was when I moved to Holland more than 20 years ago and heard about these poof chairs being made by some Hope College students. The next time was through their support of a charity event that I was part of. I experienced their commitment to community.

The most recent connection was when I learned that a human resource leader whom I had a lot of respect for joined their team. I believe that great companies attract great people, so I knew they had something special going on at Comfort Research. More recently, Matt stood out to me because of his tireless efforts to talk about culture and leadership through his frequent blog and LinkedIn posts. Describing Matt with the normal business titles would not do his passion justice, which is why you will hear words like “culture-catalyst” and “disrupter” used to describe his role. I will let Matt tell you the rest of the story.

Thank you, Matt, for your willingness to share your wisdom.


My name is Matt Jung, and I am an entrepreneur, business owner, leader, culture-catalyst, disrupter, and industry-leading producer of the Big Joe Brand, the coolest consumer products in the universe.  Founded in 1996 with my college roommate Chip George, our company — Comfort Research — is a lifestyle, product design, engineering, and manufacturing company based in the heart of West Michigan. We have evolved from selling foam beanbags (the patented Ahhsome Fuf Chairs) out of our college dorms to selling disruptive products through the likes of Wal-Mart, Meijer, Amazon, and Costco.

I am a big believer that culture and strategy go hand and hand, and we live that mantra at Big Joe. We have worked tirelessly to recognize, reward, and repeat those that are living Big Joe values. Our Core Business Values include:

  1. Finding a Better Way – this is not a ‘suggestion box’ company!
  2. Expect the Best – of yourself, of your peers, our vendors, and our customers.
  3. Do the Right Thing – not just at work, but also in life.

We believe that simple messages and thoughtful products create strategic alignment. In order to achieve these things you must rethink everything. And that is what we do on a daily basis. Through the principles above, we do our best to lead the company and the 200+ amazing Ambassadors that make up our team. All of our hard work is paying off, as Forbes added us to the Forbes’ definitive list of the nation’s best small companies for 2018. Forbes highlights Comfort Research as a philanthropic company that donates 10 percent of our profits to local charities.

Q: Tell us a little about the beginning. When did you start your business? Why did you decide to start it? What vision or goals did you have for your business in the beginning?

I started the business in 1996 with my good friend and current business partner Chip George. We were attending Hope College when we came up with this concept for a huge foam-filled beanbag we called the “FUF Chair.”

We thought this beanbag thing was pretty cool, and everyone around us had a similar reaction. All of our classmates wanted one, and we’d have tons of kids crashing in our room and hanging out. It really opened our eyes, and we knew then we were on to something. We were obviously far from a serious business at the time, but the FUF Chair was a pretty good start.

I came from a family filled with an entrepreneurial history. I was always writing down business ideas from a young age. Some were decent, but most of them were pretty bad. With the creation of the FUF Chair, Chip and I saw an opportunity to start something big while we still had nothing to lose… and it didn’t hurt that we thought it was awesome and the most comfortable chair we had ever lounged in.

Together, we had always wanted to have a thriving business that was willing to do things just a little differently. And we wanted it to be big… like one billion dollars big. We thought, since we “obviously” had this cool product, it would be very easy to grow a huge business. Who wouldn’t want a FUF Chair? But, like most college kids, we had a lot to learn. It was much harder than we ever could have imagined, and we eventually adopted the “Rule of Three”: Everything took 3X as long, was 3X harder to do, and took 3X the amount of money than we thought it would. In spite of all this, we just really wanted to make cool things and lounge.

Now, more than 22 years after the first iteration of our chairs, we‘ve gotten pretty good at pushing the boundaries of what is possible, all the while building the Big Joe brand. In doing so, we focused on:

  • creating a great workplace where Ambassadors can thrive by building an infectious culture of passionate and empowered people
  • minimizing waste to lessen manufacturing’s impact on the world by being lean and green
  • investing 10% of company profits back into local and global communities
  • engineering awesomeness from the product core to the factory floor
  • sneaking in bonus design elements that surprise and delight
  • designing affordable greatness

We have a unique approach toward strategic planning. Instead of vision statements and mission statements, we have a Why/How/What statement:

Why do we exist? Comfort for All.
How are we doing that? Delivering Unexpected Awesomeness.
What are we doing? Revolutionizing Affordable Branded Consumer Products.

Q:  When did the culture of your business become a focus for you? What were some of the first things you remember doing to start focusing on culture?

We were pretty lucky to be blessed with so many helping hands, guides, and mentors along our journey.  It seemed like whenever we needed help, someone (anyone) was willing to pitch in and help us take the next step. After three years of running our business, we were fortunate to partner up with George and Jason Julius. George had had tremendous experiences at his previous company, where culture played an important part of its growth story. We had always talked about culture together, but we weren’t actively engaged in sculpting an awesome one.  As we grew our business, we decided to change that. Very early on, we decided that we wouldn’t just make great products, but we would work hard to craft a great place to work. We were hiring these awesome people to lead different parts of our business. So our roles changed from being hands-on co-founders to having to figure out how to lead without doing the everyday stuff.  I realized that if we wanted the business to be a billion-dollar enterprise, then I had to transform as well. So I shifted my daily routine to leading through strategic planning and alignment, focusing on I&D (Innovation and Internal/External Disruption), and, of course, building an environment that amazing people would want to be a part of. That is when things really shifted for us.

It was through George’s guidance that we really got serious about focusing on culture. But even then, there wasn’t exactly a handbook on culture that you could read and quickly follow. It was more of a pie-in-the-sky idea.  But, I decided that I would find a solution, and eventually started a “culture system,” because good systems are often the foundation of great business. If you can implement a system to run a business, you can surely do it in a way that creates a kick-ass culture.

I started by creating the FAB award. This award recognized someone in our business who implemented our core value of Finding a Better Way. The idea behind the FAB award was, we wanted our Ambassadors living the culture each day to be part of suggesting and introducing the idea of Finding a Better Way to do EVERYTHING.  We didn’t want to be a suggestion-box company where someone offered their written feedback and then just walked away relying on management to implement their “great idea.” NO chance!

We wanted our team to be part of making it work or finding out that it didn’t work, but learning from the experience. We really don’t care either way, so long as our team is an active participant in the process. We started by creating a form where Ambassadors make a suggestion on Finding a Better Way to do something.  We’d put the idea in front of a panel on a quarterly basis. We’d then award $2,500 to the participant with the idea receiving the most votes. But, that wasn’t enough. We then added an annual “FAB Idea” award, and shelled out $10,000 to the best company-wide idea. We announce the winner at a monthly all-company meeting, and share the idea with every employee so our entire team could see a real-life example of how just one team member was working to improve and shape our culture by actually living it.

We present the $2,500 or $10,000 payment in the form of an oversized check, take pictures, and then post the picture and a description of the idea on the “Wall of FAB” for everyone to continue to see the person who represents our core value of Finding a Better Way. Over time, we rolled that out to our other core values and added more awards, like celebrating the core concept of Expect the Best with the Awesome Award, a peer-to-peer award where one Ambassador brings up another in front of the entire company and shares why this person Expects the Best and is generally awesome. They receive a one-week paid vacation, and their picture — along with why they are awesome — on the Wall of Awesome.

We do the same with our core value of Do the Right Thing. The DiRT Award goes to someone who is doing the right thing at work and in life. Ambassadors nominate participants who are really walking the walk. The winner gets $1,500. To dive even deeper, we now have a rhythm where, each month, we feature one of our core values and use real life examples of people living it. With only three fundamental but crucial core values, we feature each core value once per quarter. We are consistent in this practice, and our people have an opportunity to be recognized on a monthly basis for living the culture and our values. You just cannot escape all the fun.

Q: Can you identify some key successes and a failure or two in your journey of establishing a great culture in your business?

Using our Core Value Awards as an example, we have implemented a system focused on Recognize, Reward, and Repeat. This is our biggest key to success in driving the culture for which we strive. It almost becomes second nature, and part of a routine. There are numerous other things we do to reinforce our culture, including specific messaging on Ambassadors’ uniforms in the plant, messaging on walls and handouts, hiring for culture and other thoughtful practices that can really plant the seeds of a positive environment.

We aren’t perfect, and have made plenty of mistakes along the way. But we learn from our challenges, and we’ve found that we also needed local awards so that people from each of our three locations are winning and no one ever feels left out. We also do a listening tour where we ask 12 participants to tell us what we should stop, start, and keep doing. One mistake we made during the first listening tours was to get defensive when someone was critical. We have learned over time that the most important thing was that we were listening to them, regardless of how we felt about their comments. We have now changed our response to meet criticism with a simple “thank you.” It is powerful when someone knows that you are listening, even if it is just for them to unload or complain about something that has been bothering them.

Q: How would I see your culture in action if I walked through your business today?

We work very hard to have signage and messaging throughout the plant reinforcing our culture, strategic plan (the actual plan is posted on one page throughout all of our facilities), and the walls celebrating our awesome Ambassadors living our culture. But the real, obvious proof of culture in action is just how each of our Ambassadors interacts with one another and care for their specific responsibility or job description within the business. Everyone takes pride in what they do, and it shows by how they do their job and interact with their colleagues. You’ll notice smiles, mutual respect, and a common alignment towards exceeding our goals. You don’t just see it; you really feel it.

Q: As a leader of a growing and dynamic business, how do you personally monitor the health of the culture?

We use NPS (Net Promoter Scores) to measure our culture and find out if we are moving in the right direction. We ask everyone to rate us on a scale of 1 to 10 with regard to how likely they are to recommend Comfort Research as a place to work for friends and family. We then track that score over time. If we are seeing lower than normal scoring, we start to dive deeper and work to find out how we can improve the environment to increase the score. We aren’t satisfied with an average culture. We want the best.

Simultaneously, we do a Start, Stop, Keep survey so we can gauge why things are moving in one direction or the other. As one could imagine, we have seen both. Over the long term, we have seen trends rise and fall, so we adjust accordingly, based on the feedback we receive from those surveys. This constant measurement affords us some pretty helpful insight into ebb and flow with regard to the challenges and obstacles any business could face. In the end, we just aren’t happy with anything below cultural excellence. Over time, we have learned that a happy and positive culture builds a great business model that can face the rigors of everyday business. We are built not just to survive, but to prosper.

Q: What final wisdom or advice would you share with a leader that wants to create healthier culture in their own business?

Keep your core values simple, and interject them into the foundation of your business. Have only three to five core values, and make them personal to you. If you believe them and live them every day in everything you do, your team will respond.  No doubt, it will show if you are half-assed in your core values. Choose memorable principles that carry through your business. Don’t over-complicate them, because they will have the opposite impact on your development. Your organization doesn’t need to be a place for everyone, but it should be an amazing place to work for a select few who fit within your culture. Once you find those people, snatch them up and do all you can to keep them.

Systematize your culture. Create processes and rhythms around recognizing, rewarding, and repeating your core values. It has to be something that is part of the very heartbeat of your business, and not just fly-by-night ideas you talk about every now and again. Honor those who are living it publicly and openly. Don’t hide great ideas. Rather, make them part of your daily rituals. Be consistent and you will be able to drive and align your organization around your core values.

Most importantly, don’t settle for anything less than excellent culture. You can achieve it. Sure, it takes time. And energy. And a bunch of bullshit you might not particularly enjoy. But, as you work hard each and every day to align your business with your core values, you will start to see a monumental shift not just in the way you do business, but in the way people feel while doing business. Whether you’re manufacturing beanbags, running a restaurant, building a tech company or even coaching a sports team, it is your culture that acts as the glue that holds it all together. Don’t forget that when the times get tough. And when they get easy — which they will with a great culture — celebrate the people who helped forge the path.


Thanks, Matt, for sharing your journey from startup to successful company and how culture played such a huge role in making that happen.

If you want to learn more about Comfort Research, I recommend:

  • Signing up for a culture tour
  • Reading Matt’s blog (Mold Your Own) = this has the appropriate tagline of “inspired strategies and insights for anyone working to build an employee culture that endures”
  • Considering Matt when you next need an engaging speaker = take a look at YouTube for a sample of the energy, excitement, and easily implementable steps that Matt brings when he speaks

The next time you are visiting one of the retailers he mentions, make sure you take a seat in one of their products. You are guaranteed to stay a while! Thanks, Matt, for sharing.

Mandi Brower: Be Kind | Part 2: Culture Guest Blog Series

Mandi Brower: Be Kind | Part 2: Culture Guest Blog Series

The Quality Car Wash story was first revealed to me at a local chamber event when the business received a small business award. I have since become a frequent guest at one of their locations, and after hearing Mandi talk about their culture, I have seen firsthand how it translates to their team members. Their car wash team is always warm and kind.

When it came time to think of leaders to share their wisdom, I thought of Mandi. She graciously agreed, and I am excited to share her thoughts with you.

Mandi has also just been awarded Small Business Person of the Year for 2018 by the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce. In accepting her award, Mandi brought up all the people from her team to share a little about the company and help everyone get to know the organization from some different perspectives. I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Mandi and everyone at Quality Car Wash for this well-deserved recognition.


Q: Tell us a little about the beginning. When did you start your business? Why did you decide to start it? What vision or goals did you have for your business in the beginning?

We are a third-generation business that was started by my grandfather and great uncle in 1969. They were entrepreneurs who already ran a bowling alley and saw the need in the community for a car wash. Innovation is a big part of what we pride ourselves on, and it really started at the beginning.

Before building their car wash, Grandpa watched the process at other businesses. In those days, a car wash was just a pull-in stall that you had to back out of when you were done. He realized how inconvenient it was for the customer, so when they built their first location, he removed the end wall and put in a garage door to create a drive-thru car wash. Even then, he was focused on the customer experience. My father joined the business and really became the innovator around the technology we use in our car washes. When you drive through, you see round arches. These were my father’s innovations, and you can find his innovations at car washes globally. Both my grandfather and father are still involved in the business.

From the beginning, my grandpa used a pretty simple phrase to guide everyone: “Be kind.” It wasn’t a fancy vision or mission statement, but it started everyone being focused on treating people the right way, and that continues today. The other key concepts that we have formalized over the years are warm, friendly service and an exceptional guest experience. Personally, I have grown to see the business as my personal-mission field, and see our business as a tangible way I can serve others.

Q:  When did the culture of your business become a focus for you? What were some of the first things you remember doing to start focusing on culture?

From the day our grandpa started talking about “Be kind,” it has been the heart of our business. In the years since the business started, we have added definition around our culture. One of the transforming events for us was the purchase of two new locations in 2012. At the time, I had just joined the company and we only had three locations. We were suddenly faced with having to integrate new teams into our culture and hire new people into locations that were not as close to our original locations. This helped focus our energy into defining our culture and being very intentional about building it at all our locations.

This resulted in us formalizing our hiring process, bringing all of the teams together for Rally Nights twice a year, creating a vision statement, and defining our values. Our vision is: “Enriching Life, Adding Value, and Serving Communities.” Our core values are centered around the acronym, “WE OWN IT!”

  • Wow Factor
  • Exceptional Guest Experience
  • Outstanding Team Work
  • Winning Attitudes
  • Never-Ending Pursuit of Excellence
  • Immediate Call to Action
  • Training

Q: Would you share three successes and one failure in your journey of establishing a great culture in your business?

The first success we have had is to integrate our culture into the hiring process so that we are bringing on new team members who are the right people for our organization. We implemented a four-step interview process that starts with a phone call, moves into a first interview and tour of one of our locations, a personality profile, and a final interview to ensure that the future team member and management both see the match. All new hires also go through an onboarding process where our culture is a big focus. These steps have really transformed our ability to hire the right people and get them making positive contributions to our culture from their first day on the job.

The second success is focusing on doing all the steps in our hiring process, especially when time-pressure to hire someone creates situations where people want to skip steps. The talent shortage we are operating in has created that pressure, and I really watch for this and remind our leaders that we can do steps quickly and efficiently if needed, but skipping them is not an option. That discipline is hard to maintain, but it has really helped us in continuing to get the right people, even in this labor market.

The third success is Rally, which is an all-company event that happens twice a year. We hold one in the summer where we have had an Olympics competition, speakers, team-building and talent shows. We always share the vision and have a meal together. Our other traditional Rally event is held at Christmas.  We are a much bigger company now, and these events help us feel smaller because team members get to know each other and meet people from other facilities. The other benefit is the training we can provide each of our team members. We focus on topics that they can use at work and at home. I love the stories we get back from them on how things they learned at work have impacted their life outside of work.

The one failure was a realization that if you went out into our business today, I don’t think all of our team members know what the exact values are behind “We Own It.” The lesson we have learned is that it’s easy to get bored after repeating the same information. We got to a point where we assumed everyone knew it. Since that realization, we have gone back to do a better job of making our core values visual everywhere and reviewing them often with our team members.

Q: How would I see your culture in action if I walked through your business today?

When you walk into any of our facilities I would expect you to be welcomed and feel a warmth in our business. You should also meet team members who are helpful and appreciative.

Q: As a leader of a growing and dynamic business, how do you personally monitor the health of the culture?

On an ongoing basis, we meet with 10-person focus groups each summer to get their input on a variety of topics like marketing, our fundraising program, and operations. It’s a great way to help them inform us on ideas that could help us improve as a business, and we get time to just listen to our team members. This has proven to be both helpful and energizing for our leadership team.

We also do quarterly reviews for everyone in which each team member must answer three questions. We roll the answers up across the organization and review them as a leadership team. This helps us to keep a pulse on the business, because we know everyone is getting feedback from their manager quarterly, and we get to pause to see what messages our teams are sending us through the questions we ask.

Another thing I personally watch is which teams are getting volunteers for their extra projects. We offer extra hours for team members to come in outside of their scheduled shift and do things like replace carpet in a dining area, painting, and other projects that help us keep our facilities in great shape. Volunteering to fill an extra shift for a special project is a great measure of engagement. I can look at the lists of people who sign up (or don’t) and tell you which facilities might have a culture issue that needs to be addressed.

I also do a lot of management by walking around. I make time to be in every operation biweekly and use that time to talk to people and just observe team members and interactions with our guests. One thing I look for is body language, another good indicator of engagement. I also listen to responses to guests, and expect to hear warmth and kindness. It’s a great time for me to personally catch people doing something right, and to model and remind people of the behaviors we expect that create a great guest experience.

This past summer, we also hired an intern to have conversations with more than half of our people around the health of our culture and to get input on what we could do to make Quality a better place to work. The survey provided us with valuable feedback on what was working and a few things that we needed to change.

Q: What final wisdom or advice would you share with a leader that wants to create healthier culture in their own business? Are there any people you follow who have been a source of inspiration or guidance?

Creating a great culture takes grit. You have to commit to repeating yourself often and leading by example. In the journey, it’s also important to recognize your team for every positive step they make in living it out each day with their teammates and our guests.

We believe in training our leaders. In 2018, we sent 41 people to watch the Global Leadership Summit from Willow Creek Association. We also frequently use the learning events through our local chamber (Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce) and share books from Zig Ziglar and John Maxwell.


Thank you, Mandi, for sharing your wisdom and experience around culture and how to intentionally sustain and grow it as a business opens multiple locations.

If you live in West Michigan and want to learn more about the people at Quality Car Wash, visit one of their locations. One of the innovations at a couple of the newer locations is a conveyor for your car as you go through the car wash. It’s very cool! I also want to put in the plug that we are close to the holidays and car wash coupons make great gifts. 😊

Jeff Disher: Make a Positive Difference | Part 1: Culture Guest Blog Series

Jeff Disher: Make a Positive Difference | Part 1: Culture Guest Blog Series

Jeff Disher pictureI have known of Jeff for many years. We worked at the same organization earlier in our careers. Around the time that Jeff was starting DISHER, I remember hearing that he left to start his own company and thinking, “That guy has some courage; I hope it works out.” I didn’t yet get being an entrepreneur at that point in my life.

Fast forward to 2016: I was flipping through Fortune magazine and saw DISHER recognized as one of the top-5 small company workplaces. Things have worked out for Jeff and the DISHER team, and in getting to know them over the past three years I have always been impressed with how what they believe just oozes out of them. They are a powerful and positive force in my community with their service mindset and their commitment to helping organizations grow. I will let Jeff take it from here to share a little more about his story and his wisdom around building a great culture.Disher logo


Q: Tell us a little about the beginning. When did you start your business? Why did you decide to start it? What vision or goals did you have for your business in the beginning?

DISHER opened its doors officially on January 10, 2000. Y2K had just happened a week and a half earlier. The world didn’t end, so I figured it was a good time to start a business. Kidding aside, it was a good time to start the business I was in, given the predicted shortage of technical talent over the next couple decades. I just didn’t know it at the time.

My reasons for starting DISHER were two-fold. First, I was unhappy with the engineering firms I was hiring when I was an engineering manager at Prince Corp. I felt that I, as the customer, wasn’t being supported in the best way by these firms. I started thinking of what I would do differently if I was in their shoes to make me happy as a customer. Not realizing it at the time, I was formulating my business model for DISHER at that moment.

Second, I know that people find out what they are made of when they are pushed to the extremes of life. Whether our backs are against the wall, struggling to survive, or we’re experiencing extreme success, both will show us the real picture of what (and who) is inside us. I wanted to find out who I am at the core, and starting a business from scratch with no safety net was the way I was going to find out. If it failed, I wouldn’t have liked it, but I would have learned a ton about myself along the way. If it succeeded, I also would’ve learned a ton about myself. From that perspective, either way I couldn’t lose. So, after much prayer and planning, along with the full blessing of my wife Kathy, I took the risk.

My goal for the first year was to survive, plain and simple. We had two survival goals the first couple years:

  1. Say ‘yes’ to as much work as we could do, and
  2. Do all our work with excellence, because that would lead to more work

Only after surviving the first year did I scratch out on a piece of paper (which I still have) a vision for the company. Today, 18 years later, we have accomplished — or, at least, tried to accomplish — every part of that vision, and more.

Q:  When did the culture of your business become a focus for you? What were some of the first things you remember doing to start focusing on culture?

I wrote our mission statement, “Make a Positive Difference,” a few months before our business opened its doors. I had learned earlier in my career how important and powerful a clear and simple mission can be to any organization. I wanted that for DISHER. I also had a handful of early values written out that helped guide the few of us who were on the team. Having our mission and initial values written out from the beginning gave us all a standard by which we held ourselves accountable, no matter how small we were. I remember having lots of discussion with our team about how to conduct ourselves, how to live our mission out in all kinds of situations and why it all matters, but our culture didn’t start to find its identity and strength until years later.

Much like the natural laws of the farm, cultivating a strong culture doesn’t happen overnight. It has to germinate and grow. All along, each person needs to water, weed and fertilize it to the best of their ability. The moment you stop nurturing it, it begins to die. We work hard on building and sustaining our culture at DISHER.

We’ve learned so much from other companies and we’re sharing back by providing culture tours for any organization interested. Building a strong culture takes hard work and intentionality. There are no shortcuts, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.

Q: What are three successes and one failure in your journey of establishing a great culture in your business?

The first success we had was keeping our mission simple, clear and in front of us every day. Without this, our culture would be blind and without purpose as it tries to find its way. The second success was establishing a clear set of 12 value phrases that we call “Culture Characteristics,” and covering a different one each month throughout the year with our entire team. This gives us a chance to tell stories and highlight what each one means to us. The third success has been our semiannual off-sites with our entire team. These are day-long events that build comradery through discussions around company strategy, improvement, updates, learning and stewardship.

One failure we had early on was not being careful enough to hire for a cultural fit. We would bring people in first because of the talent and skills they had. We ended up with some people who would create dissension within our team due to their attitude and how they treated others. This hurt our culture more than it helped our business. Now we’re very careful to interview candidates first for a cultural match. This has made an incredible difference.

Q: How would I see your culture in action if I walked through your business today?

We have a wall in our lobby dedicated to our mission, and another wall with our culture characteristics displayed so everyone can see them. You would see a ripple chart showing how each person has made a difference in our business. You would hear how we encourage each other and hold ourselves accountable in our weekly team meetings. You would see emails sharing which nonprofits in the area need help and who is coordinating support for them. And, occasionally on a Friday afternoon, if we’ve had a long week, you might get pelted with Nerf bullets as an act of love from a neighboring teammate.

Q: As a leader of a growing and dynamic business, how do you personally monitor the health of the culture?

Staying connected with and being available for all team members allows me to hear where our team is at, and what trends are happening that we need to respond to. We have various opportunities built in throughout the year for all these interactions to take place. I also have an open office with no door, and I let everyone know that they are welcome to stop in if they have a question or something to share with me. I see these not as distractions, but as a part of my role and a chance to connect and help. If I need protected time, I find a conference room or coffee shop.

I’ve also found that the more authentic and vulnerable I am with people, the more they are the same with me. Office politics and gossiping are pet peeves of mine. Being real with people, and encouraging the same from others, is the best way I know how to avoid those cultural-health busters.

Q: What final wisdom or advice would you share with a leader that wants to create healthier culture in their own business?

My advice is to know and communicate clearly the purpose (mission) of your company to your entire team. Make it simple enough for each person to immediately understand and personal enough so that each person can see how they connect to it through the work they do. Once you have that, talk about it often — more than you think is needed; every day, if possible — and encourage others to talk about it, as well. Then, be very intentional in living it out for others to see that you are serious about it and adamant that everyone lives it out in their own way, as well.

Culture is not a program or an initiative that is separate from our daily work. Culture is the way we work.


Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your wisdom and experience around your journey building a powerful culture at DISHER.

If you want to learn more about the people at DISHER and how they work, you can: