December 2018 Features

Cultural Reflections


Written By: Nathan Whitaker

Look into how local companies – Campus USA, New Scooters for Less and Infinite Energy – are promoting healthy company cultures.

I’ve had teamwork on the brain lately. During recent speaking engagements for companies in the Midwest, the question-and-answer portion has turned into the importance of teamwork and how best to create high-performing teams.

From a career in and around sports, and now working with companies and nonprofits, I’m convinced teamwork is critical. One quick glance at recruiting rankings or hyped free agent signings reminds us that having the most talent doesn’t always translate into the best team. Smart CEOs and talented salespeople similarly don’t always lead to growth, profits, or all too often, even the simple survival of the organization.

We’ve all seen top talent recruited only to languish or leave – or both. Teamwork is critical to maximizing that talent.

Often, teams are “teams” in name only – merely a group of individuals in close proximity, or as a friend says, “closimity.” (I may look to coin “TINO.”) Studies have made it clear that talent, even terrific talent, doesn’t often generate the results that a highly functioning team can accomplish.

So, how do we create actual teams or, once developed, nurture and sustain them?

One of the critical components is culture.

Companies and teams are spending more and more time on culture these days. Friends in this sphere, like Jon Gordon and John Spence, constantly help organizations develop a culture that reinforces the essence of the team. As Tony Dungy said in the brilliant and beautifully written “The Mentor Leader” (in a surprising coincidence, I am co-author of Coach Dungy’s books): “It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about others.”

Furthermore, he noted that “great organizations aren’t great places to work simply by chance – they are intentionally created.”

A healthy culture should reflect the values that matter to the organization – and if you don’t articulate them, someone else will! – and will undergird the mission and vision as well. Of numerous companies in our area with cultures designed to maximize their talent, three leap to mind: Campus USA, NS4L and Infinite Energy.

Local residents don’t have to look far to find charitable events sponsored by Campus USA Credit Union. Art and strawberry festivals, elementary school carnivals and others benefit from the credit union’s culture designed to reinforce their value of improving the communities in which they live and work. Just last month I spoke at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Career Discovery Day at a local high school. The primary sponsor for the event, attended by over 400 students and parents? Of course – Campus USA.

Even beyond funding, Campus USA reimburses tuition for their employees furthering their education and offers paid time for staff to volunteer. “It’s about others.”

Likewise, Infinite Energy is constantly ranked among the top places to work for a variety of reasons, all stemming from the atmosphere they’ve created. Like Campus USA, Infinite Energy champions community causes, provides tuition reimbursement and paid volunteer time. Evidence of their community involvement was clear during last fall’s election cycle, and the company’s co-CEOs, Darin Cook and Rich Blaser, have been directly involved. Darin first served on the Utility Advisory Board for Gainesville Regional Utilities, and now has undertaken a variety of means to educate voters on a referendum related to utility governance. Rich, meanwhile, has been leading an effort to get a referendum for energy choice on a future ballot.

Why? Because they understand issues in the energy market.

Also because, as their culture statement sets forth, they encourage members of the company “to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

Along those lines, they’ve created time and access for candidates from any party to present their case to IE’s employees, and have hosted gubernatorial and other statewide candidates, as well as local ones. Participating in the community, even if it brings irritation from some who don’t appreciate the message, is natural for them.

It’s simply a part of who they are.

I recently appeared on a podcast hosted by Collin Austin, founder and COE (Chief of Everything) of New Scooters 4 Less (NS4L) and Repaint the Wall, his social media consulting company. Recording started in their office at 7:30 in the morning and, as my coffee kicked in, I was struck by the spirit of the office. I knew Collin was high-energy and informal, but I was surprised by the similar spirit of the staff, even at that hour. I’d initially thought that the social media approach of NS4L – often frenetic and light-hearted – was merely designed to capture the college market that makes up so much of the company’s scooter-riding clientele. However, it became clear that the strategy is not only a marketing tool, but also a reflection of the culture of the organization; the business is constantly spinning out new ideas with such an open, horizontal culture.

I’ve spent mornings at all three headquarters and, as you might imagine, the feel in a financial institution is a fair amount different than a scooter dealer, but that’s alright. There’s no “right” culture for all – just the right one for each.

Those three have found the culture that’s right for them, and it’s no accident that each have enjoyed explosive growth by allowing that talent to jell into teams that perform at a high level; bigger than themselves, or their employees; building into a community and a quality of life, even beyond the products and services they provide.

Good for them. And good for us, who are the beneficiaries of not only their corporate services and products, but the way those cultures spill over into our community.

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