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The One Word Mentioned Most At The NAED LEAD Conference

The One Word Mentioned Most At The NAED LEAD Conference

By Scott Costa, Publisher, tED magazine


Out of fear of sounding like the guy who hosted a party and then told everyone it was the greatest party in the history of parties, I have to admit the NAED LEAD Conference in Chicago was about as amazing as one conference can be. Between the speakers, the past tED magazine “30 Under 35” in attendance, and this year’s award winners, it was a special group of people who had very meaningful conversations about the future of this supply chain.

Top of the list of topics discussed: culture. It started the first night of the conference when NAED Chair Larry Stern told everyone there that, “culture crushes strategy.” And he is right. He explained by saying that at some point, every company is going to create a strategy. It’s not impossible to come up with some strategy that you believe will lead to success. But do you have the culture needed to make that strategy work? Stern mentioned a number of programs and events that Standard Electric Supply has created to maintain its current culture and to build for the future. It’s obviously a key part of the future of the company.

Past tED magazine “30 Under 35” award winner Rocky Kuchenmeister told the conference that, just like everyone else who works at K/E Electric Supply, he wears blue jeans to work and gets dirty just like everyone else. And he’s the General Manager of the company. But he wants his employees to know that he understands what they do and he is willing to do whatever is necessary to help them be successful. The next day, a panel of industry executives talked about culture and leadership and what it takes to build a solid foundation based on the culture of the company.

Part of the reason we don’t see culture as a key leadership issue is because it can be very hard to define. Is it about games, fun, personal time, and free stuff for employees? Is it about having a leadership with a drive toward success that allows employees to build positive outcomes and celebrate their victories?

I checked into a blog written by Dov Baron, a leadership expert I met at last year’s UnleashWD event in Chicago, and an expert on creating and maintaining a strong corporate culture. Baron believes it is essential to not only have loyal employees, but to help them become fiercely loyal. He points out the key to a strong culture is in the 4 “Cs”, collaboration, cooperation, contribution, and community. “Problems are solved by consensus rather than by one person trying to outdo his or her colleagues in terms of glory, status or financial gain. All of this collaboration, in addition to being highly effective, usually prompts (employees) to commit more strongly to the project, which in turn makes their work easier,” Baron writes. He adds an important part of culture is making sure your employees know they play a vital role. “You need to foster a genuine culture where individuals who work for you are proud to say they are part of your organization,” Baron says.

I also checked the Forbes Magazine “Best Places To Work” story from 2015, to see what employees for the company at the top of the list are saying. Not surprisingly, Google finished number one on the list. The company has been on the list 10 years in a row, and 2015 marks the 7th time Google finished in first place. Google employees give very high marks. 97 percent say Google has “special and unique benefits.” 95 percent report “people here are willing to give extra to get the job done.” 95 percent also say “management is honest and ethical in its business practices.” 

But a key comment really stands out at Google, and it mirrors what Dov Baron said about culture. 96 percent of Google employees report, “I’m proud to tell others I work here.” When 96 percent of your employees say that, you don’t have to worry about work production or turnover. You don’t have to worry about someone leaving to take a lateral position at another company because they are unhappy.

That seems to be the real definition of culture.  Whether it’s a company, a branch, a department or a division, culture is really defined as the place everyone wants to work.  We can all dream of working for Google or Apple or Nike. But more importantly, you have the chance to create the culture to make people want to work for you. You have the unique opportunity to have your employees work for a company where 96 percent are proud to say they work with you. Once you accomplish that, you can work on your next strategy.


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