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‘There’s a Science to All of This’

‘There’s a Science to All of This’

By Bridget McCrea

How one lighting manufacturer and supplier has created and honed a very deliberate, intentional corporate culture over the last seven years.

When Cathy Choi took over the company that her father had founded in 1971, she had some pretty big shoes to fill. And as the new president of Moonachie, N.J.-based Bulbrite Industries, she also realized that the firm wasn’t operating in the same environment it had been founded in 38 years earlier. It was 2009, after all, and everything from economic shifts to changes in customer preferences to advancements in technology was impacting the way this manufacturer and supplier of innovative, energy-efficient light source solutions did business.

To adapt to these changes and ensure that her family’s company would prosper under her watch, Choi rolled out what would become known as the “BE BRIGHT” program. “At the time, our company had what I would call an ‘unintentional culture,'” Choi explains. “I wanted to make sure that going forward—and in order to keep growing in a sustainable manner—that we developed and nurtured an intentional culture.”

To come up with the acronym, the company selected “B” for Bulbrite and “E” for excellence in everything the organization does. The second “B” stands for a better way of doing things (i.e., be innovative), the “R” is for relationship-building, the “I” is for integrity, the “T” is for team spirit, and the “E” is about educating yourself and others. “Using that acronym, we developed a list of accepted behaviors that support the value system, written by each team member,” says Choi. “We’ve been living that culture ever since.”

What’s the Secret Sauce?
Fast-forward to 2016 and Bulbrite’s focus on creating a strong corporate culture hasn’t waivered at all in the last seven years. In fact, this year the company received the New Jersey SmartCEO Corporate Culture Award. The award is given to the top 50 companies (one from each state) that have created inspiring and positive employee cultural practices. According to SmartCEO, Bulbrite’s BE BRITE culture was nominated due to its work policy that encourages a productive and creative workspace.

When asked what the “secret sauce” is behind her company’s strong culture, Choi says several key success factors have come into play over the last seven years. For starters, she says getting commitment from the firm’s top leadership ranks was an important first step. “It’s very difficult to build and sustain an intentional culture without this support,” says Choi. And while it’s one thing to say, “Yes, I believe in culture,” she points out, actually living, breathing, and acting by that culture is an entirely different exercise. That’s because a truly effective culture defines behaviors, actions, policies, procedures, and even the way a company treats its customers. “Without a commitment from top management,” says Choi, “a sustainable corporate culture just isn’t possible.”

Next on the must-have list is the realization that even the most dedicated, passionate leaders can’t simply dictate a company’s culture to its employees. “Culture has to come from the people who live it every day,” says Choi, who adds that companies that want strong cultures must also go beyond just putting foosball tables or sleeping pods in their break rooms. While these perks are cool and fun, they do little to promote and extend the firm’s values, mission, and policies.

“Those extras are just the executional elements of a process, but culture itself goes beyond just ‘let’s do a bunch of fun stuff, thereby we have a culture,'” Choi points out. In fact, for a corporate culture to be truly effective and long-lasting, it has to literally be baked into everything that the company does on a daily basis, week after week and year after year.

Take “excellence” (one of the words in the BE BRITE acronym), for example. A lot of companies say that they believe in excellence, says Choi, but how do you really put that concept into practice on a daily basis? At Bulbrite, Choi says the company answers that question by defining excellence as, “clear and consistent communication.” So, every Monday—without fail—Choi circulates an email message across the entire company, outlining all of the firm’s upcoming events and news for the company week. Then, on a monthly basis, Bulbrite holds an “all hands on deck” meeting to delve further into news and issues impacting the firm, upcoming events, and other important points.

Choi says measuring engagement is another important part of Bulbrite’s commitment to culture. “We don’t just walk around and see who is (or isn’t) in a good mood today,” she notes. Instead, the firm uses a software program that allows it to measure certain aspects of engagement and answer questions like:  Do employees feel like they have enough learning and growth opportunities? Do they feel valued? Do they feel like they can speak freely about whatever issues they may be dealing with? “The answers to these questions help us better shape our culture,” says Choi, “and define the behaviors and practices that we put into place.”

In many cases, Bulbrite’s commitment to culture starts right at the new employee interviewing stage, where Choi and her management team get face-to-fact with prospects to determine whether they’ll be a good fit for the firm. For example, Choi says that instead of asking someone whether they believe in excellence (a question that most people will answer “yes” to, but not really be able expound upon), she’ll ask the candidate to share a time when he or she got an A+ on a project or an initiative.

“Once I hear the answer to that question,” she says, “I can usually gain some insights into how that person defines excellence, and then determine if that blends well with our culture.”

Reaping the Rewards
To electrical distributors and suppliers that want to kick off 2017 with a stronger commitment to their own corporate cultures, Choi says it’s important to understand that success doesn’t happen overnight, and that having outside party assess the situation can be beneficial.

“Back in 2009, the first thing I did was hire a corporate culture consultant,” Choi recalls. “It may sound crazy, but working with a consultant really helped us figure out what it means to have a well-defined corporate culture, and then plan out a path to get there.”

In fact, Choi says that consultant is the one who clued her into the fact that culture wasn’t about having foosball and ping-pong tables in the break room, and that “there’s a process and a science to all of this,” she says.

If hiring a third party isn’t in your company’s budget for the coming year, Choi reminds distributors that investing in your people is just as important as buying inventory or equipment (if not more so). And because employee engagement and satisfaction are both closely tied to customer satisfaction, the return on investment (ROI) associated with a strong culture can be significant. (The most recent Gallup State of the American Workplace study, for example, found that companies in the top quartile of employee engagement experience 10 percent higher customer ratings.)

“Remember that anything that’s worth doing takes a lot of work, but that the end results are definitely worth it,” says Choi. “Having an engaged team with a defined corporate culture—whether you have 20 employees or 20,000 employees—will translate into a lot of happy customers.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.


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