Driven by five key pillars and supported by a dedicated executive vice president, this distributor’s corporate culture is helping it grow sales, retain employees, and continuously improve.
At most organizations, culture is somewhat of a nebulous topic that no one really understands, follows, or buys into. Formally defined as the “beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions,” culture is really a lot more than that. It includes behaviors that are consistent across the organization, with the hope that when new hires see these behaviors, they emulate them and help to sustain the overall culture, consultant Rick Bohan writes in Industry Week.
For most companies, those “behaviors” impact everything from communications and problem-solving to decision-making and teamwork (to name a few). “Manage these activities and you manage culture. Improve how you and everyone else in your organization carries out these activities, and you improve culture,” Bohan concludes. “Change how you and everyone else in your organization carries out these activities, and you change culture.”
A Model for Good Culture
US LBM Holdings, Inc. (US LBM) is one distributor that’s taken culture to an entirely new level. A distributor of specialty building materials whose products include windows, doors, millwork, wallboard, roofing, siding, engineered components, and cabinetry, the company not only prioritizes culture, it has also put an executive in charge of making that happen.
Jimmy Martin, vice president of operations for US LBM’s southeast region, says the company put someone in charge of culture about five years ago. She’s Wendy Whiteash and she joined US LBM in 2013 after 17 years of serving in management and HR positions with Ferguson Enterprises, a distributor of plumbing supplies, PVF, waterworks, and fire and fabrication products.
Whiteash officially became US LBM’s EVP of culture in 2015. The company was six years old at the time and has since grown into what Martin calls a “fairly large operation.” A portion of that growth can be attributed to US LBM’s strong culture and the fact that the distributor really does “walk the walk” when it comes to building and supporting that culture. “We’ve also been culture-focused,” says Martin. “It’s always been very intentional.”
US LBM’s Five Cultural Pillars
At the heart of US LBM’s commitment to culture are five key pillars: people, partnerships, operational excellence, continuous improvement, and empowerment. Zeroing in on partnerships, Martin says that pillar focuses on how the distributor treats and interacts with its vendors, customers, and business partners. He says the focus is less on making US LBM better, and more about creating a win-win scenario for the customer and partner in question. To support these efforts, he says the distributor participates in joint sessions with both customers and vendors. At those pow-wows, the focus is always on “where can we be doing a better job for you?” or “where can we help you do better?” He says US LBM also helps drill down into mutual pain points by asking questions like “is there a process that we’re all feeling some heartburn around?” Then, the group works collaboratively to figure out a way to streamline that process to make it easier for everyone.
“We take an approach that everything we do should be a win for whatever area we’re touching,” Martin explains. “If we’re working with a customer, then the [resolution] needs to make sense for them and help make them better. By rule, this will help make us better.” The same goes for vendor relationships, which US LBM works to simplify and make frictionless. “It’s about making sure that everyone we interact with through the supply chain really does feel like a partner.”
US LBM also puts a strong effort into empowering its associates. “We want them to feel like they can make a difference,” says Martin. For example, the distributor invites employees to submit ideas for continuous improvement (yet another pillar) and to be a part of helping the company become smarter, better, faster, and/or more efficient. “This is an entrepreneurial-type environment. We encourage everyone to think outside of the box and come up with ideas that—even if they seem far-fetched right now—could be the new trend or standard 10 years from now.”
From the Top Line to the P&L
In return for its sharp focus on culture, US LBM sees gains like better employee retention, higher efficiency levels, and the ability to get everyone working from the same playbook. Through its continuous improvement training, for example, the distributor is effectively empowering its associates to go back to their respective departments and execute on what they’ve learned.
“We see this happening everywhere—from sales right through to operations,” says Martin. “By using lean processes and instilling that in our culture, we’ve been able to drive down operational costs rather effectively on both the manufacturing and distribution side.” In its sales organization, US LBM has rolled out several successful initiatives centered around increasing category penetration, wallet share, and other metrics.
“The benefits permeate everywhere,” says Martin, “from the top line and all the way through to our profit and loss (P&L). We’ve seen improved operational efficiencies in many areas; it’s easy to point out.”
To electrical distributors that may not be able to hire a full-time culture guru, but want to start doing a better job in this area, Martin suggests starting with a top-down approach that’s fully supported by the company’s leadership. Encourage associates to start one or more “culture committees” focused on developing approaches similar to what US LMB has done (e.g., one focused on continuous improvement, another centered on partnerships, and so forth). Be intentional and consistent, Martin adds, and treat culture just like you would a new sales, marketing, or business plan. “You have to take it that seriously and almost consider it another business unit,” he concludes. “If you don’t, you may just wind up backpedaling from where you are right now.”
Tagged with best practices, corporate culture