Nick Bayer is the founder and CEO of Saxbys, one of fastest growing coffee companies in the U.S., with a presence in 10 states. Bayer is also an entrepreneur-in-residence and guest lecturer at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and an adjunct professor at the Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University.
In recent years, workplace culture has emerged as a priority for companies of all sizes. Human resources departments and management alike are recognizing the value that developing a strong, positive company culture can have on recruitment, retention, productivity and overall employee satisfaction — not to mention on a company's public image. But for young companies, there's not always a clear path for how to establish a culture that aligns with company values, promotes a productive environment and keeps employees happy and inspired to do great work.
That was certainly my experience when I founded Saxbys Coffee in 2005. While many companies choose to infuse culture by throwing fun holiday parties, hosting retreats or planning meetings, I found it was most effective to start at the root and hire people who fit into the culture I wanted to achieve from the start.
Put People First
I'm the first to admit that when I started Saxbys — a hospitality business fueled by coffee — I barely knew anything about running a business. The one thing I did know was people: both the people I wanted to serve and the people I wanted to work with. From the get-go, I found that the key to my company's growth and success was to put people first when making decisions.
One of the first professional decisions I made was to bring in people who were incredibly passionate about what I was trying to create, and who were hyper-focused on hospitality. I quickly noticed that they all shared a few core traits that helped my company thrive: They were all outgoing, detail oriented and disciplined. These outstanding traits inspired me to coin a term that is now one of our core values: O.D.D (outgoing, detail oriented and disciplined).
As we expanded, we brought on an eclectic mix of team members, but O.D.D. is our through-line and shapes the way we work. Now, instead of looking for candidates based on skill or experience, we focus on finding team members who can show us these values. Relying on these traits has created a company culture that sets our brand apart, both in our corporate office and throughout our cafs.
Define Your O.D.D.
Maybe the ideal team member for your brand isn't O.D.D., but there are probably a few core traits that drive your company's culture that you can easily identify and align with. Some may be positive — for example, your team's overwhelming creativity makes everything your company touches stand out. Some could be negative — maybe you're in a position where every person you hire is incredibly nice, but they don't have the power to say "no" when necessary, even to the detriment of your brand. The key is to emphasize and hire for the exact combination of traits that makes your business great at a fundamental level.
Find Balance in Your Team Members
The combination you select is crucial. For example, we focus heavily on the "O," outgoing, in the hospitality sector. It would be impossible for us to succeed if our team members weren't outgoing — friendly baristas help guests feel welcome, and extroverted corporate team members feel confident about taking initiative.
In the beginning, we excelled at hiring outgoing team members but fell victim to letting an outgoing personality camouflage a candidate's deficit in being detail-oriented and disciplined. Baristas that were outgoing and provided a terrific experience for our guests sometimes lacked the discipline to wake up at dawn to open a caf, or the attention to detail needed to make complicated drinks. We learned the hard way that keeping someone on board just for being outgoing was bringing down our more well-rounded team members, who had to cover those early morning shifts or quickly jump to apologize to guests whose orders were mixed up.
My advice: Don't just rely on one trait to define your company's culture. Think carefully about the perfect mixture of adjectives that describe your ideal employee, and ensure that each employee has your definition of the full package.
I wouldn't be shy with your team about what these core characteristics are, either. We incorporated "Embrace being O.D.D." into a mural in our office, so it is literally at the center of our work space. We don't just hire for these traits, we encourage our team members to live and breathe them each day. Once you've identified your own version ofO.D.D., communicate it with your employees. Commend your employees when they embrace it and let them know when there's an O.D.D. opportunity they've missed. For instance, we start every team meeting with a "Mission Moment" during which we call out fellow team members who've exemplified our core values.
Draw Inspiration From Your Team
While I advocate hiring the right people to solidify company culture, that doesn't mean we don't seek out other ways to enhance it further. We also hold fun holiday parties and plan group workouts, or spend lunch breaks volunteering. But those initiatives weren't instigated by an HR department in an attempt to shape our work culture. They happened because one of our team members had an idea — like cleaning up a local park or booking side-by-side bikes in a spin class — and we made it happen. We know that our employees are our biggest strength, and encourage them to help us create the best possible environment.
An ideal company culture isn't something you can force. But it’s something you can drive and enhance if you focus on identifying and encouraging key qualities. You will be amazed by how building your business with the right people will organically produce the type of culture where everyone can thrive.