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Keeping Culture from Crumbling as Business Booms

Shared Values, Culture

Culture is a concept that seems to elude and confuse companies from one end of the business spectrum to the other, but a company’s culture is an ever-present aspect of any establishment. From the Mom & Pop corner diner to the highly-polished chain restaurant – and on up to the corporate offices calling the shots – each setting has a culture waiting to be understood and encouraged to thrive. Unfortunately, as business picks up and companies expand beyond the family-sized start-up, a healthy company culture is harder to harbor, and all too often as numbers grow, employees start to grumble and the culture well dries up.

As Tundra Restaurant Supply celebrates its 20th anniversary, focus on company culture remains strong, and the idea of evolving and expanding that culture as business booms has become a shared effort.

“When I started the recruitment process and we talked about what Tundra has to offer a prospective employee, Culture Crew and the culture of Tundra was brought up. It was really big for me that it was brought up,” Steve Trujillo, current face of the company’s Culture Crew, said of his hiring in August 2012. “I’ve worked for big box companies, huge companies, where I’m just a cog in the machine and I’m just a number [and] it’s more about what you can provide to the company in environments like that.”

Coming from a broad-spectrum background, with experience in both small companies and corporate powerhouses, Steve shares his enthusiasm for connectivity and community throughout Tundra, while realizing the pitfalls inherent to a growing business.

There’s Something Unique to Every Company

“I think there’s something unique to every single company,” Steve remarks regarding whether or not a culture template works across the board. “The individuals within that company need to kind of go through their own trials and tribulations to develop what that culture is and what kind of programs need to be done to keep culture strong. There are some loose methods, like communication. Every company should communicate across departments. There should be social events in every company. Those kinds of things can be thrown into a general template or process, but I think the key for every company is that [culture] just needs to be addressed.”

It’s important to evaluate a new employee’s potential to thrive and mature personally, as well as professionally, within any company. Being one of the few places Steve has worked where culture was actively discussed, Tundra’s approach to finding the proper fit in terms of employees and attitudes appealed to him from the very beginning. Throughout the interview process, professional skills and competency were discussed as well as whether or not his piece would fit into the puzzle of Tundra’s company culture.

“It felt like questions at that time were leaning towards “will this guy fit personally with the people and the team he’s going to come into, and on top of that will he fit within the company,”” Steve remembers. “It’s good to know that everybody gets some sort of question and answer period about who that person is and why they would be a good fit.”

Finding an employee that fits is only the first step of a long, tricky staircase that leads towards immersion in company culture and being a part of making that culture work. Many workplaces have a top-down “system” of culture where attitudes are dealt out like cards and employees just go with the flow. This can lead to varying views of exactly what a company’s culture means to different people, and a superior who stresses and instructs over involving and engaging employees isn’t really helping anyone.

Culture Crew

“At the beginning it really felt like one person was doing everything related to Culture Crew,” Steve says. “What we’ve done a really good job of, at least this year, is that we’ve all got a shared piece of the pie. Everything from Friday Funday to planning social events; everybody’s got an active role. Everybody’s all hands on board.”

With member representatives from a majority of departments within the company including warehouse, accounting, human resources, sales, and marketing Tundra’s Culture Crew meets weekly to discuss company attitudes and employee concerns as well as brainstorm team-building activities and events. Enjoying a company’s culture is an invaluable aspect of employee satisfaction that just can’t be built into the job. It’s a feeling of belonging that makes people want to refer friends and tell family about their fantastic company, and facilitating this feeling needs to be a daily, company-wide effort.

“I think culture is kind of all encompassing. Are you happy with the day you come in to? Is your workload easier to handle because your environment makes it that way,” Steve says of how he sees company culture in general. “To me, the culture aspect comes into play as external factors. The work’s going to be there every day no matter what. The whole idea behind why we have a Culture Crew is to keep this family, I mean it started out as a family business, we want to keep those family values and aspects.”

Tundra Restaurant Supply’s growing family of 135 employees all contribute on some level to the company’s evolving culture. Plans for the year include a company barbecue, pancake breakfast, ski trip, baseball game, softball and kickball leagues, and monthly Friday Funday and employee birthday/anniversary cake days. The company’s Culture Crew, with its rotating members, continuously tries to bring the fun back into the workplace.

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Tundra Culture: An Interview with Ryan Lewis, President

Ryan Lewis, President of Tundra Restaurant SupplyHere at Tundra we have team members that have been here since the company started in 1993, and team members that have worked in almost every department.  It’s a place that breathes fun and expression; in fact, it’s written in the values.  But these are only a few attributes that can be considered part of our culture.

I recently sat down with Ryan Lewis, President of Tundra, to interview him on the culture here at Tundra (including hard to answer questions that may have made him squirm).

1.    If you could describe Tundra’s culture in three words, what would you say?

Team Members. Experience. Connectedness.

2.    If you were going to give public tours of Tundra, what stops would you make?

Generally I’ll show them the photo board, I’ll show them the values on the walls, and the kitchen – it’s kind of social in there.  I think just standing in the showroom and experiencing the open nature of our office space is nice to show too, like how the big glass windows connect to outside and to the warehouse.  I think it’s important to show the way we all communicate and how we care for balance like with the Turtle room where people can rest and relax if they want to.

In general, I don’t think it comes down to a specific location though – it’s an energy.  Locations are attributes, but that doesn’t create culture. At the end of the day, culture is the look on people’s faces, the smiles, the comfort.  My goal is for people to come to work and have them be extensions of themselves, be able to express themselves.

3.    If the local paper were going to run a four-page article on Tundra’s culture, what would be impossible not to include?

Our values are absolutely imperative because that’s the framework.  I want people to express themselves fully, but it has to be within that set of values – that’s what ties everything together.  And our mission statement – it’s about our customers, and our success depends on theirs.  That’s critical too.  Our Culture Crew – we have a formalized group of people that focus on our team members experience.  All of these would be important.

4.    What’s the best part about working in this environment that someone wouldn’t be able to see from just a walk around the office?

It’s what creates that environment and the focused effort into it – the team members and customers experiences.  It can’t just be about the bottom line.  We care about making sure people are engaged, and if they aren’t then why?

We allow people to (within reasonable guidelines of course) work the way they want to work, dress the way they like, bring their dogs to the office.  It’s important to have a certain level of flexibility.

I really like the Megaphone, and we read every single one of those team member suggestions in our Culture Crew meetings.  We’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from that to help move the culture forward.

I try to make it to all of the Culture Crew meetings.  I tried to suggest that maybe I shouldn’t be in them so that it was more organic, but even as the members of the crew change, they always tell me that they feel that it’s important for me to be there, so I am.  For the Megaphone it’s anonymous, I want people to feel like they can be authentic and talk about opportunities here at Tundra.  I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about some things and make suggestions, and this gives people an outlet to still be able to communicate, and most peoples responses are very sincere and honest.

We can always do a better job though, there isn’t a finish line.

5.    What are the most common complaints team members make about Tundra’s culture?

I hear that the company is too focused on the bottom line or making money.  And I also hear that team members want more money and more bonuses.  It’s usually focused around compensation and finances.  You know, we are a for profit business, so sometimes its sort of low-hanging fruit when the team members are upset about something: not everyone is into the flexibility we have here, like dogs at work.  It’s one of those things that you’ll never make everyone happy in any one category.

But that being said, I can’t reiterate enough that we focus on every single team member; making sure we read each and every one of those suggestions at those culture meetings and listening to every team member.  When you have 130 people you’re going to have unreasonable suggestions from time to time, but I always try to go into matters with eyes and ears wide open.

6.    How would you describe your ideal workplace environment?

For people to come in here with an understanding of the values of how we operate and the mission that we’re trying to accomplish.

I would hope that our team members feel that they are fully an extension of themselves here – that they are living up to their fullest possibility everyday.  That they are fully engaged, feel safe and are able to communicate effectively between peers, customers, management and vendors.  Good communication is key.

Really the values are the vision of the culture – express yourself, have fun.

7.    What does it take for someone to be successful here?

I think people need to be authentic.  You know, people that come in here and start looking for a role, looking to be told what to do, given specific agendas and expect a routine wouldn’t really fit in that well here.  We need thinkers, people that challenge the status quo and aren’t afraid to express their thoughts.

8.    How are team members recognized for going above and beyond?

We line them up every Friday afternoon and throw water balloons at them.  No, I’m kidding.

I think this is another area that there’s definitely no finish line – we can always do a better job here.

But we do have the Star Card, where peers and managers can acknowledge a team member.  And at the end of the month there’s gifts given out for people that get these cards turned in.  I like to think it’s an iterative process.  It’s the culture saying, “Hey, nice job.”  This is more informal in that sense, but we do have a bonus program too that’s based on company and individual performance.

9.    Given that you adjust for each team member (because each person is different), what would you say your preferred management style is?

Controlled chaos.  No (laughing).

You know, I’ve asked people that about me, because I don’t necessarily, consciously try to follow a certain way, but I do like to look at the end goal.  Let me know if anything gets in your way.  Let me know if I can support you, or if I can accelerate your pace.  Let me know if you need anything, but otherwise, use your peers, use the company, use the resources you have.  I’m not going to manage how you get there.  Stay within the values, understand your end point, and let me know how I can support you or move hurdles.

10.    What do you love best about the culture here?

The community; I think the people that get the most out of our culture come here to work among friends, to be part of a community.  It’s more than a job.

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