The Importance of Culture


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Peter Drucker, Founder of Drucker Institute–


It’s been nearly a year since I sat down to lunch with my colleague Connor and asked him, “What makes us different from our competition?” His answer compelled me to take a closer look at culture and its effect on the quality of work we do.

He didn’t answer right away. He paused and put down his fork. I could see it in his eyes–was I asking him a trick question? I’m pretty sure he thought the answer was simple, so what the heck was I getting at?

After a second, he said, “When a customer calls us, they know they’ll get someone on the phone who knows them.  They know when they call or email they’ll get a quick response because we care about their business and are committed to getting the job done. They like our 24/7 availability. And I think they can tell we like them and each other. It shows up in our energy levels and our low turnover. We’re happy.” 

He went on, but I think you get the point.  Connor was talking about culture.


So what is “culture,” and does it really matter?


Culture skeptics scoff and claim culture isn’t a benefit—It’s too vague, they say, too intangible to be measured or defended. I think the naysayers are wrong because the effect culture has is real; I’ve experienced it.  In fact, I believe a company’s culture is the most telling indicator of the value they bring to the table.

But what is “culture?” Most culture gurus would define “culture” as “the shared values and beliefs that determine thoughts and behaviors.” I agree with Brené Brown’s down to earth assertion that culture is basically “the way we do things around here.” Both definitions, however, are a little hazy. Culture is both a concept and a living organism that might defy definition but can make or break a company.


What does a healthy culture look like?


According to Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, the “hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms.”  That’s a pretty good start.

When people feel free to share ideas, when people feel that both their time and their ideas are valued, it’s like the perfect petri dish for growing a healthy culture. When that culture starts to grow, the people within it care about each other and their customers. This translates into the sort of happiness that is intrinsic to good work environments. In fact, happiness as an aspect of a healthy culture has quite a few benefits.


Happiness? Really?


I know, “happiness” might be a little too touchy-feely for folks in the transportation sector but hear me out. Happiness matters. Over at The Happy Manifesto, Elinor Schmitz-Jansen breaks it down. She claims that happy people are more creative, accurate, and have better analytical skills. Furthermore, she highlights that happy people handle adversity more effectively, take fewer sick days, and are better negotiators. Research indicates that happy people are more productive and provide better service than their sour counterparts. And finally, happy people stick around.

Let’s break the happiness factor down as it pertains to the trucking industry and to 3PLs in particular since that’s where my area of expertise lies.


Creativity is a buzzword these days, but is it really such a big deal? After all, we’re here to move freight, not write poems. I assure you, creative thinking cannot be overvalued. Creativity, a byproduct of and a reason for happiness, promotes innovation and quick decision making from team members who have autonomy and authority to make on-the-spot decisions!


We all know that in the freight industry, adversity is the name of the game. But happy people aren’t afraid of adversity. They’re usually great problem solvers. Sure, everyone wants difficulty-free shipments, but happy people thrive on finding solutions to vexing problems.

Customer Service

Let’s talk about customer service. When members of a work culture care about each other, that caring doesn’t stop at the company door. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project explains, Happy people are perceived to be friendlier, warmer, and even more physically attractive. Also, research shows that happy people tend to be more cooperative, less self-absorbed, and able to offer the empathy needed in close relationships. They’re more willing to help other people—say, by sharing information or pitching in to help a colleague. Then, because they’ve helped others, others tend to help them. In an industry like transportation, where so much depends on good relationships with folks all along the supply chain–customers, consignees, warehouse managers, and carriers—the ability to cultivate strong relationships comes in mighty handy.


And what about retention? Rubin explains that in her research on happiness, she “looked at things like absenteeism, turnover, and health-care costs. And there’s some interesting and important findings. For example, not only are happy people more likely to show superior performance, but they’re also less likely to show counterproductive behaviors like burnout, absenteeism, counter- and non-productive work, work disputes, or retaliatory behavior.” Happy people are more likely to stay put. People who stick around have more experience, more know-how, more relationships, and more skills. It’s as simple as that!


It comes down to culture.

Here’s the deal. Culture matters. It matters a lot. If you’re not convinced, think about this for a minute. A healthy culture is value-driven, one of cooperation and creativity, while an unhealthy culture might promote competitiveness among and between employees who are always looking at the bottom line and concentrated on the top dollar. Instead of working together, employees are trying to one-up each other, and when that’s the case, freight is just a vehicle needed for a drive to the top.