Preview Thursday: Culture Wins

The following is an excerpt from Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace.

How I Accidentally Discovered Our Company's Staff Values

There’s a lot of old-school thinking about vision. One school of thought says the leader’s role is to find the vision for the company: Go off on vacation, on a personal retreat, or as my pastor friends would say, “Go off to the mountain and come back down with two stone tablets with all the values written down, Ten Commandments style. If you can’t define the vision, you’re not a leader.”

But over the years, I’m learning that isn’t the way it works. My experience has taught me the two stone tablets aren’t received from the Divine at the top of Mount Sinai (or any mountain). The stone tablets with your company culture are at the bottom of the mountain. The values you’re looking for are embedded in your people. It’s your job to figure out what those values are and work with your people to articulate them.

Our team gathered at a staff retreat a few years ago to establish our values. I decided to crowdsource it and ask the team to answer the question,

“When our team is performing at its best, what are the characteristics that make us who we are?”

After everyone had a chance to write their comments and ideas on giant post-its, we all sat down, as a company, to discuss them. I wanted my people to explain their thoughts: how they described our company’s culture and its success. I also wanted to know why they believed what we did was different than what most other companies did.

I let that sit for a long time, partly by accident. We got really busy, and I didn’t have time to deal with it. But looking back, taking that time was the best approach. Sometimes, taking time away from a topic—even a day—allows the ideas presented around it to “gel,” so you have a better understanding of how those ideas are connected. As my mother has told me for years, “Chili always tastes better after sitting in the refrigerator for a few days after you cook it.”

After several months, we circled back to the giant post-it notes and talked about culture and the ideas we had generated. We came up with “buckets” in which to group ideas with common themes. It was the start of our six- month journey toward, ultimately, defining our cultural values, and those became part of our mission. Those values came from within the company and were culled from the people who spent every day doing the work that made us successful—and unique. I didn’t have to climb a mountain or go on a solo retreat to discover who my people were; the answer was within them, and they needed a forum in which to share it. Giant post-it notes and company-wide brainstorming sessions may not be your kind of crazy for writing a mission statement, but it worked for us.

Once you know your kind of crazy, you’ll do things that may appear nontraditional in a corporate culture; yet it won’t be crazy for you because those actions are a direct correlation of who you’ve decided you are and what propels your team forward in reaching its greatest potential.


William Vanderbloemen is an entrepreneur, pastor, speaker, author, and CEO/Founder of Vanderbloemen Search Group (VSG), an executive search firm that helps organizations find their key staff. VSG has been named four and three times to the top of’s Top Company Cultures list of small businesses and Houston Business Journal Best Place To Work list, respectively. VSG recently was named to Houstonia’s 2017 Best Places to Work list and Forbes’ 2017 list of America’s Top Executive Recruiting Firms. Prior to his work in executive search, William led growth and innovation in several churches, including Houston’s oldest congregation, the First Presbyterian Church of Houston. William is a regular contributor to Forbes and Fortune. His latest book, Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace, is available now. William holds degrees from Wake Forest University and Princeton Theological Seminary.

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