A Company Culture Defines You: Make Sure You Design It!

May 2, 2011, Written by Sue Miley

I remember the day I was promoted to run and develop the coffee house division at Community Coffee.

I wanted to run my own business.  I guess even working for what is considered a reasonably big regional company I was already developing the entrepreneurial bug.

I was 8 months pregnant and about to deliver twins when I announced my desire to run my own part of the business to our then President and CEO.  He had been my mentor since I came to Community Coffee at the ripe old age of 24.

I think this was a pinnacle for my workaholic craziness.  Eight month pregnant and on bed rest, because my body was not sturdy enough to carry twins, and I am worried about the next assignment in my career.

I asked him what I needed to do to be ready.  If I wasn’t ready it was my fault.  But, I needed to know what my development needs were.

Ask and You May Just Receive!

Less than a year later, I was the new Director of the Coffee House division.  With six weeks to develop and present my vision to our board of directors, I began an intense study of the coffee house industry.

You can’t do an intense study of the coffee house industry without studying Starbucks.  But, back then, believe it or not, there wasn’t a single Starbucks in Louisiana.  We liked to think it was because they were afraid of us!  Ha ha.

I had to go to Dallas to see them.  There was nothing like it in Louisiana.  I was in love the moment I walked in.

We had opened two of our own coffee houses with the help of a prior Starbucks partner, but he only knew how to do Starbucks.  We were a sort of low budget rip-off.  High budget for us….low for them!

A Company Culture Is Uniquely Their Own

We needed to be different.  We needed our own culture.  Plus, we had a heritage that was already 75 years old.  We were different.  Our coffee houses needed to reflect that.

As much as I knew we needed to be different, it was Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, that helped me to know and believe that.  In his book, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time he shared how he saw this coffee bar/espresso concept being lived in small espresso cafe’s across Italy.  After visiting Italy, he fell in love and knew he needed to create his version of this concept back home.  This was the beginning of what we now know to be Starbucks.

As much as his dream was built on “coffee”, it was even more focused on “culture”.

Point of Difference:  Same Product, Different Culture

This is what I could relate to. A culture is unique to a company.  It is born by the leaders and developed into culture by their relentless pursuit of “it” across everything a company does.

This is what would make us different.

This is what made Starbucks different too.

Culture Must Be Planned and Created

As a small business owner it is YOU that envisions and develops your company’s culture. All businesses have one.

Without strong leadership, sometimes the culture develops as a result, and isn’t what you wanted or planned.  But, you have to look in the mirror and admit it.  You let it happen.

You said you would create a business based on your values.

We will be a company of integrity, with customers, employees, and vendors.

We will treat our employees as we would want to be treated.

We will give back to the community and enrich the world around us.

We won’t cut corners or do anything that will devalue the quality of our product or service.

Yes, you said these things to yourself.

Culture Must Be Communicated

But did you espouse them to your team as it grew slowly, one employee at a time.

Did you base your hiring decisions around them?

Did you create your processes and procedures with these values in mind?

Or did you react?

Culture Must Be Mandatory

Did business start to develop and you found you needed to hire a couple of people.  After a month or two, you realized the new employees cussed a lot.  You mentioned a couple of times it bothered you, but nothing really changed.

These employees worked hard, but at quitting time, complete or not, they were heading home.  Sometimes they told you they needed to go back to the job.  Sometimes you didn’t find out until the customer called.

Did a culture that matched the flow of business and the diversity of your employees begin to emerge?

Culture Must Be Managed

Even the best intentions can sometimes go astray.  The Starbucks founder, Howard Schultz, had to return to the helm of his business and take back the CEO position to return his company back to the culture it was founded on.  His open, honest, and somewhat painful account is shared in his new book Onward: How Starbucks Fought for It’s Life Without Losing It’s Soul.

It brought tears to my eyes….but good tears.  Tears of inspiration.  A reminder of the importance of culture.  And more importantly, the need for leadership to build this culture and ensure it’s development.

Ensure the Culture You Dreamed Of

A culture will develop, with your direction or without it.  Do you want it to be the culture you dreamed of or the one that happened to your company?

I am a small business myself now.  I wanted to fulfill that entrepreneurial bug and maintain what was my most important value – my family.

I am with you…a Christian business owner who wants to build a successful business on a foundation of my Christian values.

I know it starts with values.

It cultivates into a culture.

And becomes the foundation to our success.

As Christian business owners we must not take it for granted.  We must lead the way to the culture we first dreamed.  And, for some of us who have been in business awhile, we may have to do what Howard Schulz did, and reclaim our business, re-establish our culture, and press Onward!


Building a business on the foundation of our Christian values I believe is the key to our success.  Here are three FREE e-books that support this concept:  The Seven Myths That Keep Christians from Business Success, Hire Standard: The 5C’s of Hiring People with Your Values, and The 5 Advantages of Being a Christian In Business.  It all begins with culture!  If you need help in planning your culture to match your values and your business vision, please email me to get started!

Reader Interactions


  1. Brad Harmon says

    I was staring at that book this morning when I was at Starbucks, Sue. It sounds like it struck a chord with you. I’ll have to add it to my reading list.

    I like how you have two companies that were trying to do the same thing with similar products, but the culture of each was unique. I think too many companies allow the culture of the company to develop on its own, or they create mission/vision statements for their lobby walls but never commit to them.

    As Christians, we’re called to bring glory to God in everything we do. This includes our business. Our vision, mission, and culture should align with His.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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