THOM SCHULTZ runs a Loveland, Colorado based company named Group Publishing. It started 40 years ago as Group Magazine, and quickly expanded to deliver a wide variety of Christian resources for children, youth, and adults.
This is a for-profit company, privately held, delivering religious goods. Their primary customers are Christian churches, groups, and individuals. So I’m not surprised that they base the company on Christian values, and are completely open about it.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Thom explained to me more about the core values of the company. Externally, they give to the community (which extends to the nation and the world) much more seriously than you’d expect. Sure, they’re constantly giving many thousands of dollars to groups and projects in need.
More important, though, are the projects they engage with and lead. Employees are given paid time to volunteer for projects, and Group will organize and lead sizable projects themselves. This has now become a core competency of the company, even to the point that they’re talking about offering this as a service to other companies.
I find this startling, because it’s clearly outside the scope of what one would think of as a publishing company – of any kind. But they’re so passionate about making a difference in the world that they’ll invest in helping other companies to do it too. That’s commitment.
I’ve heard from others that Group has a powerful employee culture, so I was grateful to be able to ask Thom more about that. He showed me a wall which was created by the employees to communicate the benefits they receive. It included, of course, health benefits, time off, and all that. But more impressive were the intangible benefits, like having fun and being supported.
This is not the list of benefits you’d expect in an HR manual.
How do you manage hundreds of employees in a culture which de-emphasizes hierarchy? Well, they’ve got structure – identified managers and leaders who ensure employees are aligned and objectives are met. But Thom was quick to point out that they work hard to find people who have the gift of leadership, rather than using managerial assignments as a reward for doing a good job. If you’re great at what you do, they’ll also look at how to let you have more of an impact – and be rewarded for it – rather than just assuming that management is the sole career path.
I know from experience how difficult this is to implement. But it’s possible, and sustainable, when built on the right culture formed on clear values.
As you know, I believe that one of my big tests for “deep values” is when a company has to trade off profitability against the fancy words in the mission statement. This business has survived for 40 years, and of course was impacted by the recession. Their customers have all experienced a lack of money to spend on these kinds of educational materials.
But Thom was very calm about this: “When done sensibly, many of these things have little negative impact on the bottom line. And in fact, some will come back in positive ways.” When you give to the community, they respond with increased loyalty. When employees have an open environment and understand what’s happening, they’ll support tough decisions that have to be made.
We talked at one of the tables in their rustic little company café. They could have done this as an extremely generous employee benefit (think Google’s famous free cafeteria and limitless sodas) but instead chose to do this in a more thoughtful manner. Prices are reasonable, and the café is open to the public. It was well visited by outsiders while I was there. This approach is reasonably generous for employees, but not to the extent that it’s unsustainable.
I have no doubt that this great company will be thriving another 40 years from now.
Are you interested to learn more about Thom’s philosophy? Check out his blog.