2018 Spark Plug Recap


In 2018, we were able to delve into seven different award-winning company cultures and find out what makes them successful.  These Spark Plugs, as we call them, provided insight into how these businesses put their employees first on a very practical level, and how this investment of time, energy, and finances has returned to them 100 fold.

We started the year by interviewing Matt Umholtz about his payroll company, Pay Sphere, which was recognized as Houston Business Journal’s No.1 Best Company to Work For 2017 in the small business category.  Umholtz explained that starting a Mission, Vision, & Values exercise allowed Pay Sphere to come up with their “north star.”  The team then regrouped around their goals and started implementing quarterly themes that would lead to the achievement of those goals.  Having their core values and expectations posted on the walls as well as desks makes it easy for management to hold employees accountable.  According to Umholtz, “Giving a team a vision, a purpose, and a direction, where every individual is a piece of the overall success, and can directly see their contribution, is more important than anything else we can do as a company and is truly the most defining element of our culture.”

Click here to read the full interview.

Our next Spark Plug was Click here to read the full interview., a virtual staffing company that specializes in virtual assistants, virtual bookkeepers, content writers, and webmasters, and is the No. 1 small company on Entrepreneur’s Top Company Cultures List.  Culture is of utmost importance to CEO Bryan Miles.  He says, “At my company, our vibrant culture is what makes working without four walls work.  It’s inextricably linked to our vision, and by design, our team willingly — and enthusiastically — embodies that.  We leave no margin for a ‘kinda sorta’ cultural commitment; you’ve got to be all in, contributing to the greater good.  Our culture is a hum.  A verve.  A vibe.  An electricity.”  We were very inspired to hear about BELAY’s Pay it Forward program, a fund where employees can voluntarily donate $1 from each paycheck to help other team members who are facing hardship.  These donations have been used for everything from replacing a water heater to supporting a coworker who lost a child.

You can read our full BELAY Spark Plug here.


Next, we studied N2 Publishing’s strategies for cultivating culture, who piqued our interest because they have earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 for seven consecutive years.  By providing fully customized monthly publications, N2 Publishing allows neighbors to go beyond the surface level and learn about one another with stories and photos submitted by residents.  But what has made them so successful?  According to Duane Hixon, co-founder and CEO, it’s hiring for disposition rather than position, and knowing your company’s purpose is greater than making money.  According to the Culture Deck found on the N2 Publishing website, their team is encouraged to “inspire and motivate rather than intimidate and manipulate,” as well as “take a little greater share of the blame and little smaller share of the credit.  Ideas such as these are counter-cultural to many workplaces, but they are the reason N2 has achieved a tight-knit family of workers eager to serve one another and their industry.

Check out our full N2 Publishing Spark Plug here.

In July, we wrote about one of our clients, ABC Home and Commercial Services.  In late 2016, ABC’s customer service department faced several challenges and struggled to maintain their wonderful customer service reputation.  As morale decreased, ABC leadership and the Customer Service Manager, Erin Warren, engaged Sheryl with Culture Spark for one on one management coaching.  “She was able to take what once seemed like an insurmountable project, break it down into actionable steps, and ultimately create a winning solution,” reported Warren.  As a result of increased structure and renewed vision and purpose, the culture of the office improved, as did team performance.

Read the full ABC Spark Plug here.

In October, we featured Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, No. 6 on Fortune 100’s Best Companies to Work For list due to their culture of compassion.  CEO Mike DeFrino says Kimpton hires for heart, and believes in people rather than policies.  We really enjoyed learning about Bill Kimpton, the late founder of these beautiful boutique hotels, who made it his mission to build a culture of compassion for employees as well as guests.  He launched a “self-insight” program for his couple of hundred employees, bringing in a psychologist to educate them on patterns of behavior and meshing personalities in the workplace.  These exercises fostered self-awareness and a foundation of trust and understanding that continues to deepen even as the Kimpton team has grown to 67 hotels in 36 cities.

The Kimpton culture is captivating.  Read our full Kimpton Spark Plug here.

Tuft & Needle is a mattress startup that ranks No. 1 on Entrepreneur’s Top Company Cultures list in the large-sized company category.  COO Evan Maridou credits their culture construction, calling it a labor of love, and believes that culture should take precedence over business advancement.  Even when they are in a bind professionally, T&N remains focused on their values as they recruit and interview in a deliberate, unhurried fashion.  They strongly believe in “hiring first for values, then for skill” while they look for “kindness, humility, and intellectual honesty,” says Maridou.

Click here to read our Tuft & Needle Spark Plug.

In November, we took a closer look at the culture at Wegman’s Food Markets, a century-old grocery chain with a mission to “help people live healthier, better lives through food.”  They have been on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For for the past 21 years, and this year they are ranked No. 2.  Wegmans leadership truly understands that taking care of employees is the best way to take care of customers.  Their website’s breakdown of their total rewards package declares, “We strongly believe that when you grow, we grow!  We know every employee’s career path is different, so we make sure we provide you with the individual support and tools you need to reach your career goals.”  More than half of Wegman’s managers have worked there since they were teenagers and were able to complete their education thanks to the scholarship program.

You can read our full Wegman’s Spark Plug here. 

Taking a closer look at these seven successful companies this year has inspired us to keep working side by side with businesses to curate their culture.  It is a critical process for every single team, regardless of size or industry, and the rewards far outweigh the cost.  May we all step into 2019 with renewed energy and motivation to see compassion cultivated in the workplace.

That’s our spark, what’s yours?