The Power of Culture

AESC Members work diligently to provide executive talent solutions for organizations across all industries and in all geographies—spanning 1,200+ offices in 70+ countries. Bringing a deep level of expertise to their clients, our Members have a unique vantage point as they help companies build effective organizational cultures and advise on leadership strategies impacting business leaders and the world. 

With our AESC Member Spotlights, we speak with members to get their take on the profession, industry and sector-specific trends, regional insights and more. 

Guest blog post by William Vanderbloemen, founder & CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group

I was holding a copy of Culture Wins in my hands, and it hit me: This book was an accident. Over the years, I’ve learned that there is a path to a winning culture, and it’s a path that creates an irresistible workplace and a winning business. But this has been a winding journey of some good and some bad to get to here.

But let me start from the beginning. Earlier in my career, I didn’t understand how important culture was to an organization’s success. At thirty-one years old, I was the senior minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Houston. There was a school, preschool, and hundreds of employees. It was a big church, and while I was there, the attendance grew a little and the median donor age dropped. I’m proud of the contributions I made but wish I had known then what I know now about the importance of culture in any organization.

I looked back at what happened after I left the church and went to work in the corporate world. When I started my own business, the question was stuck in my head: what had I seen in my work experience about how organizations attract, recruit, and retain great people? What had I done to foster a culture in which people wanted to work with me—and wanted to work for me? Having employees who absolutely love coming to work to do what you do is a terrific accomplishment, but the retaining of them is an even better one. 

In a business world of great products, great price points, great customer service, and great marketing, there’s still one thing I’d choose if I had to, and it links back to the power of culture - the people who make up the team. It’s the team that matters.

We’ve figured out that we can offer this same strategic help to our executive search clients. People perk up and take notice any time they talk to our team, whether that’s during a casual one-on-one conversation at an event where someone asks “why do you love working here?” or when they visit our office and see it in action for themselves. They want to know, how do we get our culture to look like that? We realized we could step in and offer some unique perspective and guidance in the “culture industry.” This led us to expand outside of just staffing and create resources like Culture Wins, The Culture Tool, and an organizational culture consulting service line.

As I’ve made decisions about how I want to lead my company and who I choose to hire, I’ve thought a lot about the research on culture I’ve done and why people want to stay. Now, we’ve grown to nearly forty employees, and people want to come work at my company. To get a clear understanding of how I’d left a mediocre culture and helped create a thriving one, I thought about the choices I’d made at my company and how they were different from the choices I’d made earlier in my career. 

I have employees who come in earlier and stay later than I do because they love the company and the work they do. But the thing is, my goal was never to convince them to work for me or even persuade them to stay. I actually tried to talk them out of working here. We have a particular kind of “crazy,” and it might not be the best fit for someone interested in coming to work here. That’s not a slick, passive-aggressive, or reverse psychology sales tactic. I want anyone who wants to work here to know that we have a distinct culture, and if it’s not for them, they’ll be miserable. But on the other hand, if it is for them, they will probably be successful and enjoy it.

It’s not that there are places with intrinsically better work environments than others, but rather, each workplace is different, with its own kind of crazy. The key is staffing your business with people who share those qualities to make your organization unique - whatever they are. Once you understand what makes your company culture different and you can describe it, you can verbalize it to candidates in the interview phase so that there are no surprises for them and fewer bad hires for you. This approach leads to high success rates in hiring because we get people who can be happy and successful with “our kind of crazy.” You move forward with great teams that do great work and keep a great culture alive and thriving.

It comes down to an investment in culture.

There are many priorities to consider in building a successful company, but above all else—more than profits, more than process, and even more than people—culture wins.


William Vanderbloemen is an entrepreneur, pastor, speaker, author, and CEO and founder of Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm serving churches, ministries, and faith-based organizations.