Tips on Great Company Culture from West Michigan’s Comfort Research
Matt Jung doesn’t like suggestion boxes. You certainly won’t find any at Comfort Research, the company he co-founded with Chip George when they were college students at Hope College in 1996.
Best known for their Big Joe brand of comfy, overstuffed bean bag chairs, the company’s culture has evolved for more than 20 years but not without some initial soul searching. Jung explained the duo wanted to create a space where workers felt valued and part of the team. They didn’t want an adversarial “us vs. them” relationship with employees. Instead, those ideas that might go in a suggestion box at other places and never see the light of day are encouraged to be shared in the open at Comfort Research and staff can even get rewarded for their best ideas.
Jung was a featured speaker at a recent West Michigan Best and Brightest Companies to Work For awards ceremony. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was a sponsor of the event and was also named one of the 2019 winners. At the awards ceremony, several companies took home awards, including Southwest Michigan First for Best Small Business, Andy J. Egan Company for Best Medium-Sized Business and Cascade Engineering for Best Large Business. Comfort Research was also named one of the 2019 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.
In their early days, Jung and George were finding success with their innovative take on the bean bag chair. They decided to give retail a try, opening up a boutique shop in 2004 that quickly lost money.
“We lost sight of the core and it almost killed us,” Jung said.
The setback was a learning opportunity and a chance to focus on a pared-down strategy that would propel the company forward. After some missteps coming up with a mission filled with “aspirational bologna”, the team landed on three core values that have shaped the company’s culture ever since:
- Find a better way
- Expect the best
- Do the right thing
A culture system was developed that rewards employees for living the core values. The FAB (Find a Better Way) award recognizes staff for coming up with new ideas to improve culture, process improvement or to save costs. Every suggestion earns employees $25 worth of “comfy bucks” to spend on products and quarterly and annual winning suggestions are worth $2,500 and $10,000, respectively.
The Awesome award is passed from peer to peer and is based on the value of expecting the best. The current honoree passes the award on to someone they feel has been extra awesome in the workplace. An extra paid week vacation is part of the prize. The DiRT (Doing the Right Thing) award is won quarterly through nominations. All submissions receive $25 in “comfy bucks” and all nominees receive $100. Quarterly winners take home $1,500.
Jung said employees feel empowered to effect change in the workplace and recognize others making a difference as well. The company even gives culture tours for other businesses interested in learning more about the brand’s unique approach to engagement.
“This whole culture thing is so worth the effort,” he said.
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Photo credit: serts