4imprint's business success tied to company culture of people first

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By Laura Dowdy

In June, I attended a leadership breakfast hosted by 4imprint.  We listened to their president, Kevin Lyons-Tar, talk about what he thought the key to success for their business is. Kevin shared a lot of information about the history of 4imprint, and described how 4imprint became the largest direct marketer of promotional products in the United States. 4imprint’s story of growth and market domination was fascinating and it strikes me that Kevin believes 4imprint’s history lesson is best summed up as creating a company culture that serves employees’ development as much as it delights and serves customers.

4imprint strives to create a culture that puts people, especially their employees, first. Kevin believes that what separates 4imprint from its competition, in a fractured market, is 4imprint’s quality of service. His philosophy is that if you expect your employees to treat your customers well, you need to treat your employees well. This goes beyond exercise classes in the break room or decent medical benefits. 4imprint has a set of 8 guiding principles they use as a compass to guide their decision-making process on everything. If something doesn’t fit with what they envision for the company as far as integrity, creativity, how to treat people and so forth, they pass on it. Leadership at 4imprint has learned to be true to putting people first, and it’s working for them.

A great example of this occurred during the latest recession. 4imprint cut costs on everything but advertising and people. The thought was that when it finally turned around, 4imprint was going to need the best personnel to keep up with market demands and pull their company through and out of the slump. 4imprint was loyal to their employees during a tough time, and their employees returned the favor. 4imprint recovered more quickly than they had in previous recessions and faster than the rate for the economy itself.

What is most compelling, however, about the culture at 4imprint is FAILURE. As Kevin tells the story, much of 4imprint’s success today comes from learning from mistakes in the past. From Kevin’s perspective as a leader, learning from mistakes and allowing room for those learning experiences has built a thriving, competitive, successful and ever-changing business model. 4imprint strives to create an environment where employees can take risks and fail without reprisal. Employees are not only allowed but encouraged to try tasks outside their realm of expertise. If a new challenge arises, such as managing social media outlets, 4imprint looks for someone within the company willing to take a risk and give it a shot. These risk takers are also the people 4imprint keeps an eye on for future leadership within the company. 4imprint’s people first culture is a fantastic example of a company creating a place where employees grow as people and individuals. Individual growth empowers everyone at 4imprint to collectively make their business more innovative, agile and successful.