In this extremely digital age we now live in, I was recently scrolling through my LinkedIn account (if you aren’t following the ASA LinkedIn account 
@American Supply Association (ASA), what are you waiting for?) and noticed a post from Max Bender, the president at Connecticut-based ASA distributor member BENDER.

In the post was a photo of what looked like an old-school citation you would get in grade school if you were late or got busted for some other perceived transgression. 

But this was the opposite kind of citation.

“Hey! You Rock!” was the title of the citation. “We caught you making a difference — and we LIKE it! Keep it up!”

I had to learn more.

Quite simply, if BENDER management notices an employee doing something good, they call them out on it in the form of issuing this citation.

“We found we were doing this rat race. No matter what any of us sell, it’s a commodity,” Bender tells me. “We wanted to change the game and really help our team members, and to show them they are part of something bigger, and that they are having a tremendous impact on the lives of our customers. We want to help them by providing the tools to have a bigger impact on the lives of each other and the lives of our customers. This was our opportunity to look for good behavior.”

The categories include being open to change, treating the company as your own to being a purpose promoter. “Our COO Mark Chirgwin started this three or four years ago,” Bender says. “We’re flipping the script here and recognizing positive behavior. We’re on the lookout for it. I try to call anybody that gets one of these during the week. It could be a driver, a salesperson or someone in AP or AR. It’s as easy as an order picker taking pride in going to the right bin and getting the right SKU and getting the item on the truck. That’s the difference between someone having heat or air-conditioning or not, or having a working bathroom. They are understanding the impact they have on others’ lives.”

Bender says the culture at his company has evolved greatly in recent years. “It’s been an unbelievable evolution,” he says. “Back in the day we were classic old-school wholesale. If you wrote a couple-million dollars in orders, but you were a cultural cancer and not respecting team members, you might have been exempt from disciplinary action. We have parted ways with a lot of significant revenue producers who did not align with where we were going. Now we treat each other with respect for the greater good. To be clear, we still have a long way to go but I am confident we are on the right path. We operate by our purpose statement, ‘We deliver creative solutions for comfortable living.’”

The seat shuffling on the bus even continued during the pandemic. “At the beginning of COVID, we parted ways with a lot of people and it affected our revenue,” Bender says. “Our people recognized leadership made some tough changes. We tried to keep the people who are supporting each other and championing customers. The feedback we received was, ‘Hey guys, it’s about time.’ Some people didn’t align with who we are anymore. There has been some pain with this. With COVID, demand has ramped back up and keeping up with it has been a challenge, especially while we increase staffing levels. We are trying to provide more structured training on industry specific skills while also providing tools that help our team members to have a bigger and more positive impact on the lives of other team members, customers and families. 

Bender notes by the end of the year every team member will participate in a weekly meeting processing issues and giving updates to their team on projects they are working on; all of these projects align with executive goals. “We’re rolling in the right direction,” he says. “And it all stems from a cultural alignment. People have to understand culture has a huge impact on the performance of organizations. If someone treats you like crap at work, you or they bring that home. Everybody should respect and support each other. Life is too short to be a bunch of (jerks).”

Bender also talks about having a purposeful approach in all aspects of life with his team. As an example, one salesperson shifted away from product benefits and price, and instead began asking customers about their pain points. That increased his sales significantly. “During COVID, he’s having his best year ever,” Bender says, “because he added purpose to the equation. If you don’t do that, what do you have? Commodities and boxes. There are a thousand places people can go buy the same stuff I sell. We have to add more value each day, and culturally, we are focused on that all the time.”