Can corporate values actually define the culture of a company and its people?

They sure do at EmployBridge.

You won’t see EmployBridge’s core values tacked to the walls or splashed across the corporate letterhead, but they touch each employee every day. The company firmly believes that family comes first, that employees are honest and mature, that integrity should be found in abundance, and that everyone should have a passion for the business. During EmployBridge’s formation, the leadership team decided that developing the right culture was a priority, and they immediately set about instilling the organization with the values that would carry them to success.

Mike Baer, EmployBridge’s chief people officer, says these values may not be exotic, but recognizes they’re at the heart of a company that employees are proud to work for. “We hire to those values, and we fire to those values,” he explains. “The quickest way to not be here any longer is to significantly violate one of the values.”

Conversations at every level—from leadership training to sales meetings—incorporate the company’s core beliefs, demonstrating just how deeply the values are woven into the fabric of the business. And without this everyday connection to values, Baer says employees can forget them quickly. A strong culture, he contends, is born when everything, from the way employees are promoted to the terminology used by workers, is centered on upholding the organization’s values. “Even the language we use reinforces and helps to build our values into the overall culture and belief system of the company,” Baer says. Things like LED (leading edge delivery) and CTC (closer to our customer) are phrases unique to EmployBridge, and form another tie to the team’s principles.

Focusing on three major niches helps bring employees together in a common mind-set, too. The company’s core industries are manufacturing, logistics, and transportation, something Baer says gives the team a finely tuned sense of purpose. “If you’re a generalist, it’s hard to think about yourself in a special way,” he says. “If you’re a specialist, that’s the definition of who you are.” By zooming in on each division’s particular area, Baer says that employees gain greater personal satisfaction, too. “It reinforces a sense of pride, of swagger,” he says. “You know that you’re better than your competition.”

Much of EmployBridge’s value-based efforts are everyday occurrences, but one formal event takes place each year at the company’s national meeting. “By far the most prestigious award that is given out is our Spirit Award,” Baer says. “It’s given to the person who has really demonstrated the values in the past year.”

All other awards handed out at the annual get-together are numbers-driven—salesperson of the year, branch of the year—but the Spirit Award is voted on. “This one is nominated by the peer group, and is voted on by the peer group,” Baer explains. The real challenge is often figuring out how to bring the winner to the meeting without them realizing what’s going on. “We have to come up with a reasonable explanation of why we want them there without tipping our hand,” Baer says with a laugh. The Spirit Award ceremony is a significant piece of the meeting, and Baer says the celebration that follows is about really honoring that person.