Strategic Thinking Now Blog

How to Build an Amazing Culture in an Organization of Any Size

Why do some companies build an amazing culture and others don’t? In Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, he explains why and how some companies can build a truly amazing culture where employees want to come to work and customers choose to be loyal, even paying premiums for the company’s products and services.

According to Sinek, the WHY relates to an organization’s or a leader’s values and purpose. If a leader can articulate their purpose and values, others who believe in those values and purpose will support them and join them. This creates a strong culture where everyone is working towards the same higher purpose. People are excited to come to work and customers go out of their way to buy that company’s products and services.

People don’t buy WHAT you do. People buy WHY you do it.

Small Business Makeover Program

Small Business Makeover logo with Yavapai SBDC logo

Link to Prescott Times online interview.


Small Business “Makeover” Program 

Was Designed to Keep Local Businesses Alive

By Jeri Denniston


During the height of the COVID pandemic, the Yavapai College Small Business Development Center (SBDC) launched the Small Business Makeover Program, thanks to an influx of CARES Act funding. 


I was the director at the time and had been introduced to a program on Hulu called "Small Business Revolution". While that was a nationwide program funded and supported by Deluxe Marketing, the concept struck a chord with me. Why couldn't we create something similar but on a much more local scale? 


With CARES Act funding from the State SBDC office, we hired a program manager to design the program for us. We also hired a website developer to create a website that would be used to promote the program and encourage local businesses to apply.


We invited local leaders from the various town economic development offices and chambers of commerce throughout Yavapai County to form a selection committee with our SBDC team. Their job was to review the 20 +applications we received and choose our initial two businesses to receive a "makeover" – an in-depth assessment of their top 2-3 business challenges.


Our team then helped each business owner and their staff address those challenges. The SBDC center also provided a small amount of funding to help the two businesses with website development, marketing, operations, and other challenges unique to each business.


Other businesses that applied but were not selected were entered into a “Mini-Makeover Bootcamp,” receiving confidential one-on-one coaching with SBDC consultants, access to subject matter experts, access to the Arizona Commerce Authority's Small Business Academy program, and resources to suit their specific needs. 


Highlighted on this page are the two businesses that were selected during the Small Business Makeover program.

Montage of photos of SBDC team telling Body Bliss owners they won

Body Bliss™ Intentional Aromatherapy®, has been selected as the next Makeover of a Lifetime winner with the Yavapai College Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Small Business Makeover Program.

Funded in part with CARES Act funding, the Small Business Makeover Program was created to support businesses in Yavapai County and to provide support and access to resources in this time of economic recovery.

“The Small Business Makeover is one of many great initiatives and services offered by the SBDC. We love to see our local businesses working with the SBDC and want to congratulate Body Bliss on their success in the program,” said Molly Spangler, Economic Development Director for the City of Sedona.

The SBDC offers free business planning, counseling, access to funding and more. Please register at to take advantage of this great resource.

Body Bliss™ is a Cottonwood, Arizona based manufacturing company of body products run by owners Pamela Sculthorp and Jennifer Rivera and 20 employees. The main retail store is located in Uptown Sedona, Arizona and because of the sustainable, botanical raw materials in each product recipe, Body Bliss™ is embraced by wellness-oriented spa professionals from coast to coast.


Source: City of Sedona Government Facebook Page

Rob Valenzuela Owner of Insurgent Brewing Co.

Insurgent Brewery Co. in Chino Valley was named the first-ever winner of the Makeover of a Lifetime as part of the Yavapai College Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) new Small Business Makeover program, according to a news release.


On Friday, March 12, members of the Yavapai College SBDC Team, Yavapai College Film and Cinematography crew, and Chino Valley Economic Development Project Manager Maggie Tidaback surprised Laura and Rob Valenzuela at their Chino Valley brewery. They announced to the couple that the Yavapai County chamber executives and economic development officers had selected Insurgent Brewing Co. as the first Yavapai College SBDC Makeover of a Lifetime winner in the Small Business Makeover program.


With many small businesses severely burdened or even shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yavapai College Small Business Development Center, which operates as part of the Regional Economic Development Center, launched the Small Business Makeover program in January to address this ongoing need.


“Thanks to new funding we received from the CARES Act, we were able to bring additional resources to help us plan and launch this as a pilot program for new clients,” SBDC Director Jeri Denniston said in the news release. “Our goal is to expand this program to all SBDC clients next year as another set of tools and resources to help small businesses thrive.”


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The Art of Possibility: 
Rule Number 6

Image of angry or frustrated girl with steam coming out her ears


Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. 


The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “Kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. 


The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again 20 minutes later by a hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology. 


When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?” 


“Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so God damn seriously."


After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”

“There aren’t any.”   

~ from The Sixth Practice in The Art of Possibility

People dancing or running inside a large cylinder


Employee Rewards Programs Can be Motivational

On the other hand, if it’s appropriate to give praise in a public setting such as a staff meeting, do so, but make sure you gave the individual a one-minute praise beforehand, even if it was days before. The public recognition will be an additional and more well-received reward; especially when the behavior being recognized fits within the scope of the rewards and recognition program you’ve established.

All that being said, here are some unique ideas I came across in the book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees:

1) Close a few hours early one day and take everyone to a shopping mall. Give each person $25 to spend and tell them to gather together in one hour. Then share and compare what each person bought with their $25 and why they chose the items(s) they did. This could be instead of a holiday or sales bonus.

2) Hold occasional fun contests. These should be planned by the managers, not the staff. If staff members are assigned on a rotating basis, it becomes another chore or work-related task, not a fun event. Contests can include St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween costume contests, or themed pot luck dish competitions. Rewards can be cash and/or gift certificates for restaurants, movie theater tickets, sporting events, etc.

3) Celebrate a Day of Excellence once a year with fun learning activities for all employees. Or let each staff person choose a day during the year that is their “special day”. Managers then surprise that person with fun activities during lunch or late in the afternoon of that day. 

4) Take the afternoon off once a year and take the team out for a fun afternoon of team building. Have participants pair off and compete in water pistol games or brain teaser exercises or puzzle activities. Or take everyone to play miniature golf and have fun prizes for first and second place. Include snacks and drinks or cash for each person to buy their own.

5) Set up a money-saving suggestion awards program. One company awarded $50 to $150,000 for money-saving ideas or suggestions with tangible benefits like improving health, safety or customer service. The amount of the reward is tied to measurable savings at incremental levels.


Let us know your thoughts about employee rewards programs and any unique ideas you have implemented in your organization. 

Recently, I came across a book I haven’t opened in a long time. It’s called 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, by Bob Nelson. The book (which was updated in 2012 to 1501 Ways to Reward Employees) lists a variety of ways to recognize achievement. These include no cost ideas such as one-minute praises and bravo cards, to low cost ideas like bringing the person a bagged lunch for a week from a gourmet sandwich shop. It also lists ideas for more expensive rewards, such as trips, dinner for two, and other types of gift certificates.

In my experience, how the rewards are delivered is critical. If the praise isn’t heartfelt and the recognition is done to fulfill the requirements of a weekly recognition program, the staff will not feel appreciated. It won’t feel authentic and they will grow to resent it.

So before you launch a recognition program, be sure to clearly define the scope of the program, and the types of behavior you want to recognize and why. Are you doing this just because you heard from others that employee recognition is important? Or are you doing this to try to shift behavior, create a new culture, and/or work towards a long term organizational goal?

Ken Blanchard has written a great deal about the subject of leadership and building high performing teams. Praise needs to be authentic and heartfelt. Don’t praise just to go through the motions. In his book, The One Minute Manager (recently updated), he talks about catching people off guard doing something right. Then giving them praise at that moment. Those are the “one-minute praises”. Don’t wait until the staff gets together for a team meeting and then give the praise. It will come off as un-authentic and something the boss is doing to prove what a great boss he or she is. The staff will resent it. 

By Jeri Denniston

How Did We Come Up With Denner Group International?

This is something we’ve never shared. Denner Group International is the name of the consulting practice Eric and I share. It’s a practice Eric started more than 30 years ago under the name Eric Denniston & Associates. Pretty common as consulting practices go.

I was working as a marketing manager for various employers in the information technology and publishing industries, while Eric plied his consulting trade, first in emerging personal computer technology, then in business planning, and ultimately in strategic and change management.

In 2005 I joined Eric in his consulting practice. We always knew we had complimentary skills, but now we had the opportunity to prove it. Initially, we started operating under the same company name of Eric Denniston & Associates. Over time, though, we realized it might be better to have an identity that reflected both of us, along with an updated logo.

So we put our heads together trying a variety of combinations that used E & J or ED & JTD in the name. Then Eric said what about a combination of our two last names, Denniston and Towner? How about Denner? It worked! I started working on a logo design and after a few hours, this brand was born. It still holds up after all these years.

Initially, our idea was to become a group of consultants focusing on international business who operated under the Denner Group name, thus we called our company Denner Group International. It also made us sound larger than just a 2-person consulting practice.

Back in 2005, it was still important to look like you were part of a larger entity operating out of a “professional office” rather than a home office. Then came the 2008 crash and the layoffs, and things changed. Companies were downsizing and setting up staff in “home offices”. Others were starting their own consulting practices or home-based businesses. So reflecting a large entity operating out of a separate office location became irrelevant.

We realized it’s not the company that people hire – it’s the people - us. We are the business, not Denner Group. Where and how we work matters to the extent that we fulfill our promises to our clients and we work with openness and integrity. That’s just who we are.

Our clients benefit from this collaboration. 

As one client told us….

“Your respect for one another shines through as you work together. It is wonderful to see and experience as a participant.”


Photo of Eric and Jeri Denniston in blue circle

Depending on the situation, we may work together with a client to facilitate the development of their strategic plan. In other situations, we work independently as coaches or consultants helping our clients accomplish their specific objectives.

So while our company name is Denner Group International, and we frequently refer to our company as DGI.  Eric and Jeri Denniston are the people behind (or rather in front) of that name. We complement one another and have developed an excellent working relationship built out of love and respect for each other’s capabilities. 

Denner Group International logo

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