Workplace Culture is Your Biggest Asset


  • CEOs agree that workplace culture is their most powerful asset, yet it ranks low on their list of priorities.
  • According to research, a great culture affects reputation, hiring and employee retention.
  • Mark Miller suggests leaders start by making space for hopes and dreams, amplifying vision and values often, and adapting the aspiration as needed.
  • Systems like polls and surveys can help monitor the health of an organization’s culture.

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Leaders know that culture matters. But with so many problems to solve and goals to reach, it’s hard to make workplace culture a priority. In bestselling author Mark Miller’s recent book Culture Rules: The Leader’s Guide to Creating the Ultimate Competitive Advantage, he surveyed more than 6000 individuals from 10 countries. Although 67% of global leaders agreed that culture is their most powerful tool, workplace culture failed to show up in a top 10 list of priorities. 

Unfortunately, this disconnect has far reaching consequences. Culture affects everything from reputation to hiring to employee retention. In a Glassdoor survey, 56% of employees said workplace culture was even more important than salary. Elevating your company culture doesn’t have to be daunting, according to Miller. His book outlines a simple strategic framework to create a thriving high-performance culture. Below are three rules to help you define the culture you want, integrate your message into the workplace, and find success by listening, learning, and adjusting. 

Get Clear

Humans want to feel connected to something bigger than themselves. That’s why Miller’s first rule is called Aspire. Most leaders have already identified their organization’s aspirations—the difference here is communication. Miller advises leaders to translate their vision, mission, purpose, and core beliefs for employees. When aspirations remain unsaid, confusion reigns instead of culture. Maintaining values and articulating your vision not only outlines boundaries and expectations, it also creates a sense of shared purpose.

Repeat Often 

It’s not enough to announce your organization’s expectations. Instead, Miller says you have to Amplify them, which is the second rule in his strategic framework. Leaders can amplify their vision, mission, and core values in many ways, and Miller suggests using a variety of methods. The world is loud and distracting, and to build a better culture, employees need reminders. 

One technique Miller recommends involves looking at the last 30 days of your calendar and finding activities you personally engaged in that match your aspiration. Then, the goal is to strategize how you can use these same activities in the future to amplify your aspiration. This process can be far reaching, affecting everything from hiring descriptions to onboarding of new employees to recognizing team members who embody the mission and core values of your organization. 

Listen & Learn

Enhancing workplace culture is not a one and done proposition. The last rule Miller wants leaders to understand is Adapt. In other words, clarifying your vision and values is important, but how do they actually land with the people that work for you? Miller advises leaders to prioritize listening so that you understand if your aspiration is on target or if it needs an adjustment. Systems that help identify problems that affect workplace satisfaction are important ways leaders can monitor the health of the culture they’ve worked so hard to build. Listening sessions and surveys are great ways to take the pulse of your organization. HR morning has cataloged 45 sample questions to help employers build their own customized survey to measure workplace engagement and satisfaction. 

The Bottom Line 

Taking the time to reflect on the three rules of Miller’s framework—Aspire, Amplify, and Adapt—will help you develop and maintain a healthy workplace culture. The long-term benefits for organizations are huge when people are more connected to their idea or mission because that will make them more invested in it. It’s up to leaders to carve out space for the hopes and dreams of their team members, so they can create a culture that allows all members of their organization to thrive.

The Best Business Tax Strategy? Being Tax-Free, of Course. Here’s How.

In 2006, second generation business owner Ken Baker needed to create some liquidity to address some financial obligations. His company, NewAge Industries in Southampton, PA was a small but successful manufacturer of plastic tubing and hose. The company was started from scratch by his father, who decided to retire after many years at the company.

Ken looked into taking on a loan, but was not enamored with the additional debt. He then learned about an “ESOP” an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. After much research and deliberation, Ken sold 30% of the company to his employees. Because an ESOP is part of an ERISA sanctioned trust, with employee shares held within that trust, the profits of Ken’s company were now 30% tax free. That’s right, TAX FREE, both Federal and State of PA. And in addition, the employees pay nothing. Not a penny.

 Immediately after converting to employee ownership, Ken’s company began to grow. The employees now had a real stake in the organization’s profits. Employee owned companies are, on average, as much as 8-12% more productive, year-over-year, than traditional companies, according to the National Center for Employee Ownership. Over the next 12 years, the company share price grew over 1,100%, with Ken still owning the vast majority of the profits. In 2019, Ken sold the balance of the company to the employees at a dramatically higher share price, reaped tremendously greater rewards than he would have, and NewAge is now a 100% tax free organization. Ken remains as CEO, managing all day-to-day operations, and even owns shares as an employee in the ESOP. The tax benefits have created additional cash and contributed to the growth of the company.

Here is how it all works.

Employee Ownership rewards owners, preserves legacy, creates real financial futures for workers, keeps businesses here in Pennsylvania and bolsters the economy. And yet very few know about ESOPs.

ESOPs are not a trick or a loop-hole device. They are a US Department of Labor program, established in 1974 by Senator Russell Long and economist Lewis Kelso. Generally designed for businesses with 20 or more employees, the goal was to create a deferred tax program that would allow business growth and address the ever concerning problem of retirement for workers. When employees leave the business, via retirement or otherwise, they can cash in their shares and pay ordinary income tax, just like a 401(k). The difference is that employees pay nothing for this benefit.

 The Exit Planning Institute estimates that, due to the aging of the Baby Boomers, as many as 4 million companies, large and small, will transact within a 10-year period. It is further expected that up to 30% of those businesses will simply disappear. These facts make succession planning a critical business issue. So what is your strategy for succession? For growing the business? For caring for your family? Employee Ownership is not only an exit/succession planning alternative but is also a business growth strategy. 

But what if your business does not have 20 employees? What if you are a Main Street or Commercial Corridor business? A café, hardware store, retail, or service organization? There’s a relatively new program called an Employee Ownership Trust that is designed specifically for smaller organizations. Just like an ESOP, a business owner can sell some or all of the shares to the employees for an agreed upon amount. The shares of the business are held in a Perpetual Trust, and the profits of the business belong to the employees in a way designed by the selling owner and the employees.

 The owner(s) reap value from their years of work and the employees now profit from their daily efforts. Although relatively new in the US, EOTs have been common in the UK for generations. The large UK Department Store, John Lewis, has been employee owned for over 100 years! You can read about them here.

The Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that exists for one reason, to raise awareness about a remarkable program that can benefit business and business owners. We sell nothing and charge nothing for our work. We do not provide accounting or professional services. We are a volunteer collective of CEOs with experience in various forms of employee ownership; professionals in the industry (CPA’s, Attorneys, Wealth Managers, etc.); and Foundations and Universities (Rutgers, University of California San Diego, University of Pittsburgh, Chatham University). We are dedicated to simply helping to raise awareness about an important program.

If you would like to learn more about ESOPs and employee ownership, join us for the Chamber’s next Coffee Conversations on Thursday, September 7, from 8:30 – 10:00 am at the Chamber office, 131 S. Fraser Street, Suite 1, State College, PA 16801.

Are ADUs an affordable housing solution 


Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are being considered as a compact and affordable solution to address the housing scarcity in urban areas, with their potential to utilize some of the 75% of residential land reserved for single-family homes.
Despite some opposition due to concerns about parking, infrastructure, and property values, ADUs are seen as an innovation that benefits individuals, businesses, and communities especially given the current lack of affordable housing for first-time home buyers and workers.

While awareness about ADUs remains low, progress has been made through programs and incentives encouraging ADU construction, such as Los Angeles’ Accessory Dwelling Unit Standard Plan Program and Santa Cruz’s Forgivable ADU Loan Program.

881 Words ~ 4.5 Minute Read

Across North America, people are asking their city and town councils to take action on property development fees that drive high new home prices, which in turn drive up the market for existing single family homes. As urban areas grapple with housing scarcity, an innovative approach is steadily gaining ground. With 75% of residential land in the United States reserved for single-family homes, many housing experts see accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, as a compact and affordable solution to the widespread residential crunch.

While the conversation around ADUs may seem new, ADUs have been around a long time. Granny flats, in-law suites, garage apartments, and backyard cottages are some of the more familiar names for ADUs.

ADUs come in all shapes and sizes, but typically have less square footage than the main residence. They can be attached or unattached, brand new, or a remodeled section of the main house. ADUs come with all the amenities required for private and independent living, including a separate entrance, kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, as well as other living spaces. Many ADUs are one-level, which makes them a good fit for seniors. In some places, you’ll see the term DADU, alongside ADU. DADU is the more precise term for a ‘detached’ ADU.

The ADU Conversation

Not everyone supports ADUs as a housing solution. Opponents have raised questions about the demand for parking, a lack of infrastructure, and concerns about decreased property values. Some worry that easing zoning restrictions could make way for institutional investors to build multifamily housing in single family neighborhoods.

Still, in many regions around the US and Canada, there’s simply not enough affordable housing for first-time home buyers in their 30s and 40s. Rents are also at a new all-time national high, with the average renter spending 30% of their income on housing. In places like New York City, renters pay a whopping 68% of their income toward where they live. The shortage isn’t limited to millennials hoping to buy their first home. A lack of affordable housing also affects businesses dealing with hiring and workforce issues because workers simply can’t afford to live near their jobs. That’s why many cities see ADUs as valuable innovation that benefits individuals, businesses, and communities.

Good for People and Places

While ADUs bring many benefits to residents and communities, a lack of awareness is perhaps the biggest issue keeping ADUs from becoming an affordable housing solution. In a recent Freddie Mac consumer survey, they found that 71% of respondents were unfamiliar with ADUs. However, after learning the definition of an ADU, 32% said they were interested in adding an ADU to their property in the future.

Organizations that support seniors are also helping get the word out about the potential of ADUs. AARP champions the construction of more ADUs because they provide housing and rental income for people of all ages. As older adults retire, the addition of an ADU can provide a supplemental income stream. Alternatively, seniors who move into ADUs are often renting from family members, which helps provide stabilized rent and a predictable cost of living.

Jeff Kruth and Murali Paranandi, professors of architecture at Miami University and contributors to Fortune, note that ADUs bring more residents into a given area. The affordable rents and lower construction costs of ADUs provide low-barrier opportunities for intergenerational living. Kruth and Parandi believe that ADUs enhance rather than hurt communities: “As neighborhood populations grow, they become more attractive to small businesses. Coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores are more likely to flourish with more residents in a given area.”

Partnerships to Promote ADU Living

While ADUs help communities, businesses, and homeowners, local governments can make it easier or harder to build. In some places, homeowners may need as many as six permits for ADU construction. Some cities are working hard to get ahead of the hassle. Los Angeles has launched the Accessory Dwelling Unit Standard Plan Program, offering homeowners and developers 20 pre-approved ADU designs. To offset construction costs, a $40,000 subsidy is available from the state of California. Additionally, CityLAB, a UCLA research center, has created a guidebook detailing a step-by-step process for building an ADU.

Los Angeles also has a program to incentivize homeowners to build ADUs specifically for seniors. The LA ADU Accelerator Program works by pairing homeowners with older residents who need affordable housing. In exchange, the program finds qualified tenants, offers tenant case management, and landlords receive stable rental income. In Santa Cruz, the city will loan homeowners up to $40,000 to add an ADU along with loan deferment. If the family rents to a low-income household for 20 years, the entire loan will be forgiven through their Forgivable ADU Loan Program.

California is not the only state that offers financial incentives and resources for ADU construction. Cities from Boston to Seattle are finding ways to encourage residents to be part of the affordable housing solution.

The Bottom Line

In the face of rising home prices and a shortage of affordable housing options, ADUs are gaining attention as a solution. Despite their potential benefits, a lack of awareness and complicated permitting processes can hinder ADU construction. Overall, ADUs provide an innovative approach to addressing the affordable housing crisis, benefiting individuals, businesses, and communities alike.

Chamber Presents Final Slate of Voice of Business Luncheons for the Year

The Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County is pleased to announce the concluding events in this year’s Voice of Business luncheons. These luncheons provide an opportunity to focus on important issues impacting our business community, hear from business and community leaders and ask questions directly to speakers. 

Healthcare Forum
Friday, September 15
11:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.

Dive into a candid conversation with top executives from Geisinger, Mount Nittany Health, and Penn Highlands Healthcare. They’ll offer insights on contemporary developments in their institutions and the broader implications for our community.

State of the County
Thursday, October 5
11:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.

Stay informed at this anticipated annual event. Centre County commissioners will provide valuable updates on county services, initiatives, and projects.

Building Resilience – Workforce Strategies For Post-Pandemic World
Friday, November 10
11:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.

Join us for a deep dive into top industry leaders’ strategies to craft resilient workforces in our ever-evolving work climate, emphasizing Pennsylvania’s workforce trajectory.

Take advantage of the chance to network, establish valuable contacts, and actively engage with leaders and peers at the Voice of Business luncheons. Be part of the voice that drives our community forward. Join us, collaborate, and make an impact.

Register Now to Attend

Interested in greater visibility? Explore sponsorship options by emailing 

Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County Opposes Adoption of Centre County’s Proposed Responsible Contractor Ordinance

The Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County firmly opposes the adoption of the Responsible Contractor Ordinance (RCO) currently under consideration by the Centre County Board of Commissioners. The RCO, intended to ensure the hiring of responsible contractors for County-funded infrastructure and public works projects exceeding $250,000, poses significant challenges for local contractors and ancillary businesses.

During today’s commissioner meeting, Greg Scott, President and CEO of the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County, made a public statement. In his statement, he highlighted the Chamber’s concerns, which reflect the collective sentiment of the Chamber’s board and membership.

Scott stated, “While the Chamber supports the County’s aim to ensure accountability, this ordinance imposes excessive restrictions that will negatively impact our local contractors and ancillary businesses. The Chamber believes in fostering a competitive and inclusive business environment that benefits our entire community. The Chamber urges the Centre County Board of Commissioners to reconsider this ordinance and seek alternative solutions that uphold quality and safety while preserving access for our local contractors.”

The Chamber recognizes and appreciates the County’s objective of promoting accountability, quality, and safety in public projects. However, the RCO’s requirements, such as the mandate that 70 percent of the craft labor workforce have completed a formally registered apprenticeship training program, and the adherence to the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act, 43 for offsite custom fabrication work, will impose unnecessary and burdensome restrictions on local contractors.

If the RCO is adopted, this ordinance will effectively exclude many of our local contractors and business, potentially in favor of out of County entities, from participating in County projects exceeding $250,000, limiting their ability to contribute to the growth and development of our region.

The Chamber also extends its gratitude to the Centre County Commissioners for their continued dedication to the well-being of our community. While we respectfully disagree on this particular issue, we remain committed to working collaboratively with the Commissioners and other stakeholders to explore solutions that support the growth and success of Centre County’s businesses.