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Doubling in Size in 4 Months Made Springfield Music Re-Evaluate its Culture

In the span of four months, Springfield Music Inc. doubled in size. By adapting its leadership style, implementing a companywide communication platform and working hard to hire the right people, the company was able to improve upon their culture.

By Vivian Wheeler | Photos by Brad Zweerink

Sep 2017

Doubling in Size in 4 Months Made Springfield Music Re-Evaluate its Culture
"I want to understand where people want to be and where they want to go. Then ultimately I help create the vision and share that." —Donovan Bankhead, vice president of Springfield Music

For years, the culture at Springfield Music Inc. was driven by two things: a shared passion for music among the employees and the vice president, Donovan Bankhead. “I think I operated the business at that point by force of will, which worked really well when I was in the stores and had the relationships with people that knew me,” Bankhead says. With Bankhead setting the tone, a strong company culture grew organically. Then in 2012 Springfield Music opened a Kansas City location, and four short months later acquired a fourth store in St. Louis. Bankhead quickly learned that business as usual wasn’t going to work with two new locations several hours away.

The day after the company acquired the St. Louis location, the entire teaching staff there threatened to quit. “Most of it was me coming in like a bull in a china shop,” he says. “I had to pull all the teachers in and, frankly, with tears in my eyes, just tell them I screwed up.” Bankhead knew he would have to change his leadership style, but his first attempt at doing so swung too far in the other direction. When he tried running the business collaboratively, employees felt the company lacked vision.

Today, he’s landed somewhere in the middle. “I want to understand where people want to be and where they want to go,” he says. “Then ultimately I help create the vision and share that.” This approach has worked for the company, and  by clearly communicating the company’s vision, Bankhead’s able to attract like-minded people.

Employees at Springfield Music’s corporate offices, including Hannah Sutton, Amanda Rueter, Max Gemmill, Austin Handley and Joy Marr, take part in fun team activities, like their Andy Griffith Show Pizza Party.

Having a clear vision of what he’s looking for in an employee and taking the time to find the right employee are ways by which Bankhead protects the company culture. “In small businesses, a lot of times we wait until we are desperate, and then if a person can fog a mirror and they have decent hygiene, we hire them,” he says. If you do make a mistake and hire the wrong person, Bankhead says to be sure to dissect what went wrong.

Growing the business so quickly also created a communication problem that hadn’t previously existed. Bankhead needed an easy and efficient way for employees to talk to each other. He began piloting different group messaging platforms. Slack and Basecamp didn’t stick, but then he tried Workplace, Facebook’s platform for offices. “Everyone already knows how to use Facebook,” he says. “The adoption rate has been higher than anything else we’ve done.”

Workplace has increased the communication between the stores, and even if half of what gets posted is made up of memes, Bankhead has found it helpful in decreasing the number of emails that reach his inbox. In fact, most conversations happen without his input at all. “There’s probably only a single digit percentage of stuff that I feel compelled to answer,” he says.

For Springfield Music, the work of crafting a positive culture is ongoing. “I think the process never ends,” Bankhead says. In the beginning, the owner might have to be the one driving the culture, but over time the responsibility can shift to the employees. “Hopefully the employees will believe in that mission and they will carry it forward for you,” he says.