No Culture, No Happiness


This article was published in the June issue of Blue Skies Magazine

On April 15th, we hired our newest full-time employee, Melissa. Melissa is joining our SEO development team despite not knowing anything about SEO. Let that sink in. We’ve hired a person to do a job that she knows nothing about. Many may say this is a terrible idea.

In 2012, I left Skydive Carolina mentally exhausted. Despite strong growth, I was unhappy. It was apparent to me that as the business scaled, it became less and less fun. As the general manager, I’d have to say that this was no one’s fault but my own.



The goal for most businesses is to grow, but the truth is, I was unprepared to handle the growth that we experienced. As is the case nearly everywhere, skydiving instructors are in limited supply. It’s easy to find yourself in the position of having lots of work and not enough staff to handle the load. This is a dangerous place to be. No one wants to turn away business, especially when you’ve worked so hard to get it. Consequently, strapped business owners and managers often resort to bringing on new staff based on one variable: skill. However, unless you’re very lucky, hiring based on skill alone will likely trigger the beginning of a very tumultuous time for your business.

It only takes one negative attitude to destroy the culture of an organization. One person. I brought in many. We were busy and I needed bodies. The candidates I hired had the skills to safely deliver our guests to the ground. Individually, each of the people I brought on were all good, but what I missed was critical. My values towards safety and customer service weren’t aligned with theirs or rather, theirs weren’t aligned with mine. During the interview process, I expressed that my desire was to provide great customer service, but I didn’t give an explanation of what that actually looked like. Furthermore, my definition of running a ‘safe’ DZ had completely different parameters than those defined by their previous work experiences. Is it any wonder that both myself and the people I had hired were all so unhappy? Their unhappiness, and mine, polluted the operation and led to the “D” word that we all hate most: DRAMA.


An organization is only as good as its people. If the leader of an organization hasn’t hired based on his/her values and expectations, how can he/she expect employees to understand how to meet those expectations? Without a roadmap, an organization will get lost.

Consider the busiest DZs in the world today. They have the best of everything… turbines, tunnels, lots of business and as a result instructors and staff making lots of money. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? However, I can guarantee that these busier operations will be some of the most miserable places to work if management is hiring on skill and experience only. The old saying that money doesn’t buy happiness is true. There has to be something more. The culture of an organization and the happiness quotient of its team members is what separates a run of the mill business from an extraordinary business.


My experience running a DZ taught me that one must hire on personality first and skill set second. It’s why I said to myself two years ago that if Melissa ever became available, I would do whatever it took to get her on my team. Her attitude is so great that she can be taught any skill… SEO included. I have clearly defined my values and expectations for my team, and this has provided me with clarity when it comes to hiring new employees. I am safeguarding our organizational culture by being very careful about who I let into our business.

I’m not motivated by money – I’m motivated by the drive to build the best business in the world, a business that consistently exceeds the expectations of its customers. Exceeding these expectations can only happen if I’m cultivating a culture where my employees enjoy coming to work with other like-minded, passionate people. When you adopt this approach, the money takes care of itself.

As of today (July 25), Melissa has been with us for three months and I can already say that this was one of the best decisions I’ve made as a business owner. Though our workflow is much tougher, balancing her training and our daily work, we’ve made the right choice because we’ve invested in the long term happiness of our company. I’m confident that this investment will reward us with a happier team, happier customers and, ultimately, financial growth.

About James La Barrie

James La Barrie is passionate about marketing and changing a company's service culture. Originally from the Caribbean island of Antigua, James melds his approach of marketing and delivering elite service together as one. James has injected his 'service marketing' approach throughout his career to transform companies from good to great.

3 thoughts on “No Culture, No Happiness”

  1. As an ex-HR Manager, this story was music to my ears. It has a focus on the gateway to the organization – recruitment/selection. I am somewhat old school when it comes to human resource management, believing an organization’s line managers are the true people managers, beginning at the top but through them all to the frontline. HR’s role should be a lot less about compliance and a lot more about supporting leaders and line managers with great staffing processes and management, just like you are modelling in this story.

  2. Thank you for your feedback John! I’m glad it resonated. Melissa is rocking it out in SEO and is an excellent team member. Our business is better for having her.

  3. I understand all your words mate. I was on the same frustrated processes (learning), since June. I have to resign from the DZ Marketing Management, only because of this: only skill’s to make profit, deteriorating values and losing the focus on “exceeds the expectations of customer” (my main goal in all projects). But I will find a Portuguese Melissa to refresh and build a new confident, happier team and 100% happier customers and best profit grow! Maybe all of this on a new extraordinary skydive market business :)

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