Kip Tindell’s business is helping you organize your closets. With dozens of outlets nationwide, Tindell’s The Container Store chain has become synonymous with helping people better straighten, pack, crate and keep their items—and their lives—in order.
But to hear Tindell talk, his job isn’t about closets at all. It’s about organizing the company he leads to empower and place his people in positions to succeed. Along the way, a funny thing happens: Tindell’s company has succeeded, too.
“As much as I love organizing closets, I really love this stuff,” says Tindell, CEO of the suburban Dallas-based chain. “It starts with having a workplace where employees can be as productive as possible.”
Tindell and crew are doing something right. The Container Store repeatedly has been recognized as one of the best places in America to work and is ranked No. 1 in WorkplaceDynamics’ list of America’s Top Workplaces. In confidential employee surveys administered by WorkplaceDynamics, the country’s largest assessor of employee satisfaction, workers gave The Container Store high marks for providing clear direction, fostering a culture of high execution and creating strong employee connection with the company’s overall mission.
Those three factors are the hallmarks of what WorkplaceDynamics calls Organizational Health, the traits that make up a Top Workplace. Since October 2008, the Top Workplaces fund of publicly traded companies compiled by WorkplaceDynamics has outperformed the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 Index by 48 percent.
To Tindell, it’s no mystery. It’s simply about taking good care of the people who work at The Container Store and letting them do the rest.
“We say we put the employee first,” he says. “It’s the employee, not even the customer, who comes first. But if you do that, the employees take better care of the customer. And if those two are ecstatic, then, not surprisingly, your shareholder is, too.”
Tindell is famous for saying he’s willing to pay more—sometimes even twice the going rate—for a top-performing employee. He notes that it’s a bargain if he gets an employee who works three times as hard, as he says his best often do.
But he’s quick to point out that it’s not all about pay—not even mostly about it. The Container Store stresses a culture that provides outcome goals but then lets employees use their judgment—their “creative genius,” as Tindell calls it—to make decisions. This allows them to feel strongly connected to the company and to contribute to an environment in which high execution is the cultural norm.
“The whole concept of a team is one of the best parts of life, particularly when you can really be yourself on that team,” Tindell says. “We allow each employee to achieve the means to the end, but we have agreed on the end. They unleash their creative genius to solve a problem as they see fit. You get much higher productivity. And you hear, ‘I just love it here. They allow me to be me.’ It’s a wonderful thing.”
The approach, he adds, empowers employees to find solutions that a strict set of orders couldn’t possibly envision.
“But you have to provide a workplace where people are not afraid to make mistakes,” Tindell notes. “You have to make sure they are creative and daring enough to use their intuition. When they use their intuition, that is creative genius. If we all recognize that mistakes sometimes happen in the pursuit of creativity, then the company will enjoy much greater productivity.”
For Tindell, the approach goes beyond The Container Store to a broader approach to business and life.
“I have a friend who says, ‘It’s not what you sell, it’s what you stand for,’” Tindell says. “For us, it’s about standing for something more than just making money. But ironically, you make it better for the shareholders when you do that, too.”
With clear direction, a culture of high execution and strong employee connection, the Organizational Health trifecta is working for The Container Store. The chain is expanding and producing strong earnings. It also boasts an employee turnover rate in the single digits, amazing for a large retailer. It didn’t lay off anyone during the Great Recession.
“I think it starts with a realization that if you’re lucky enough to be someone’s employer, you have a moral obligation to make sure those employees want to get out of bed and come to work every day,” Tindell says. “I love the idea of having employees who love to come to work every day.”