Sweating the Small Stuff: How I Created A Company Culture Of Accomplishments


There are tremendous benefits to cultivating a healthy, happy business culture. In fact, this might be the single most important factor in determining a business’s long-term success. It’s simple, people make up the core of every single business. Happy staff and clients result in a company’s staying power.

Over nearly eight years, I’ve owned and operated six fitness studios. At Pure Barre, I have a staff of 104 people. At the age of 25, when I opened my first business and hired my first team, I knew I needed to prioritize my company culture. Experience has taught me that employees will work harder, for longer periods of time and with more enthusiasm if they enjoy and value their company culture.

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In my quest to build the strongest company culture possible, I’ve found that celebrating small wins results in a huge ROI. According to Zip Recruiter, three out of every four companies have recognition programs, but only 58 percent of their staff knows about them. In other words, companies must go beyond simply implementing employee appreciation programs. They should scream staff (and client) recognition from the rooftops.

Whether you’re showcasing the accomplishments of your staff or your clients, there are many ways to leverage the power of celebrating small wins. Below are several methods that have worked for our business.

It Starts With You and Your Team

Company culture begins with your first hire. It only takes one drop to poison the well. Even with a large staff, it only takes one person to damage the company culture. I’ve never taken the hiring process of my team lightly. Instead, I’ve chosen to keep the hiring of teachers exclusively my responsibility, even after eight years of running multiple studios.

"Company culture begins with your first hire. It only takes one drop to poison the well. Even with a large staff, it only takes one person to damage the company culture."

When hiring, I look for people who are achievement oriented, among other things. These are the people who will thrive in an environment that celebrates the small wins. These are also the people who don’t settle for mediocrity. And perhaps most importantly, these are the people who will help their peers celebrate mini successes along the way.

Milestone-Tied Compensation

A decision my husband (and business partner) made early on in our entrepreneurial venture was to celebrate the amount of classes taught by our instructors.

Rather than paying our fitness instructors based on seniority or previous coaching experience, we offer wage increases when our staff reaches various milestones: 100 classes taught, 250 classes taught and so on. Not only do we increase instructors’ pay at these milestones, but also we outwardly celebrate their accomplishments in our community. Using our social media channels and in-studio announcements, we congratulate our team members on their commitment to teaching Pure Barre. As a result, our newer teachers are always working to teach more classes so they too can earn this recognition.

"A standard recognition program might not be the best way to deliver positive feedback. Find ways to honor your team and their accomplishments" - Sami Sweeny (Photo Courtesy of Pure Bare)

Staff Competitions

Another example of using accomplishments to create an impactful work environment is demonstrated by our exclusive staff challenges. Several times a year, we lead fitness and nutrition challenges for our internal team. Often, these challenges are focused on working-out a specific number of times, or building muscle mass (which we measure on a Styku), and/or following a healthy nutritional plan. The benefits of having staff in the studios more go far beyond just building staff morale. Clients are motivated to see their teachers “walk the walk” and take on these fitness challenges as well. Every staff challenge results in a winner, or two, who we celebrate in a big way. We’ve rewarded our staff challenge winners with financial prizes, gift cards, newsletter highlights, social media features and more.

Make It A Game

All-staff gatherings can work wonders for bolstering company culture. Every year we hold an all-staff party accompanied by a heated game of “Team Celebration Trivia.” Our annual game is comprised of questions directly related to staff achievements (e.g. “What teacher had the best new client retention in 2017?” or “What teacher saw the most clients in 2017?”). We make sure to capture all measurable milestones in our trivia game, ensuring that our entire team acknowledges the many accomplishments of their peers.

Client Loyalty

Celebrating your clients’ achievements can be just as important to building company culture as celebrating your staff. Everyone loves to be acknowledged for his or her hard work. We’ve found that recognizing our die-hard clients is key to keep them coming back. We make sure to email all of our clients when they reach their annual Pure Barre anniversaries. We also do our best to publicly congratulate them for their dedication via our social media platforms. It doesn’t take a lot to let a client know you appreciate his or her long-term business.

Client Milestones

Pure Barre is ridiculously hard. Getting through one class is a victory. To honor this completed hour of sweating, burning and lifting we track attendance and celebrate each time a client reached another class milestone: 20 classes, 100 classes, 250, classes and so on. The number of classes taken directly corresponds to a “club.” For example, someone who has taken 500 classes is immediately welcomed into the “500 Club.” We have specific barre socks and tank tops available for 500 Club members. In each of our studio locations, we’ve mounted “Signing Barres of Fame” where clients can leave their signatures as a stamp of their achievements. We announce the mini-victories over the microphone at the end of class to inspire others to work hard towards their goals. And, of course, we use our social media platforms to capture these milestones.

Client Challenges

My leadership team and I constantly strive to keep our studio environment goal-oriented. Similar to our staff challenges, we offer many client challenges throughout the year. Our clients not only work hard to complete these challenges, but they support each other along the way. At the end of every challenge we hold a challenge finale party where we raise a glass, literally, to all finishers. This party gives us the chance to give out awards, feature slideshows of the participants and celebrate those who accomplished their goals.

"At the age of 25, when I opened my first business and hired my first team, I knew I needed to prioritize my company culture. Experience has taught me that employees will work harder, for longer periods of time and with more enthusiasm if they enjoy and value their company culture."

The bottom line is that people will always crave positive feedback. A standard recognition program might not be the best way to deliver positive feedback. Find ways to honor your team and their accomplishments. Celebrate both client and staff milestones and achievements. Nurture your company culture from the inside out.

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
5min read

Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."