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Seth’s Cut: Breaking culture down to a science

July 22, 2022 -  By
Seth Jones

Seth Jones

Recently, I had the pleasure of traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to participate (mostly as a silent observer) in the 2022 Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) Annual Meeting. It’s a tough gig, but somebody’s gotta do it.

OPEI asked me early on to leave my reporter’s notebook and voice recorder in the hotel room. The speakers and the discussions were all to be off-the-record to promote free-spirited engagement among attendees. This tied my hands a bit, but I didn’t put up much of a fight; after all, I didn’t want to get voted off the island after day one.

It was at a poolside evening reception that Kris Kiser, CEO and president of OPEI, introduced me to Don Rheem, the next morning’s keynote speaker. A joke was made, followed by a ‘don’t quote me on that,’ — which is a phrase someone with my job hears often. I told him not to worry because the entire meeting was off-the-record. Rheem looked me square in the eye and told me I could consider his entire presentation on-the-record because my readers would be interested in what he had to say. After listening to his presentation, I have to agree.

Rheem is the author of the book “Thrive by Design: The Neuroscience that Drives High-Performance Cultures.” His talk was on studying human neuroscience to better maintain employee retention and engagement. The week before he spoke to our group, he spoke to a room full of 500 Burger King franchise owners, all shaken to their flame-broiled cores by today’s Great Resignation.

Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions, spoke for an hour about what drives employee performance from a brain-based perspective. “There are thousands of books written on leadership,” Rheem said. “There is only one that takes leadership and breaks it down to a science.”

What keeps employees motivated to stick around and work hard for a company when they can go somewhere else for similar or more money? A word that has been kicked around a lot in this magazine rose to the surface: culture.

“Working on your compensation and benefits package as a way to keep employees is a fool’s errand,” Rheem said. “Once they start looking for a job and they see they can make more money, that seals the deal.”

Rheem spoke about the earliest humans and how they traveled in packs to survive. At our core, we are herd animals. That mentality, he said, has been ingrained in our DNA.

“We are hard-wired at birth to find safe and secure connections,” he said.

What employees desire most is a work culture where they feel safe and secure, and the biggest part of that comes down to a manager who is both predictable and consistent.

Studies conducted by E3 Solutions show employee job satisfaction ties directly to the person who manages them. 84 percent of employees E3 surveyed said that a poorly trained manager created unnecessary stress for them. 57 percent said their manager needed additional training.

Two of the most valuable questions business owners can ask employees: Do you trust your manager? Does your manager trust you?

Rheem said that creating trust comes when managers understand it’s OK to ask employees about their lives, families and weekend plans.

“It’s ironic, for years we tried to keep emotion out of the workplace,” he said. “Neuroscience tells us where people thrive, so let’s move that way. If you want to lead, this is the direction to go.”

While most of my experience at the 2022 OPEI Annual Meeting in San Juan will be forever locked away in my mind … perhaps Rheem’s talk on neuroscience and culture will unlock some minds on ways to better keep employees engaged and retained. Because like Rheem said, your retention strategy is more important than your hiring strategy.

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Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 23 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at

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