Survey tool improves employee retention at Arbor Valley

An Interview with Mike Schleining of Arbor Valley Nursery

Mike Schleining, Director of Sales at Arbor Valley

Since 2011, Arbor Valley Nursery has used a tool called Culture Index to help learn about people’s preferences and personality traits. Arbor Valley managers use it with:

  • New employment candidates to assess the fit for certain positions.
  • Current employees to:
    • Help determine a fit for a new position or promotion.
    • Communicate effectively with them.
  • Willing customers and vendors to help Arbor Valley learn more about them and improve their partnership.

NewsLeaf spoke with Mike Schleining, Director of Sales, at Arbor Valley. Mike is a fan of the tool—also called a survey. He explains how and why it has helped improve employee retention. But he emphasizes that it is only one of multiple processes the company uses for making hiring and promotion decisions.

“Everyone has preferences about, for example, how they want to be communicated with and how they relate to others. The Culture Index helps us identify these preferences and place people in positions more suited to their personal preferences,” he explains. “The algorithms of the tool can tell us, for example, who is less social or who is more detail-oriented. It helps create better fits between people and jobs.”

“There’s also an additional service offered by the Culture Index company, that allows us to define traits and narrow down the type of person we are after for a certain position—crew leader, sales person, machine operator or someone in HR. We can compare the profile we created to results from people taking the survey.”


“In my department—sales—we differentiate between sales associates and sales managers. And the personality types are different. Associates are typically oriented to customer service and work with customers who already exist. Sales managers do a lot of outside sales—cold calling and knocking on doors. The tool can help us tell if someone is more suited to getting out there and ambitiously calling on customers. Someone who doesn’t enjoy cold calling will not last long in the position because it’s outside of their comfort zone.”

Mike says retention is a function of placing people in a position that is more suited to them. The Culture Index has helped Arbor Valley make better matches between people and jobs. He also says the survey may provide insight into employee issues that may arise. “We may be overlooking something,” he suggests. “How does this person want to be communicated with? Do they want to praised in public or in private? Or do they prefer private feedback to public?”

He adds that placing people in jobs better suited to them increases job satisfaction because people’s preferences are recognized.

Honesty is important

The usefulness or accuracy of the Culture Index tool depends on people answering honestly. “Being honest serves both the person and Arbor Valley. There is no need to second guess.” Mike emphasizes that the tool is not a test.

The survey is easy to use and takes only about 5-7 minutes. “You are asked to choose some words among a long list of words that best describe your character traits. This is followed by another list of words and you choose those that describe your behaviors,” he explains. “There are no right or wrong answers and there is no right or wrong outcome generated by the algorithm. It just is what it is!” People get the results within minutes. It has been “very well received and most people find the results ‘pretty interesting.’”

Culture Index company trains users

The Culture Index company provides training in the use and background behind the survey. At Arbor Valley, about 10 people have taken the training and learned more about the psychology of the tool and the analytics. Mike says that some Arbor Valley customers, who have taken the survey, have signed on with the Culture Index company and received the training so they can use it within their own businesses.

The Culture Index company also provides an advisor to its customers, who may be especially helpful if the customer is wanting to grow.

10 years on

Arbor Valley has been using the tool for over 10 years now and continues to use it because the company is getting value. “At the Arbor Valley leadership level, keeping in mind that we have all been through the training, it has shifted our culture as we relate more personally and people feel ‘treated right,’” Mike says. “This tool has helped us build the ‘right team’ at all levels, not just leadership. It could be the HR team, or accounting team or administrative team. The goal it to place the right person in the right position.”