You Already Have a Culture Committee

I recently had a client ask me if they should have a culture committee.

But they already have one. You do, too.

Sooner or later, plenty of companies create a committee charged with “improving the culture.” Typically, this leads to popcorn on Fridays, or company bowling night, or picnics, or… any number of well-intentioned gatherings.  

That’s not culture. That’s a “try to make people happy committee.” 

It’s not that Popcorn Fridays are a bad thing. But it’s not going to solve culture problems. 

The good news? 

You already have a culture committee. It’s called your leadership team. 

And the leadership team can’t delegate culture. Defining who you are and what you do is their most important job. 

It’s leading by example. It’s how you do what you do.  

Popcorn Fridays aren’t going to change a culture if the leaders are still… I will let you fill in that blank.

Contribution is Key

A plant supervisor I coach told me about something that solidified his belief in his company.

And it’s a great lesson for leaders everywhere.

This supervisor’s work occasionally took him on location with their customers in other parts of the country. And seeing the huge benefit local communities get from his company’s product, gave him a sense of pride in the business.

We then talked about his team, who didn’t have that same opportunity to visit customers, and thus didn’t get to see the product in action. We talked about how important it is for a leader to connect the work of the people he supervises to the difference that work makes in the real world.

It’s the concept of contribution. It’s something I’ve written about here before and this supervisor got it right away. He talked about how his team shares Facebook posts from a customer who uses their product and a recent newspaper article that mentioned the use of their product in disaster recovery.

It’s an especially important topic in a manufacturing facility like the one this supervisor works in. Most of the people who work in manufacturing don’t have the opportunity to see the difference their work makes for the end customer.

It’s the job of the leader to connect individual contributions to real world impact. That’s how you connect people to the mission of the company and make them understand that their work is making a difference in the lives of real people.

It’s what makes work meaningful and it hardly needs to be said that people are more likely to stay in meaningful jobs.

So, if you lead people, be sure to let them know the contribution their work makes to the lives of their fellow humans.

The five traits of high-performing teams

Humans are adaptable.  

We’ve survived all manner of calamity to get where we are today. So it should be no surprise then that we’ve found ways to make work “work” in a post-pandemic age. 

That’s what I took from recent research into the common characteristics of high-performing teams in the workplace. An article on the research was published in the Harvard Business Review.

The authors found five areas of commonality. High-performing teams: 

  • Are not afraid to pick up the phone. 
  • Are more strategic with their meetings. 
  • Invest time bonding over non-work topics. 
  • Give and receive appreciation more frequently. 
  • Are more authentic at work. 

Some of this affirms what you might expect as a business leader. Essentially, good people get along with other good people and so they are more productive. And the authors acknowledge that. 

“When it comes to building extraordinary workplaces and high-performing teams, researchers have long appreciated that three psychological needs are essential: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. … Of those three essential needs, relatedness, or the desire to feel connected to others, has always been the trickiest for organizations to cultivate.” 

The question is, how do you find and hire people who fit with the culture of your company – who can relate – so that they are part of the high-performing team that you want to build. 

Good question. 

I practice and teach a four-step hiring system that, while rigorous, produces team members who are more likely to be a long-term fit. The hiring process is so rigorous because nothing impacts culture more than hiring – more than who you decide to put on the bus.

One of those four steps is an interview to assess their cultural fit by getting at those five traits listed above and other traits important to the specific culture a company is trying to foster.

If you want to learn more about my hiring system, just reach out.

Getting Pushed is How we Learn

Any business can grow from the inside out.

I start with that fundamental belief. The journey to that goal is seldom easy or obvious.

That was certainly the case when I first started working with RHB, a higher education consultant based in Indianapolis, Ind. There were early doubts that it was a good fit.

I quickly learned that the RHB team was incredibly talented and committed. They were not going to take what I said at face value. New concepts needed to be deconstructed and redeveloped.

I needed to be at the top of my game to earn their trust.

They needed to be open to new ideas.

It worked.

“What FiveFour has done for us in the past year is remarkable,” says Richard H. Bailey, co-founder and principal of RHB.

Bailey admits that, early on, he was openly skeptical that FiveFour could deliver on the promise of helping their firm.

“I was resistant to messing around with our mission, but as we are starting to use that new language, it really is at the heart of what we are talking about – our ‘why,’” Bailey says. “I’m really grateful for the help.”

Growing businesses face a common problem. The vision of the leaders gets blurred by the distance from the center of the organization. Bailey was looking forward to transitioning out of day-to-day leadership of the company he founded with his wife Tamara, RHB’s chief executive officer. But he’s confident that the work they’ve done with FiveFour will cement the core values of the firm, creating “virtual hallways and watercoolers.”

“We don’t have the opportunity to let osmosis do its thing,” he says of the modern, increasingly remote workplace. “There’s no shoulder rubbing.”

It’s not just a reshaping of language. RHB is growing fast, attracting some of the top professionals in higher education. Expanding the team brings a new set of challenges, but Bailey notes that the foundational work they’ve done to define the RHB culture has assisted the firm’s growth.

“That momentum is in part due to the way FiveFour helped us rethink who we are, what we’re doing and what we’re all about,” he said. “I was skeptical at the beginning of this. Nathan and his team have done a great job of turning me around on a lot of things.”

It’s a wonderful experience when professionals challenge each other to be better.

I’ve learned so much as this relationship has developed.

How exactly?

First, that what we believe about company culture, what it is, how it looks and works, and the long-term benefits of putting in the work, are true.

Second, that listening is the first step toward learning. Our work with RHB led us to create a completely new structure for one of the foundational parts of our process. It’s not done yet, but we can’t wait to unveil it!

Third, that challenging yourself every day is necessary. Any of the people involved in this venture could have said, “It’s not working,” at any time and we’d have gone our separate ways.

I’m sure thankful we didn’t.

What I believe now, more than ever, is that we can help businesses leaders who want to grow, who are committed to their teams and their purpose.

If that sounds like you, and we’re not yet working together, let’s talk about how we might challenge each other. Connect with me and we’ll figure out how to grow together.

No win without a Winning culture

On the road from a few bucks to a few billion, every company creates the same problems for itself. One of those must be solved in order to achieve lasting success:

Preventing growth from destroying culture.

You see, every successful startup has a special culture – whatever it is – that propels it to those early successes. Most don’t think much of it. It’s just “the way we do things around here.”

But something happens when most companies start growing; that culture that everyone felt in their bones starts to slowly leak away.

I read another of the many examples of this in Play Nice But Win, an autobiographical account by Michael Dell of the early years and recent transformation of Dell Technologies.

From its start in Dell’s University of Texas dorm room to #28 on the Fortune 500, the company knows a thing or two about growth. One of the topics Dell covers is the challenge of creating a healthy culture in a company with explosive growth. He writes:

Back in the beginning, when the company was just me, I had this set of values that I knew were important, but I didn’t have to communicate them with anybody. But as more and more people came on board, things got more complicated. As a company grows it becomes compartmentalized. Our salespeople understood our values because they were interfacing with the customer all the time. As were the technical support people. But our manufacturing and supply chain team members were a little farther away from the voice of the customer. We battled this by going out of our way to have customers visit our manufacturing sites. What we learned was that the best way to tell the story of our company was through their stories. What were our customers trying to accomplish? What were their challenges? Especially the new and unsolved challenges? Understanding these new and unsolved challenges is at the core of what we must continue to do as a company to succeed. Why was what they were doing important in the world – and how were we helping them to do it?

Michael Dell, Play Nice But Win: A CEO’s Journey from Founder to Leader

Out of that challenge came one of the five key tenets of Dell’s values: “We believe in creating loyal customers by providing a superior experience at a great value.” Some of the new people who had joined Dell were more motivated by a big financial payout than they were by Dell’s set of values.

The answer was that Dell had to get really clear about what was important to them. They had to define their values and repeatedly communicate them so that they would attract people who were committed to upholding those same values.

Defining the culture is the first step in our proprietary 4 step process at FiveFour to get companies growing from the inside out. It’s a necessary first step in order to cope with the growth that success brings.

And the best cultures call people to some kind of larger purpose, like Dell was talking about in the quote above. If you don’t do that, you’ll likely end up with a team of mercenaries who are motivated by a paycheck.

Could an undefined culture be what’s holding you back from future growth? Maybe even from a future spot on the fortune 500? Read Dell’s book to learn more and reach out to me for a conversation. I would love to help you define your culture and start you growing from the inside out.

Start with WHY

When we started FiveFour in early 2018, the vision of the founders was to teach everyone what had made our individual businesses successful: a remarkable customer experience.

But what we discovered is that, with our customers, most needed a step before that. They needed to start with WHY.

I was reminded of this while listening to Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Sinek writes:

It all starts with clarity. You have to know why you do what you do. If people don’t buy what you do, the buy why you do it, so it follows that if you don’t know why you do what you do, how will anyone else?  If the leader of an organization can’t clearly articulate why they organization exists in terms beyond it’s products or services, then how does he expect the employees to know why to come to work?

If a team doesn’t know WHY it’s important to have a great experience for their customers, teaching them WHAT to do has far less of an impact.

That’s why the Define the Culture is the first of the four steps in my 4D Transformation Method and Design the Experience is the second. We have to start with WHY.

Sinek perfectly describes the type of business we most frequently deal with:

When organizations are small, WHAT they do and WHY they do it are in close parallel. Born out of the personality of the founder, it is relatively easy for early employees to “get it.“ Clarity of why is understood because the source of passion is near – in fact it’s physically comes to work every day. In most small businesses all the employees are all crammed into the same room and socialize together. Simply being around a charismatic founder allows that feeling of being a part of something special to flourish.

But, as Sinek writes, For companies of any size, success is the greatest challenge. When businesses grow and employees are no longer around the leader all day, every day, the WHY can get fuzzy and disengagement creeps in.

The answer is almost always to rearticulate the WHY. Sinek writes:

Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not invention…the WHY from every individual or organization comes from the past. It is born out of the upbringing or experience of an individual or small group.

And in our experience, that rediscovered WHY always includes something that was done for the customer, which perfectly sets the stage for focusing on customer experience.

How’s the WHY of your business? Has it gotten a little fuzzy? Take my assessment to find out and then chat with me about how to rediscover your WHY.

“We have three cultures”

I was talking to the CEO of a bank with more than a dozen branches when he said, “We don’t have a culture at our bank. We have three cultures and which one you encounter depends on which branch you’re at.”

What’s more, the CEO said, “You can tell when you’re in a branch that doesn’t have a healthy culture. You can just feel it.”

This is more common than you might think. It’s easy to maintain a cohesive culture when you’re a small team at a single location. But growth can change all of that in a hurry, especially when growth leads to multiple locations.

That geographic distance doesn’t make it impossible to maintain a healthy culture – far from it. But it does make it more challenging.

There are three things that CEO could have done to create a consistent, healthy culture. You can do them to.

  1. Be really clear about what you want your culture to be. What are you trying to accomplish? What are the expected behaviors? What is out-of-bounds? Defining your culture is the first step.
  2. Have a consistent communication plan. The leader must talk about the culture until they’re sick of talking about it…and then talk about it some more. They must be what Pat Lencioni calls the CRO: Chief Reminding Officer.
  3. Get regular feedback from the front lines. Your communication on culture (or anything for that matter) can’t be one way.

Without taking these steps, you’re leaving the culture up to each individual manager of each individual location (or team, division, etc.) and multiple cultures is the inevitable outcome.

That’s one of the issues I help owner-operators solve in the first step of my 4D Transformation Method, Define the Culture. I explain it in this video:

Have you left your culture up to chance – or to each employee’s interpretation? Can you feel an unhealthy culture in part’s of your organization?

The first step for you might be just getting a handle on the state of your culture. Let me help you with our free assessment. Take a few minutes, answer a few questions and then jump on a call with me to strategize ways to improve your culture.

Do it before it doesn’t feel good walking into one of your offices.

Aligning the two kinds of Purpose

One of the best books I’ve ever read on motivation was Drive by Daniel Pink, where he examines the science around the three pillars of motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Purpose is what I dig in on with my clients in the first phase of my 4D Transformation Method: Define the Culture. Pink makes a helpful distinction between the two different kinds of purpose.

The first one, which he calls “Big P Purpose” is about the difference you make in the world. It’s solving world hunger, revolutionizing technology, things like that.

The second one – Small P Purpose – is about contribution. It’s knowing that the work we do makes a difference for someone.

But you don’t have to choose between the two kinds of purpose – they are most powerful when aligned.

What does that look like? In this video, I give two examples: a janitor and a bricklayer.

Did you watch it? You might be thinking, that’s great for NASA and the church, but what about my business? Can connection to purpose really drive results in my business?

Meet Pat Swyter, the owner-operator of Four Way Insulation. He said that working with FiveFour to define his culture was part of the reason he had a 20% revenue increase after several years without growth:

Do you feel as if the people in your business are lacking either kind of purpose? To find out, take this short assessment and then get a strategy session with me where you’ll get clarity and focus on your purpose.

It could be the most important strategy session you’ve ever had.

Does this vision statement mean anything to anyone else?

That was the question asked by the leadership team of one of my clients this week as we were discussing their vision.

They just had the best year in the company’s 30-year history, but they’re hungry for more. Why? Because they have a big vision that hasn’t yet been fully realized.

But they’re not sure if their current vision statement accurately communicates that big vision. They’re not sure if it’s recruiting anyone to their cause.

And that, after all, is the purpose of a vision statement. Because the only vision that doesn’t require the help of others to achieve it is a small one.

A good vision statement must memorable and motivational if its going to serve its function as a memory-enhancing device that points to your broader vision.

That’s why their question was such a good one. That’s exactly the question that you should ask about your vision statement. But then, be careful how you answer. You might be tempted to go with your gut instinct (I think it connects), or personal preference (It means something to me!), but this is too important to leave to either method. You must ask the right questions of the right people to know if it connects.

Only then will you know for certain whether you need to craft something more memorable and motivational to point to your vision.

Why spend all of this time on vision statements? On defining the culture of your business? You already have monthly revenue targets…quarterly rocks…wildly important goals. Why not just focus on those? I talk about that – and why defining the culture is the first step in my 4D Transformation Method in this video:

Does your vision mean anything to anyone else? Are you living it? Instead of guessing, would you like to assess the culture of your business? Just take our assessment and then book a free strategy session with me. It’s the first step to get your business growing from the inside out.

Asking (and answering) the Ultimate Question

In the Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld tells the story of Intuit, describing a problem that FiveFour regularly helps businesses solve. Co-founder Scott Cook had built a successful company on the mission “To make the customer feel so good about the product they’ll go and tell five friends to buy it.”

When the company was in the start-up phase, the employees learned how to fulfill that mission by observing Cook’s passion for taking care of the customer. “They could all hear him working the service phones himself, talking to customers. They could see him taking part in Intuit’s famous “follow-me-home” program, where employees asked customers if they could watch them set up the software in order to note any problems.”

But growth in the number of employees and locations made learning by following the leader impossible and “Cook was hearing more complaints [from customers] than in the past. Some market-share numbers were slipping. For lack of a good system of measurement and for the lack of the accountability that accurate measurement creates – the company seemed to be losing sight of exactly what had made it great: its relationships with its customers.”

To solve the problem, Cook started measuring customer loyalty through our favorite measurement tool: the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which asks the Ultimate Question: “How likely is it that you would recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?” Respondents score their likelihood on a scale from 1-10, with those answering 9-10 classified as promoters, 7 or 8 passives and 6 or less detractors. Your NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from your percentage of supporters. A positive number means you have more supporters than detractors.

While measurement is an important first step, measurement alone won’t solve the problem that Cook faced at Intuit. The challenge that leaders of growing companies face is how to scale the culture and customer experience that led to the growth to begin with.

That’s what FiveFour calls the battle for better business. We help companies capture that original vision for their culture and how the customer is cared for. But the next step is maybe the most important and what really differentiates FiveFour: we create a customized, ongoing system of learning and development that, over time, transforms the business through increased employee engagement and continuous learning.

Do you resonate with that description of Intuit? Are you noticing more customer complaints and employee disengagement? Take our assessment of your customer experience and we’ll give you some tips you can use to improve your employee and customer experience.

Want to get started measuring your NPS and eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score)? Just email me and I will give you access to our free, online course showing you how to implement both.

Intuit was profitable and growing at the time they addressed these flaws in their employee and customer experience. But they saw that those flaws were starting to impact their growth. What happened after they addressed them? They now have an NPS of 45 and a market cap of $82 billion, which isn’t bad.