Focus on Culture in 2019: 4 Places for Leaders to Start

Focus on Culture in 2019: 4 Places for Leaders to Start

The idea of a culture series started in early 2018. As with many ideas, I really had no idea what the impact would be, but I thought it could be powerful for my community.

The simple words that I put in every book I give to people are: Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often! The irony for me is that this series allowed me to live the words personally. I crafted the questions, invited 5 leaders known for being culture success stories, and just listened. As I read through the final versions of all the posts, I was drawn to some common truths that came through. I am not going to argue the business value of a great culture in this post (send me a note if you have questions on that), but I want to share 4 things that stood out for me. I challenge each of you to grab one and start strengthening the culture in your own team/organization in 2019.

  1. Everyone has a plan: Each of these leaders had a plan for what they wanted to create, and the journey was more trying to figure out the how. I loved the words of Jeff Disher around his startup — they were focused on: 1) Surviving, and 2) Do great work and more will come. I was struck how sharing that plan always became critical at a certain point in each journey (see #3 below). Do you have any sort of written plan you can share? Do you take time to talk about it monthly or quarterly?
  2. Stories connect: The part that surprised me most was the number of friends I have that read my blog posts and don’t mention it — ever. I only know this because as the stories from these 5 leaders were released, I had a dozen or so friends and family members share they liked them, and in one case they went and bought two fuf chairs for their remodeled basement! The theme in their comments was, “What a cool story! I have heard of them, but it is nice to know them and I want to know more.” Stories connect. In one case, I have a friend who has a strong belief in the customer experience getting his car washed more frequently just to watch for some of the things Mandi Brower shared. How are you telling your story to new hires? How do you capture and retell stories for your people? Do you ever share it with customers or suppliers?
  3. Culture matters most when you grow: The tipping point for all these leaders was growth. When the size of the organization gets to a point where culture cannot be shared by osmosis, you have to start leading culture as part of your job. Matt Jung stood out for me as someone who had to delegate work and just start focusing on telling the story, waking up every day focused on their brand and culture. Rich Sheridan had the opportunity to leverage his own wisdom and experience to build the culture at Menlo Innovations the way they wanted it from the beginning. Are you at a critical point where you have to intentionally build culture? What things did these leaders share that you should start doing?
  4. Just listen: As a young parent, I spent about 10 hours listening to a cassette tape series (I know this dates me a little!) on parenting. I cannot tell you what all the other 19 points were on good parenting, but the last one sticks in my head. The author’s final point was, “If you remember anything from this series, remember this — make sure you love your kids. Tell them, show it with hugs and time, and keep doing it their whole lives.” I learned that day that when approaching something that is hard and really matters, I need to spend time with experts that help simplify it for me. So this is the big thing from this series that I saw with all of these leaders — make time to listen to your people. Rich and Jeff have no doors, and in Rich’s case he sits in the middle of the work area. Mandi goes out to all her locations regularly. She also hired an intern to do a listening project for her because she knew as the leader sometimes people will not tell her things. She tested it with an intern project! Matt called his a listening tour. How do you schedule listening into your day? How would not having a door help you listen?

The final point I want to re-share is something my human resource expert and friend Amy Kraal shared as we wrapped up this series. “You don’t want everyone to work for you, just those people that share your values and mission.” Defining culture allows you to find the right people that will help you build your culture, and it also gives you a lens to understand why you have to spend so much time with certain people. Next time you find yourself spending many extra hours with someone, ask yourself the question — If I had a chance to do it again, would I hire them? As Amy pointed out, culture helps you build your brand with others and attract, hire, and retain the right people.

As you start planning for 2019, make culture a focus in some way. It can start with a strategic plan, but it is also how you connect planning with your daily action to get it done. If you want to explore this more, here is a free whitepaper I wrote that you can download from Amazon called Demystifying Strategic Planning. If you have a growth-minded entrepreneurial organization, take a look at the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). It is a complete and proven system that I have found extremely effective in helping teams prioritize culture and results.

Many thanks to Mandi, Rich, Jeff, Matt, and Amy for sharing. in 2019 . . . Listen, Lead. Repeat often!

If you missed any of the posts and want to go back and take a look, here are the links: