Culture must be experienced.

Great cultures


There’s a certain irony to giving speeches and writing books as a “culture expert” because culture must be experienced to believe it.

Robert James Waller said it best when he was talking about romance…

I looked up the definition of romance in several dictionaries. As I guessed, reading the definitions of romance is about the most unromantic thing you can do…

Romance you see, is something that you take care of – romance needs food and water and care, of a kind all her own. You can destroy romance, or ate least drive her away without knowing that you are doing it.

Romance dances just beyond the firelight, in the corner of your eye. She does not like you to look at her directly, she flees from the cold light of logic and data collection when it is turned toward her. If you persist in trying to study her, however, she first disintegrates, then dissolves into nothing at all.

E.B. White once said a similar thing about humor which, ‘can be dissected, as a frog, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.’ You can’t get at romance, then, by good old Western reductionism.

That’s why for each of my topics (culture hacking, innovation and values-driven culture), I like to create an experience for people. It’s what really lasts, and it’s the most powerful way to shift beliefs without ever preaching.

The Counter Intuitive Way to Reward People

Great cultures

I was teaching a high-end mastermind of entrepreneurs and the subject of bonuses and raises came up.

After much discussion, we all came to one surprising solution…

Keep it random.

Certain things should be entitlements. People are entitled to a salary. People are entitled to benefits. But when I see companies give bonuses every year, or create a profit sharing model, then suddenly people feel very entitled to getting more and more.

The company’s financial success is not guaranteed every year. So why should bonuses be guaranteed? And not everyone is a partner in the company, so why should everyone be receiving profits?

What I have seen work is to vary the percentages, frequency and even format of rewards.

Why does it have to be money? What if it’s in the form of a group trip or vacation? What if you rewarded people with the growth and learning they’ve been wanting for themselves?

The best cultures learn what make people tick. They learn their dreams, and they learn about how each person wants to progress (in many ways beyond money). And they record and share the resulting stories.

As with all culture hacking, this takes experimentation. Let me know what you discover.

How to deal with conflict at your company

Great cultures

The damage from conflict can be avoided...if you have the right culture protocol. Click To Tweet

Share what you want to keep (and grow)

Great cultures

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When I was a culture strategist at Zappos, I learned that culture becomes a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop when it’s shared. So the the tours and free culture books refresh the culture when people come in with appreciation, energy and new ideas.

Culture becomes a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop when it's shared. Click To Tweet

This concept of “Share what you want to keep” is going to keep expanding in my opinion. Most recently, AirBnB decided to share its discovery engine for others to use.

Aerosolve is what Airbnb came up with to process all that data. And Thursday it is made available under what we call “open source” — a free download so developers can build their own smart recommendation engines based on the work Airbnb has already done with machine learning.

Why would they do that? Beyond the good will, others could improve the platform.

How can you share more of your insights and innovations? It can sustain your culture and feed it by welcoming others into the conversation.

Highlights from the Best Places to Work

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Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work issue was recently published. It was fascinating to see that a recent global poll of by Deloitte showed that executives consider culture even more important than leadership.

I thought I would include a few highlights:

1. Ritualize what’s most important
Companies like Marriott have 15 minute daily stand ups. It’s so important to take anything that’s valued and create a ritual so that it’s never forgotten. What are your daily / weekly / monthly and quarterly rituals? (For quarterly I recommend Open Space).

2. Location matters (and not how you think)
Twitter decided to move its headquarters to a part of San Francisco with decrepit hotels, strip clubs and most of the city’s homeless population. The company’s execs say they are not only committed to staying in the area, but also encouraging their employees to help the local population – and claim the desire to do so is actually enticing workers.

I think the most innovative companies are going to come out of Detroit. It’s extremely cheap. Entrepreneurs won’t have to eat ramen and can even buy houses. And the city is very encouraging of new businesses. If you want to build a tight team that is involved with the community, this is going to be the place.

3. Small to medium sized companies are going to lead the way.
Accuity, a small Wisconsin insurance company debuted at number 3! They provide unlimited education reimbursement, compressed work weeks, 10% contribution to 401K, quarterly town hall meetings and “Lunch with an officer” – face to face meetings with execs for all employees. They also gave away $1 million dollars and involve all employees in strategic planning.

If you’re a big company, how can you empower a group the size of a small company? If you’re small, do you have a “wish list” for your culture?

Culture Hacking with the Mindset Model

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If you can hack your own beliefs, you can be a culture hacker. Click To Tweet