The Interview Hack

January 19, 2016

Great cultures ,Popular Articles

interviewing hackWe’ve all had it happen…

Someone does amazingly well in an interview and then they turn out to be a not-so-great hire and they don’t help the culture.

So how can we prevent that?

When you’re clear on your core values, you can then design interview questions based on those values. Ideally they’re questions that don’t necessarily correspond to one’s résumé. Instead they feel out how well the person actually lives the values and has a desire to live by them.

You can see how Zappos does it here.

Or check this out for how MindValley does it.

Of course, I’m a big fan of upgrading the team you already have. If you’d like to upgrade your team, or take a high-performing team to the next level, let’s talk.

The #1 Culture Hack

January 7, 2016

Great cultures ,Hacks ,Popular Articles

NOTE: This blog is the #1 overall hack, for the #1 HIRING HACK, please click here.

“Don’t talk about how to hack culture! That will scare corporate clients!”

That’s what people told me.

They were so wrong! The bigger the company, the more they want the hacks. Why? Because hacking is all about empowering anyone to create a shift. Big companies know how hard it is to create massive change. Culture hacks allow change to happen FAST.

First, let’s briefly define what hacking is:

Hacking is finding a vulnerable point in a system, and exploiting that vulnerability to your advantage. The end result is very little investment with maximum gain.

If that made no sense, don’t worry. The hacks work without you needing to know how they work.

I knew about this #1 hack for a long time, but didn’t realize how important it was until I was working with a major company that wanted to implement its core values and they were running into a problem:

People put working hard and driving results over each of those core values. And because of that, they’re not core values. If they were core, they would never be sacrificed.

Changing to a Core values company is a big step. It can take over a year. So how can they change fast?

Well, to diagnose a culture all we have to do is look at their meetings. Meetings are a subset of culture. And the first data within meetings we look at is people’s relationship to time.

  • Are people on time?
  • Do meetings end on time?
  • Do leaders show up late?

Cultures that are on time inherently respect each other. Cultures that start late and go late tolerate behavior that advances the individual over the culture as a whole.

The #1 Culture Hack: Always be on time.

  1. Start meetings on time (even if not everyone is there)
  2. End meetings on time (or 10 minutes early so they have time to walk to their next meeting)
  3. Have the same standard for all people (no matter their rank)

When I was at Zappos, CEO Tony Hsieh was always on time or early. Never ever did I see him late.

This is a very small hack, but it has a massive impact. If you feel resistance from yourself or anyone else, simply run a 2 week experiment where people have to be on time. Then let the results speak for themselves.

How much should you pay for a speech?

October 27, 2015

Great cultures ,Popular Articles

It’s the wild wild west when it comes to speaker prices. It can range from free up to over $250,000. So how do you know what’s the right cost?

I’ve been speaking for years, and I use a mix of speaking, workshops, consulting and products. I’ve done everything from a free hour to help out a friend to charging $45,000 for a comprehensive full-day presentation, workshop and follow-up support.

Here is the range and what it means. Let’s go from top to bottom:

$150,000 +
This is the Bill Clinton level. It’s like getting the chance to see Elvis while he’s still alive. I heard he once walked in late, not even knowing the audience and he still had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand… While this rate sounds a bit ludicrous, I spoke to an organization who hired him and they said it was cost effective because of how much money they raised through the Gala he attended.

$75,000 – $140,000
This is the Seth Godin level – very famous and strong speakers. I saw Seth speak in Las Vegas and he takes the audience through his entire journey of thinking across his books, so it’s like getting a massive education in marketing (and he makes it very funny). You can use my guide at the end of the article to figure out if it’s worth it, but either way, at this level you’ll get a very engaging experience.

$35,000 – $70,000
I would call this the risky zone. At this rate you’re getting famous authors, former business leaders or even current CEO’s of great companies. They can charge this much because that’s what their time is worth to them and they have strong brand names associated with them. Whether or not they’re a great speaker is where you roll the dice. I would make sure to watch many of their videos and ask for a reference. Don’t assume they’re great just because they’re expensive.

$20,000 – $30,000
I consider this the sweet spot. The speakers at this level are not necessarily a brand names themselves. Instead they serve the best brands in the world (make sure to look at their client list and past speaking engagements). Also, speakers at this level speak often enough to master the craft but still build in time to develop new content and stay up to date on the field.

$5,000 – $10,000
This is the bargain zone. And like any bargain you could either be totally thrilled or end up wishing you had spent a little more to get a way better result. This is the rate you’ll see for newer speakers or speakers who live on the road and do a very high volume of speeches every year. Sometimes you can get a high-end speaker at this rate if they happen to be in your city and can easily drop by.

There are many scenarios where a speech can be free, some great and others highly cautionary. When I managed a company at Zappos there were great speakers who offered to speak for free to simply participate in the Zappos culture and and be part of the culture wave. Of course it’s rare to have such a strong brand, but you can still offer an experience that could be tempting. Early in my career I spoke for free in Malaysia because the company took me on their team vacation and also gave me access to a mastermind of successful entrepreneurs.

I would be wary of speakers who want to speak for free because they are selling something at the end. Again, some of these speakers can be great, but others have objectives other than serving the specific needs of your organization or audience.

Things to consider when you’re selecting your price range:

1. What is the actual value?
In other words, if this speaker actually made your problem go away, or generated X dollars in additional revenue, or aligned all of your people… how much is that worth to you?

2. What’s the per head cost?
What’s great about a speech is you get to educate and inspire an entire audience at one time. So if you have a a company of 5000 people and you hire a $50,000 speaker, you’re only paying $10 per person for their education and growth. Also, consider a full cost accounting of your event. What is the real ROI on the food, or a fancy hotel conference room vs. a highly impactful experience?

3. What is the entire experience?
There’s a big difference between sitting and hearing lecture for an hour and having an experience that forever changes their world. There opportunities to get interactive and dive in.  I’ve found that the most powerful experiences combine content, interaction and team-building. Ask your speaker what kind of experience they can create for your audience and what the result will be.

What You Really Want is Clarity (and how to get it)

September 27, 2015

Great cultures ,Popular Articles ,Productivity ,Values


There’s one word I keep hearing at companies when they express their desires. It’s like the holy grail people are seeking. What people want most, whether leaders or workers, is this:


And what’s interesting is I see this most in companies that are successful! Successful companies have a plethora of opportunities, choices and options. And so the pain comes from questions such as:

  • What’s the priority?
  • What do we focus on?
  • What happens when our priorities compete?
  • How do we stop the chaos?
  • How do we delegate decision making while ensure the right decisions are made?
  • What data do we need to make decisions?

The funny thing is that focusing on these questions only makes the problem worse, because it actually brings up even more options. 

I was running a culture game around conflict and it was interesting how challenging it was for people to follow a basic language protocol that focused their communication. It was like they were wrapping their brains around how to be more specific and concise when they were used to simply talking and figuring things out as conversation went on.

This was in stark contrast to a podcast I heard with a 24 year old Army Ranger whose clarity in communication was incredible. He could think so clearly and communicate with quick precision, without meandering thought. I immediately thought: This is the kind of person I’d like to hire.

So there are two ways to solve this dilemma of clarity. First, as I’ve always said, the biggest impact you can have on your culture is who you let into the organization.

1. Hire clear thinkers and communicators. 

It’s always tempting to go with the person who has the exact experience we need on their résumé. But that’s a terrible idea. Unless it is ultra specific (think: nuclear chemist), then hiring someone who has already “been there, done that” means they won’t grow a lot and so they won’t give their best.

Whereas if you hire someone who:

a) loves to learn (and learns fast)
b) thinks clearly (more on that in a moment)
c) communicates clearly (succinctly, on point, and looks you in the eye)

Then you’ll have someone you want for life.

2. Establish the 3 P’s.

The reason an Army Ranger can think so clearly is because their lives are built around the 3 P’s:


Whether it’s the core values of Whole Foods, or the credo of the Navy Seals, the strongest organizations run on principles. Principle define who’s in and who is out. They act as guides for decision making and they reduce politics by aligning people to agreed upon concepts rather than to people in power. If you haven’t figured out your principles, check out the core values process in my book The Culture Blueprint.


There’s an anecdote from the Checklist Manifesto that says a beginner pilot uses a checklist to prepare for a flight. Do you know what a veteran pilot with 30 years experience on a 747 uses? The same thing: A checklist. If it’s clear that we must do it and hold to a standard of excellence, then a protocol like a checklist is very useful. And this is not just for processes, but also for conversations. That’s why I have a protocol that I teach for conflict resolution. By staying within the process it allows people to feel safe.  New management systems such as Holacracy are based on this concept.  If companies had a protocol for delegating it would relieve so much pain.


Policies can actually be quite liberating when used effectively. For example, a policy can be that any employee can use up to $500 to remedy a customer service error without asking for approval. That policy can empower people to make decisions while still keeping a safeguard on the process.

If you feel overwhelmed by all the decisions you need to make, consider if there’s a breakdown in clarity and how precise communication, principles, protocols and policies can help.

The Truth about Fear and Comfort Zones

June 25, 2015

Personal Exploration ,Popular Articles

“People are always saying to get out of your comfort zone,” said Neal Rogin, my friend and stand-up comedian.  “That sounds horrible. I love my comfort zone. In fact, there are many parts of my comfort zone I haven’t even explored yet!”

It’s funny and yet I realized: My comfort zone is actually not that comfortable.

I change careers every three years. I’ve gone into massive debt and risen out of it. I’ve joined cult like organizations, and immersed myself in improv and stand-up comedy. I’ve actively induced panic attacks just to learn what’s underneath them. I’ve been skydiving, scuba diving, and explored every cleanse, diet and self development program you can mention. I’ve been to Burning Man three times over a decade (and these are just the things I’m public about!).

None of it has been comfortable, and yet it’s my comfort zone because it’s what I know. It’s what I’ve always done.

I wonder if what’s out of my comfort zone is actually most people’s modus operandi – A long-term relationship, having kids, creating a real home. I’ve wanted these things for a long time and yet my behavior and results clearly tell another story. Could it be that I’m deeply afraid of what most of the world seems to have mastered?

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” – Jack Canfield.

Is this true? Do I simply need to look at what I’m afraid of and my desire is right there beyond it?

In order to answer the question, I want to know… What is fear?

Fear has been an intimate friend of mine for as long as I can remember. A friend died when I was three years old so I was afraid of my own death. I was afraid of my parents leaving. I was afraid of break-ins at the house after it was burglarized while I was in it. I was afraid of the roller coasters my friends loved. I was afraid of ghosts and aliens, and I was even more afraid of talking to girls.

I don’t know what fear is, but I found a great clue today from A Course in Miracles.

“Fear is always a sign of strain, arising when what you want conflicts with what you do. This situation arises in two ways: First, you can choose to do conflicting things, either simultaneously or successively. This produces conflicted behavior which is intolerable to you because the part of the mind that wants to do something else is outraged. Second, you can behave as you think you should, but without entirely wanting to do so. This produces consistent behavior, but entails great strain. In both cases, the mind and the behavior are out of accord, resulting in a situation in which you are doing what you do not wholly want to do. This arouses a sense of coercion that usually produces rage, and projection is likely to follow.”

While I don’t know what fear is, I’m finding this much more important because I’m learning the conditions for fear. And this is the main condition:

“Whenever there is fear, it is because you have not made up your mind.”

This makes so much sense to me. I was afraid of death because I had not made up my mind about what comes after it. I was afraid of roller coasters because I was on the fence about whether I would follow my desire or sit it out. Now that I’ve decided on these they have actually become sources of comfort and pleasure.

And I see it in others as well…

I remember when I went vegan and told two friends about it. One said, “Nope. No way I could ever do that.” She was not afraid of going vegan. She had decided. She was clear. There was no fear. The other friend went into a state of terror as he said, “I can’t not eat meat!” He was clearly on the fence which means some part of him wanted it.

Take my mother. She is not afraid of sky diving. Fear doesn’t even register in her brain because she’s simply not doing it.  End of story. And yet, if you invite someone on the fence to go sky diving, they will immediately go into fear.

But, you may ask, what if the person decides and says yes, but then they still feel fear?  Ahhh, then it’s actually not fear. When the mind is no longer on the fence, that means it is no longer judging. When we stop judging we start allowing. And so the body sensations of fear – shaking, intense energy, sweating, light-headedness – they all become merely that: Sensations.

Take someone like Richard Branson, who has started hundreds of businesses and death defying acts, all while having a calm, cool and charming personality. The title of his book says it all:  Screw it, let’s do it. It’s pure commitment.

What’s helped me most is having a decision-making framework for commitment. I’ll share that in the next post.

What I learned about culture from stand-up comedy

April 13, 2015

Great cultures ,Popular Articles

I recently wrote about taking a 3 month class in stand up comedy (link here). Since then I performed in a club, and the video is below (note: It’s all about dating, and I use two or three swear words).

Here is what I learned in regards to culture:

Feedback loops are always at play
Once feedback loops start they get momentum. With an audience they quickly determine if they like you, and if they do, they are open to laugh. If they don’t, they shut down and it’s much harder to bring them back.

The same can be said of culture. That first interview, meeting, phone call – can make or break anything and how you start those conversations are critical. In the Culture Blueprint I share a template for that first conversation with an employee.

Energy is everything
Culture is a feeling, and whatever feeling you bring with you has a big impact on the room. So what we do before we enter the room makes the difference. On this particular night I was really excited because my friends were there and I got there early to connect with other comics. By the time I hit the stage it felt like I had warmed up for the game.

What do you before you perform at your work?  How do you take care of yourself outside the office? It has a big impact when you arrive.

There are formulas and frameworks to success
The first times I bombed it was because I had no real appreciation for the rhythm of comedy. But even long stories that keep you laughing use a series of set-ups, adding in context, delivering a punch and then adding bits called tags. Here’s a graphic I created to illustrate it.


Recognizing systems and flow has had a huge impact on my work.  I use frameworks and models such as open-space that allow cultures to self-organize and scale the business (all while having a lot of fun).

PS – As a result of this work, I am expanding my offerings to include an MC role for events, as well as hosting live conversations on stage.