What is your key differentiator value?

November 2, 2015

Great cultures ,Values

I know it can feel heavy and loaded when we talk about core values. It’s like the health food of both personal and corporate development. It’s absolutely necessary yet people don’t get excited about it.

Here’s how you can…

Think about your values this way. There are three kinds:

1. Integrity: The cost of entry
2. Core set
3. Key differentiators

1. Integrity: The cost of entry

There’s a reason “integrity” is not on the core values list at Zappos. It’s because it’s so necessary that without it, no other value matters. How can you fulfill on other values if you don’t even keep your word? That’s why the training process includes requirements like “Show up at every day before 7am for four weeks, or you’re cut.”

Tell tale signs of a compromise in integrity includes:

  • Constantly late to appointments and meetings
  • Unfulfilled promises
  • Always dealing with drama
  • Can’t seem to get their stuff together

2. Core set

These are the ones that are basic to just about everyone. They include values like:

  • Honesty
  • Intelligence
  • Kindness
  • Passion
  • Drive
  • Humor
  • Competence
  • etc.

They’re necessary, but people often compromise on them and then they’re unsatisfied and disappointed.

3. Key Differentiators

These are values that distinctly separate you from everyone else.

I realized after looking back on a few relationships that there were parts missing that I didn’t realize were actually core to me. I don’t include these in the core set above because they’re values that are more unique to you.

For me those are:

One’s desire and ability to try new things, entertain new thoughts, experiment and play

The desire to constantly learn and know more about a person through inquiries and questions.

For Zappos it’s  “Deliver WOW!” and “Create fun and a little weirdness.”

For the Navy Seals it’s “I will not fail.”

For Google (in the early days) it was “Don’t be evil.”

For Apple, I believe it’s excellence. In fact, I don’t they care so much about customer service the way Zappos does. Apple cares about doing things with pure excellence, and customer service is simply something they do.

What is your key differentiator value?

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.

2014 Year in Review

December 29, 2014

Values ,Vision


Rather than new year’s resolutions, I pick themes. They provide enough direction to keep me on track, but enough space for the year to evolve. Past themes included: Service, Community, and Culture. (Webster’s actually called culture the word of the year!)

The 2014 Theme: Relevant

This word comes up for me a lot, and I believe it may even replace the word Innovation. It’s all about going through a world of distractions and choices and focusing only on what’s of high value. What’s interesting is as I look back on the year, I would say it was a different theme. The theme was actually “Letting Go.”

Letting Go of being a “Know-it-all”

It started off in a very professional sense. In 2013 I was paid a lot to tell companies what to do. I would go in, evaluate their cultures, tell them what they’re doing wrong and how to fix it. And it was humbling to see that most of them would do nothing with the information. I was totally disheartened.

Then I started working with my long time friend and mentor, Dan Mezick. He helped me realize that no one likes being told what to do. And when it comes to culture change, people check out when they’re given mandates and directives. But they get really engaged when they feel like they’re co-creators of the larger story.

He showed me the way of Open Space Technology, a meeting format that allows a group to determine what they’re passionate and take action on what comes up. We teamed up and went to Intuit (below), using Open Agile Adoption – it combines open space with cultural rites of passage to help a group through a transition. The result was an extremely high level of engagement and participation.  And we didn’t have to be “gurus” or “experts.” We’re just the people who set up the game for the group’s true wisdom to emerge.


After doing this for small companies to multi-nationals, I told my old boss and friend, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. First we held an open space for the Las Vegas Downtown project.  It was so effective that some called it the most productive three hours they ever spent at the company. Others were in tears as they bonded with people they never had a connection with before. It worked so well that Tony used the model at the Zappos all-hands meeting with 2000 people.


It was an honor to watch this all happen in what felt like my final farewell to both Zappos and Las Vegas entirely…

Letting Go of my home


I came to Vegas after having lost it all in a business. And in a few short years I went from being in debt to having a wonderful career and this beautiful home. But it was clear I was ready to leave. I can do my job from anywhere so I wanted to be close to friends and family. So I sold my home (thankfully the market was up 50% from when I bought it). And in only a couple months I went down from this full house to just a pile of things:


Letting Go of Planning (and Seriousness)

Letting go of Vegas also included letting go of a relationship I wanted. I was dating a woman I was very into and I wanted to take it to the next level but she didn’t. While it was quite a disappointment, I was happy that she gave me feedback as to why. She said, “You’re always so serious. We never laugh and you don’t seem to have any fun.”  She was right. I only focused on business and everything else I seemed to treat as if it were a business.

That was early in the year, and (ironically) I took fun very seriously for the rest of the year, developing a plan for it. I talked to my friend Shane who seemed to have more fun than anyone else and I asked how he does it. His solution was simple:

“Look at who is having more fun than you, and do what they do.”

The answer for me was clear. The people I saw having the most fun were improv actors. It looked like non-stop fun and laughs!

The best classes were in LA so I drove down every weekend to take a class with my brother. When I moved back to LA I took an improv intensive:


I started off so nervous! I was shaking every time I went up.  Public speaking to a thousand people? Piece of cake. Playing pretend with a few actors in a warehouse? Terrifying.

It was a struggle until I realized that the funniest people didn’t even seem to pay attention to the audience. They were just having fun! And they fully committed.  That’s when it got easier. When I let go of the need to look good and the need be funny. It would constantly amaze me how much just being real got more laughs than jokes.

I started to improvise more in speeches, so I could be more connected with the audience rather than with powerpoint slides.

And the principles of improv are so in alignment with the best teams I’ve ever worked with.

improv-robertrichman copy

Letting Go of control

Coming back to LA has been amazing.  I have so many friends and family here. I moved in with my brother so I can focus on my book launch (more on that in the next post). Being with him feels like being a kid back at camp. He taught me how to play golf, and I love it! I used to make fun of golfers. Now I find it incredibly fulfilling, peaceful and meditative. (I guess it takes a good coach, and a great course like the one we played in Newport…)


And I wrapped up the year with what I feel has been the ultimate exercise in letting go. You see, I’ve done so many forms of self-development:  Programs, retreats, gurus, books, devices, supplements, you name it.

But what’s worked incredibly well is… just being.  And this has made it easy to do that:


It’s a sensory deprivation tank, or a floatation tank.

It’s totally dark, so you can’t see anything.
You have ear plugs in so you can’t hear anything.
The water is skin temperature and holds you up with epsom salts, so you don’t feel anything.

No senses. Just a one-on-one meeting with you.

Many people find it immediately relaxing. But my first several times I had panic attacks, and not because of claustrophobia (it’s very easy to get out). It felt like I had no control, not even over my own thoughts. Even worse, when I noticed my thoughts stop I wondered if I was dead and I would shoot up with my heart racing.

But I’m all about facing my fears. So I would do it, every other day, for the last 3 weeks this year.  I developed what felt like an intimate relationship with anxiety. I’ll be talking about it in future posts, and not just from a personal angle. One of the biggest blocks to culture change is the anxiety and worry of what it means and what will happen next.

In the tank I gradually went from terror down to mild fear, down to stillness and even to boredom. I realized that it was all about facing any uncomfortable feeling, not just fear.

I made myself stay, to see what’s beyond boredom. That’s when I started to relax, and after that came my vision for the greatest year yet.

Next post: 2015  The Year of…

Accountability is a Skill, not a Value

June 14, 2013


If someone says they will do something and they don’t, then the result can be a lot of hurt. If you think of any time you’ve been hurt, I’m sure it was when your expectation was not met.

If you have an organization made up of people who do not do what they say they will do, then everything is dysfunctional. So it’s understandable when leaders want to institute “accountability” as a core value. But there’s a problem with that.

Values are based on what people value. You either value it or you don’t. It’s based on desire. But honestly, no one seeks accountability. We may like accountability because it helps us reach our goals. But in truth, we all want freedom to do what we want when we want it.

For that reason, accountability is really a skill. And to build that skill, think about it like a muscle: It must be built up over time. Take the Zappos on-boarding program…

New hires must show up everyday by 7am or they are fired. No excuses. Coming in one day at 7:05 can mean your job. People would overcome any situation to make sure they would be at work on time. With that kind of “workout regimen” – the accountability muscle is put through basic training.

It’s tempting for a leader to simply declare accountability a core value and expect everyone to fall in line. But the truth is, without starting small and building it over time, everyone is bound to feel disappointed.

Do you have a healthy sense of drama?

August 3, 2012


The word “drama” has gotten such a bad wrap. People say they want less drama in their lives and their relationships, and yet we emotionally crave it.


Just take a look at our fascination with shows like Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Wire, The Sopranos (etc). We want to experience these emotions, but safely from the comfort of our own sofa. But if we don’t have a way to bring that sense of excitement into our own lives (without destroying them), then we will constantly be stuck at home watching TV, and our memories become the shows we’ve watched, instead of real life.


Let’s start with what the word drama means (and by the way, if you ever want to get to the core of a discussion, debate or argument, then start by defining your terms. You would not believe how often people argue about something that they’re not even talking about).


Drama is the sense that anything can happen, and stakes are high.  (read that over a couple times).


Now, notice there is nothing inherently wrong, evil, bad or destructive about this, though it certainly can be. Here is the most basic example of drama and its power to engage: If you walk by a poker room in a casino, all the tables look the same, then you’re not likely to stop and watch.  But if someone says, “I’m all in,” and they move all their chips to the middle, then they have our attention… Anything can happen, and the stakes are high. Suddenly life is interesting.


So how does that become healthy?  Think about it in the context of getting what you want out of life… I wanted to write my own book, so my coach said, “How long do you think it will take to finish it?” I said, “A month.”  But he knew I would procrastinate, so he told me to get out my check book. Then he talked about finding an organization I would never support. We looked online and found a group that clearly supported hate crimes. He had me write a check for $300 to that group and said, “I’m going to take this. If you don’t have your book to me by the end of the month, I’m sending them this check.”  Anything could happen, and stakes were high. I completed my book in less than 3 weeks.


Recently, I felt completely alive on a 500 mile relay bike race that ran over 30 hours straight. We went through thunderstorms, construction zones, and pitch black darkness, all in a race to the finish, struggling just to stay awake. Clearly it was dramatic, but what made it healthy and safe was that I was with an amazing team and we constantly had each other’s backs.


Another example: A friend of mine is the CEO of a start-up and his team was not performing well. He called them together and decided to add a bit of drama… He shared, in full sincerity that he wanted to step down as CEO because he believed he was not the person who could lead and inspire them. To his surprise the team vehemently disagreed. They loved him and believed he was the best CEO, but they had disengaged because they were rebelling. They wanted more time with him, and their lack of performance came out of their feeling resentment. He was re-energized but decided to put both him and them to a test. He said, “Let’s pick one big audacious task for each of us to complete. I will do one as well. If we all complete it by midnight tomorrow, then I’ll know we are all truly engaged and I’ll stay on and move forward.” Anything could happen, and stakes were high.  The team rallied together and all tasks were completed by midnight.


Of course, it could have gone the other way. But that’s why it’s great. Drama brings out what’s really there, and what we’re really committed to.


All of this is a theory I’m working on. It’s clearly not fully thought out. To me it brings up questions like, how much drama do we need? When does it become stressful? What are the catalysts or triggers that bring up the need?  I’d love to hear your thoughts or stories. I believe it may apply to relationships as well. My working hypothesis is that those who consciously create drama, rather than trying to avoid it, tend to be the most successful and happy people.