A few weeks back, as a part of Humu’s participation in the 2018 Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco, I got the chance to participate in a breakfast session with two people I admire: Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work and Jody Kohner, SVP of Employee Experience at Salesforce.
Over breakfast with more than 300 SMB execs, we talked culture and the challenges of putting people first in businesses big and small. For me, it was an opportunity to talk to a community of folks heading up rapidly growing businesses in a new way: as a peer building my own company.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation, courtesy of Jody Kohner at Salesforce:
What is culture?
Michael Bush: “Culture is the feeling. It’s the thing that makes you really want to go to work or what makes you really not want to go to work. It cuts both ways.”
Me: “Your culture should be your decision code. It’s what you should rely on to make difficult decisions at difficult times, by reminding you who you are.”
Why does it matter?
Michael Bush: “It pays. It’s good for people, it’s good for the world, and you make money, too.”
Jody Kohner: “It’s your main differentiator. Think about it: The day-to-day tasks of any job— whether it’s an account executive or a software engineer — are essentially the same no matter where you work. What’s different is the people you do your job with and the environment you do it in, and that comes down to culture.”
What culture advice do you have specifically for small business leaders?
Michael Bush: “When you’re running a small business, there’s so much work to do. You’re small, and you’re wearing multiple hats. Sometimes when we pick a leader, we pick an outstanding individual performer, but maybe they aren’t a good people leader. We call it the “unintentional leader”. This is a mistake we see more often in small businesses out of necessity, but you need to be extra thoughtful when you’re a small business because that decision sets the tone for your business for years to come. You need strong leaders because a small business can’t afford to lose good talent because the IP is in people’s heads.”
Me: “Culture at small scale is way harder. When you’re big, you have a lot of people to help, and jerks can be avoided. When you are small, every jerk matters and every negative behavior matters. The way to protect your culture is to quickly reset the culture and recover when negative things happen. You need to be very thoughtful about the moments that matter. As leaders, everyone in the company is watching you all the time, so every small thing you do embodies the culture. If you lose your mind and act out when you lose a deal, people remember that. If you stay calm and positive, that sets the tone.”
What are some of the warning signs that culture is not going to scale?
Michael Bush: “Fast growth – you’re so busy doing the work thing, that you forget the people thing.”
Me: “Too much homogeny: people look the same, think the same, behave the same, come from the same perspective. This creates a monoculture, which can lead to massive blind spots, and can be a warning sign that your culture is not going scale. There are a lot of reasons diversity matters. The main business reason is that in situations when people feel psychological safety they outperform.”
How do you build a great company culture?
Jody Kohner: “Be intentional. When our founders started Salesforce, they were as intentional about the company culture they wanted to create as they were about the products they wanted to build and how they would go to market. Two core programs that create an incredible sense of purpose and belonging in our people and are still at the heart of everything we do today, started when we were small – our 1-1-1 integrated corporate philanthropy model and our V2MOM business planning process. You can read more about both on trailhead.salesforce.com.”
Michael Bush: “It starts with humility. Companies that are arrogant ultimately crumble. Find an objective way to find out what people are experiencing, and then analyze it to continuously improve. Don’t assume that conversations occurring accurately reflect the health of your leadership and your culture. You need to know as a leader, what are the things you need to work on? And trust me, everyone has things they need to work on.”
Me: “Fundamentally, human beings want the same things: people want to find meaning; people want to be trusted; and people want to be empowered. Get a source of truth, not just qualitative, but a valid scientific instrument that gives you direction on what you need to do. Then, you need to act. Get agreement among leadership on what you need to do – might be trust, might be fairness – it’s different for every business. Finally, the hardest thing – activate everyone in your company, so everyone down to the last employee feels the action. Make sure there isn’t a gap between your espoused values and what each person experiences.”
How do you address the “It’s not the same as it used to be here as you transition from small to midsize to big company?”
Me: “People who are predisposed to gratitude stay happy. The others you have to work to instill it in. That’s why you need constant nudges to encourage things like gratitude.”
Michael Bush: “When you double click on survey results of fast-growing companies there are varying experiences among employees. When this is happening, what we see often is that some leaders are clinging to the old ways and talking about the good old days. Ultimately, this hurts morale. The leadership group needs to get aligned and be looking to the future and find an inspiring way to talk about that, and they need to be asking if everyone is in. It starts at the top. The people are a reflection of what’s at the top.”
Want to know more about how Humu’s nudges transform cultures by activating everyone? Drop us a line here.