Michael: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the HaBO Village podcast. I'm Michael Redman.
Kathryn: And I'm Kathryn Redman.
Michael: And this is the podcast for small and medium size business leaders like you who want to build a company and actually enjoy it. You want profit but you don't want to steal your soul. Today, we're going to talk about culture and culture is a huge aspect that we talk about on this podcast. We love it but it's been a while since we did a deep dive on it. Kathryn, we have a guest today, who's our guest?
Kathryn: We do. I'm super excited to introduce Brett Putter. And Brett is an expert in company culture so we get to go really deep, which is really fun. He's consulted by companies and leaders worldwide to help design, develop and build high performing cultures. He's the CEO of a company called CultureGene, which is actually a culture leadership software and services platform. That's exciting. And he worked for 16 years prior to developing that as a managing partner of a leading executive search firm based in London.
Michael: And he's from your homeland.
Kathryn: Nothing wrong with that. That is in his favor. Yes, he's from the UK.
Michael: Automatically has a culture, but it's stoic and hidden away.
Kathryn: Right, exactly. Completely. And it probably means that my accent is going to do all sorts of strange things today because I've been chatting with Brett and it happens.
Michael: There we go.
Kathryn: If you're new to this, know that I don't normally sound at all British but there you go.
Michael: Kathryn has schizophrenic accent disorder. You'll see it and hear it more today than any other time. Brett, welcome to the show.
Brett: Michael, thanks for having me. Kathryn, really great to be here, really looking forward to our conversation.
Kathryn: Yeah. I'm super excited.
Michael: Let's jump right in. What drug you into culture? Why pick that? Because it's amazing how many people don't pick that.
Brett: Yeah. Culture in a way picked me. Quite happily running an executive search firm and about five years ago now I was lucky enough to work with three companies almost in a row where the CEOs had a very clear understanding of the culture they were building and I was asked to source candidates that had the right skills and experience but also that fit with the values of the company. These were much, much harder searches to do but actually when we got to the interview stage, it was like, wow, this is so different. And then when we got to the stage of actually the candidates joining and then impacting the business, it was like, wow, again. And that was sort of the light bulb moment for me of how different these searches had been in comparison to most of my executive search career.
Michael: Okay, so you hit that place. You're seeing the wow moment, but then why move to the next level? Why get sucked into this so far that it becomes your main thing?
Brett: Yeah, I'm a little bit like that. If I find something that I'm really passionate in, I'll go and understand it and I'll understand it until I understand it. Culture, I just couldn't stop reading. I couldn't stop learning. I couldn't stop. It was like somebody had opened a door and then there was another door and another door and another door and it just kept going and going and going. And I just got, it was almost like I got hooked more and more and more. And what I started doing with my recruitment clients, my search clients is I actually started helping them start recruiting based on values and then they wanted more help and more help. And it was something that came very naturally to me. I then decided, you shouldn't have a mistress and a wife unless you're French, somehow they get it right. Because having a mistress and a wife, one of them is always going to be upset with you at some time. I decided, all right, let's just go all in and focus on the culture piece.
Kathryn: Okay. That's interesting. I wonder, I'm just curious, the company that you worked for as the recruiter, did they have a good culture?
Brett: It was a company that had been around a long time and there was nothing deliberate about the culture. It was just something that had formed as a result of 25 years. And I would say that we had a what I would call a not too weak and not too dysfunctional culture. Any way you can describe culture as good or bad or right or wrong is in relation to whether you would work well in that company or not. Is it good for me or not? Would the mafia be a good place for me to work? No, I wouldn't want to work that way. It wouldn't suit me. But is it a strong, functional culture or a weak, dysfunctional culture? The mafia, if you work there, it's probably quite a strong, functional culture. They understand what the values are, the vision are, they understand that. And actually the way they work increases the velocity, the culture increases of velocity of the way they work. It's probably a strong, functional culture but I wouldn't want to work with there.
Michael: Okay, you started to talk about it a little bit there, let's define how we're talking about culture because culture is one of those fuzzy words. Everybody knows it. Not everybody's sure how to define it or they're going to define it differently. You started to talk about what, at least it sounded like what makes a good, strong culture or not. What is culture from your perspective? And what makes a stronger one versus a weaker one?
Brett: Company culture, I like this broad description of the way we do things around here. And the reason I like that particular description is because culture is in everything. It's in our DNA and ideally our DNA matches the organizational DNA. And that's where there is the potential for a strong functional culture, where there is that match between the leadership and the organizational culture and my individual values and behaviors that I want. Culture develops as a function of learning over time. And as we learn to do things and they work, we repeat those things. But culture ultimately is this random combination of good and bad behaviors, norms, principles, habits, rituals, communication styles, meeting styles and on and on. Culture is this invisible, subconscious, intangible, amorphous thing in most companies that if you want to build a strong, functional culture, you need to be deliberate about defining and about managing.
Brett: And so the way I look at culture is it's either strong or weak. Strong means the values, the mission and the vision are understood and lived by everybody in the organization. Weak means there are no values, no vision, no mission deliberately defined. Or if they are, the leadership believe it's the one thing and the rest of the organization know it's something else. That's the difference between strong and weak and understanding about what the values are and mission and vision.
Brett: And then a functional culture is one where the way the culture exists actually speeds up the velocity of the business and a dysfunctional culture is where the way the culture exists, slows it down. Politics or silo mentality or backstabbing or ego or sweeping things under the carpet will slow the organization down. Those are really strong, weak, functional or dysfunctional.
Michael: It's possible to have a very, very strong culture that is very, very dysfunctional or weak, correct?
Kathryn: But I want to dig into that a minute, because if you define strong as the mission values and vision of the organization are understood and lived by everyone, how do you end up with incredibly dysfunctional, backstabbing, awful things happening unless the values are that?
Michael: Most governments.
Kathryn: Most government. Well, I just want to make sure we're clarifying.
Michael: No, no, that's fair and I'm throwing in answers.
Brett: It's a good question. What you may have is if there is an x-axis and the y-axis, you're not going to have a strong culture that is all the way up really, really strong where everybody understands it. The chances of you having an incredibly equal dysfunctional culture are low. But what can happen is in departments or in teams, there is an understanding of what the culture should be but a division or a department is run in a different way. And so you will have dysfunctional pockets or you may have weakness in a pocket. And ultimately you need to get rid of that leadership team of that division or change the way they behave. There are especially in larger organizations, this happens regularly.
Brett: You also have subcultures form that are not formed under the auspices of the values and mission and vision of the organization or you acquire a company that their values just don't match. In smaller organizations, in startups or SMEs, high growth companies, typically it's a small enough group that you all kind of know, there is an understanding and if the leadership team are really good at this, then you don't get that dysfunction coming in if you have a strong part of the culture in place.
Michael: Would it be true or not that if you had a company that they did all the work, the vision was clear and the mission and values and they had it all. They did all this work and they put it down on paper but they lived antithetical to that. In other words, it's all a bunch of hype and they preached the hype religiously within the company but everybody knows that nobody lives it. Would that be an extremely strong and a pretty dysfunctional organization?
Brett: No, it would still be on the weak end for me because the leadership team is saying X and the rest of the organization are experiencing Y. There is a disconnect there. Ultimately, if the leadership is saying, "These are our values, this is our mission and vision," but they're not living it and the team know it, and so that moves it into a weak functional.
Michael: Yeah. there has to be, not only do they have to do the work, there has to be a measure of alignment with behaviors versus what they say they want.
Brett: Yeah. There has to be not just a measure, there has to be really strong alignment because your team are like, if you've got a team of 20 people working for you, it's like having 20 jealous partners. If you've got a jealous partner and you walk into a bar, he or she is looking for you to start flirting or anticipating this behavior and so your team are looking to see, you've said X, are you actually going to do it? Or are you going to be like all the other bosses I've had and just blow smoke? It's like having, they're watching you like a hawk. And so if you don't live the values, if you don't behave in the way that you claim you want, they sort of go, all right, disconnect. This doesn't feel right.
Michael: Got it.
Kathryn: Makes sense.
Michael: No, it makes perfect sense. Okay, so it may be obvious, I think to us sometimes it is but for sake of the conversation, what is the value to a company and the different areas where that that strong culture and that functional culture are going to benefit the company? Why waste your time on this?
Brett: There's a guy, a VC named David Cummings, a mentor based VC named David Cummings. He coined the phrase company culture is the one sustainable competitive advantage that a CEO has complete control over. And this is not always true if you have really strong IP, but the majority of businesses don't have strong IP. Ultimately your competition can attack any element of your business but they cannot attack your culture. The only way you can impact your culture negatively is if your leadership team behave in a discongruous way or you hire people who don't fit with your values, that's it. They're both leadership decisions ultimately. If you build a strong, functional culture where people understand how they should behave, they understand that what's acceptable and unacceptable, then you get a general understanding. You then also get a consistency of behavior and you get the ability for people to be accountable because I understand these values and actually they are my values so I know what I should do in this situation. I don't have to go to my boss and ask permission. I know what's right.
Brett: You get the accountability, you also get self policing. People will call out colleagues, that's not the way we work around here. We don't talk like that or we don't behave like that. And so that you ultimately, you build a system inside your organization that feeds on itself. It's not just a leadership team yelling from the heavens. Everybody believes it, lives it because if you hire a brilliant jerk into your organization, your entire team go, "Hold on. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa." He or she may be good but they're rude, they're obnoxious, they're aggressive, they manage up. You think they're amazing and they're breaking the whole system here. And people are giving their lives eight, nine, 10, 12 hours a day to your organization. They want to know that they're giving it in a way that was in agreement with the implicit things that you demonstrated when you hired me.
Michael: When we talk about values or not values in the sense of behavior values, but the value, the financial value of having a strong culture, we know from research that it correlates very strongly. And let's go back to your study for a moment that you looked at and I don't think we said it on the mic. I think we were talking about it before we went on is you talked to 500 companies and out of that found 50 companies that you were able to have conversations with about great culture. And these are also high growth companies, correct?
Michael: Talk a little bit about just setting the stage of the study you did and the interviews you did for our listeners. And then let's dive into to that.
Brett: There's no such thing as a great culture, only strong functional cultures.
Michael: I will continue to be corrected.
Kathryn: That's funny.
Brett: Sorry, Michael.
Kathryn: Slapped down.
Michael: I'm going to go get a break. Okay.
Brett: Part of the research that I wanted to do was to understand, I read about Southwest. I read about Zappos. I read about Virgin. I read, read, read, read, read. And reading about these companies is wonderful but it's 25 years too late Because their culture is defined. The hard work and the scratches and the scrapes to a large degree is done. And that was done 25 years ago. I wanted to know what is happening right now? How do these companies actually take a culture form it? Rather than, okay, we've done this wonderful thing. For me, I went to my network and I said, "Who has CEO's that they know that you would say you respect the culture they built? And can I talk to them?"
Brett: I was introduced to, let's say, James, go speak to James. You would really enjoy talking to James about the culture. And so I built a set of interview questions that really dug into the layers of the onion of company culture, starting really with what drove them and their mission, vision and values and then going deeper into how they embedded it, what they did on a leadership level, on a functional level, on a process level, how they looked at rituals, et cetera, et cetera. And as soon as I got below the mission, vision, values piece and maybe that employee of the month kind of initiative, then it was, I would get a situation where they'd say, "No, no, no, no, we haven't gone deeper than this. We haven't really." I wouldn't be able to interview them any further.
Kathryn: And that was 90% of the companies that you interviewed, sort of they had identified stuff. Maybe they have it in their onboarding. We're going to tell you about the history and the mission and the values and the vision of the company. But beyond that, there was no formal way of continuing to nurture that, to talk about it, to inculcate it, it just stopped.
Brett: Exactly. The majority of companies, which was almost a tick box exercise. Okay, tick, we can kind of talk about it but actually if you do start digging under the surface it's hollow.
Michael: And high growth companies, right?
Michael: Okay. Just so we have that identified. These are companies that are financially doing well and growing in their market at an increased rate.
Brett: Not all of them are financially doing well. Some of them are venture capital backed and they are hitting, they're going for moonshots. It's a typical VC model, but some of them Algolia, for example, extremely successful business. They were going from 300 to 750 employees in the next 12 to 18 months, that kind of thing. I realized that most CEOs kind of knew what to do on a superficial level and then they didn't know what to do next. And that was where talking to these 50 plus leaders allowed me to really go deeper and understand what do people do when it comes to onboarding? What do people do when it comes to probation? Do people embed into the leadership team? What are the deliberate, not sort of intentional actions that leaders took on a daily basis or a weekly or a monthly basis to ensure that their culture was embedded effectively?
Kathryn: That's good.
Michael: What were the surprises that you had in the midst of these interviews? Did anything surprise you?
Brett: Yeah, lots. It was wonderful actually. The biggest surprise actually was that the companies that had deep, strong, functional cultures, their leaders were really open to sharing. Mark Organ very successful entrepreneur in his second company, Influitive, he gave me 90 minutes and another 90 minutes and said, "If you want another 90 minutes, I'm happy to just, I see this as paying it forward."
Brett: "All the things I've learned, all of the mistakes I make, I don't want other people to make those mistakes." And he made really not so bad mistakes because he sold his first business, Eloqua to Oracle for 870 million.
Kathryn: Not so bad.
Brett: But I think that could have been a completely different number because he only started working on intentionally on his culture in your five. And he said, "A lot of the bad stuff was already ingrained there, it was hard to undo that." And as a leader, he had to learn. There was a lot here to learn. When he started Influitive, he was from day one, this is the way we work. And he made mistakes at Influitive, his first co-founder, he bought him out because actually when they really stressed one another, when they got into stressful situations, they realized that their values weren't overlapping.
Kathryn: Interesting. Not discovering that ahead of time was a bit of a mistake.
Brett: Exactly. But he was prepared to make them quickly and learn quickly. And he looked at everything in his business was viewed through the lens of culture, every single thing, the decisions he made. The big decisions particularly he would go and say, "How does this match up with my values?" If he got rid of a VP or a VP left at any stage, they would reevaluate their values. Really deliberate about making sure that there is this consistency and that there is an alignment with what we expect from our culture. And I learned they were very open in terms of mistakes.
Brett: A guy named Martin Urich who ran a company called Gideon in the Netherlands, transparency was a big deal for them from the very beginning. And transparency was a major value for them. And one day, the junior employee came to him and said, they were just chatting and said, "Martin, what do you and the senior leadership talk about on Mondays? What do you actually do in that meeting?" And Martin answered the question and then took a step back and said, "Hold on, we're being transparent. And this person has to come and ask me what we do in the leadership meeting." He went back to that person and said, "Would you mind coming and sitting in on the leadership meetings? And if you would do that, the only thing I require you to do is to write up a summary."
Brett: And so he realized his mistake and adapted and just reinforced this transparency initiative was real in the organization and now, well what they did then is every six months they would swap out for a new person to come in and sit in and it was a great learning. Actually it became a sort of a mini leadership track for people in the organization.
Kathryn: That's cool. Very good.
Michael: Okay. When we first started talking, you were talking about how surprised you were at well, how hard it was to first find people with common values. We want somebody that fits the culture and then you went through that process.
Brett: The people who say, "We want somebody who fits the culture," are talking nonsense. There's another word that I would use there but I'm not sure the age of the people who listen to this podcast.
Michael: They're all adults.
Kathryn: We can handle it. It's okay.
Brett: They're talking sh*t. I'll tell you why. There is no leader, and I ask this question to every leader I speak to. I ask them, "Please accurately define your culture to me," and I hear crickets, very similar to that sound, that little gap that I left. It's silence because they can't. Some of them may warble on a little bit about their values and their mission and their vision. But actually they can't describe their culture because their culture is invisible, subconscious, intangible for the most part. And it happens below the surface. It's happening by default and their culture is X when they're 20 people, the way we work around here when you're 20 people, then when we're 45 it's different, when we're a 100 it's different. Your culture's changing all the time. Actually when you talk, when you say those words, culture fit, my brain goes, you are being lazy. You should be just saying, "I rely on my gut instinct."
Michael: Okay, hold on a sec. I get where you're going. When you were first talking, maybe I used the wrong word but it sounded like you were describing when you first got introduced to this companies were saying, "I want you to hire," because you're looking for executives, "I want you to hire somebody." Did they say they wanted somebody with the same values? Or did they say they didn't use culture in that concept?
Michael: Okay. And then you said you realized, I don't know if you said, you realized that that was more challenging and when you did it, they were more effective in those companies.
Brett: Correct. The interview processes was radically different once they got to. There was one situation where I sat in on the interview and the candidate and the CO were talking, the successful candidate and the CO. It was almost as if they'd been dancing tango for 10 years. Just click, I get you, you get me. We're on the same wavelength here. I don't have to meet you another a 100 times to know that there is a serious potential for trust here. Obviously I'm not just going to open the kimono but I know that I get you and you get me. And when they then went into the company because a good search executive will follow up and how's it going both with the client and with the candidate. And one of the clients said, "This person has really, really impacted our culture so positively. It's just it's happened." And great results, early doors, et cetera, et cetera. It was harder for us to do because finding candidates is hard, finding candidates that match the values and we'd never done it before was even harder but we worked out a system to do that.
Michael: Talk to me about that because everybody listening right now, if they value this at all, they're going, okay, wait a minute. What did you do to get that person in the room that I feel like I got them and they got me?
Brett: What we do and we've perfected this since then, is when we work with a client, we'll go and say "Okay, these are the values. If you don't have values, these are your values that we work and create them with you and your team. These are your values." But actually we then work with your team to define the expected behaviors against those values. Let's say for example, one of our values for argument's sake is teamwork. Teamwork's really important to us. Now what does teamwork mean? Kathryn or Michael, just give me a quick definition of teamwork. It doesn't matter. There's no right or wrong.
Kathryn: Teamwork is when everybody in the room understands they have a role to play and they pitch in, do their part and the net result is better than what we started with, better than individual, blah, blah, blah.
Brett: Yeah. Okay and that's yours. And teamwork could also mean a group of people working together for a common goal. But my interpretation of the word teamwork could be, the team always comes first. We're kind of talking in and around the same thing but if you and I were faced with a similar set of stimuli, I could ultimately end up making a completely different decision to you, but I still think I'm living teamwork. What we do is we said, "Okay, teamwork means in my company, the team always comes first." And we will describe three or four more behaviors against that value but then what we do is we create various based interview questions. We take the team or is comes first and we ask a question like, when last did you take one for the team? And why? Now it's really, really hard to snake oil salesmen this question, because I need an example. I want you to tell me when it happened, how it happened, what happened and then I have another five or 10 questions to go deeper into this.
Brett: And when I'm interviewing, I'm interviewing for believability and vividness of answer. If you are waffling, I score you low. If you are passionate, if you are vivid, if you explain this happened, that happened and you respond to my questions in a positive way, like bang, bang, bang, then I score you high. And at the end of the interview process, I've interviewed each candidate in exactly the same way. I've asked them exactly the same question and I now have a score for believability against the behavior against the value. I now have a values based score to score you on, to fit against my company's values.
Michael: And when you do that, no system's perfect, how successful is this system?
Brett: No system's perfect but it's better than gut instinct and it takes a little bit of time for you to get for somebody who's never done this. I've interviewed 4,000 people plus in my life.
Brett: I have what I call developed a woman's instinct when it comes to interviewing people. If I interview my client and I understand their values and what makes them tick and we define the behaviors a little bit and then I interview a candidate, I know, but based on their answers as well, I have a better understanding. But what I do with a client is I'll go in and I'll teach HR and I'll teach their hiring managers how to do this. And I'll sit in on the first couple of interviews so that they get a sense of it. And it's really interesting where if this is the second interview, I ask them to give me the gut instinct impression. And then I asked them to give me the number. Then we score them.
Brett: And their scoring is really interesting. Some people go, "Oh okay. Wow. I'm surprised at how different my gut instinct is to what we've scored." And it changes their impression of the candidates. If the gut instinct is the same, they go, "Okay, great." It's just that second data point. From what we've seen, look, human beings it's a much higher success rate than typically but you're always going to have some random human fallible element that's going to get in the way.
Michael: Yeah. No, I think that's a good answer because I think any system like that, especially in hiring, you're narrowing the chances that it could fail and you could get a bad hire if you've got a good system like that. And it's interesting because we do value based scenario based questions a lot. We have articulated some pretty unique things like that, but not as detailed and analytical as you thought through it. It's like, I'm going, okay. There's some things here that I really want to learn and pick up because I like how articulate it is. I like the idea of coming up with that value, that example you used, and then being able to say, "Okay, what's a behavior of, when was the last time you took one for the team? And why?" Making those connections, that's pretty useful.
Kathryn: Yeah. It's really good. Because we do, we talk a lot about hire, train and fire to your values. It's one of our mantras and we have done that as a company and we're not high growth, so we're not interviewing 800 people a week or anything like that but we've been fairly successful with that and have built a strong culture.
Michael: Ah, it's good. It's a good culture.
Kathryn: It's a good culture.
Brett: You can call it good and strong because you're inside the business.
Kathryn: Yeah. There you go. It's good and strong. Fair enough. I'm like, picking the right word here. I'm picking the right word. I don't want to get slapped down.
Michael: You don't want to get into trouble.
Kathryn: Yeah, I know.
Michael: And so much for that guest. He's out of here.
Kathryn: We never heard that podcast. He picked on us. Those are things that we've done, but it is. We just went through a process where we're working with a company that helps you hire assistants. And my sense is they do a lot of what you guys do but at the assistant level, not the executive level. And it was a very different experience. By the time they put a candidate in front of me, it was like that, okay. Yep, I'm pretty sure I can trust this person. And it just felt very solid and they dove into my values, made me describe examples of those values. Some of those kinds of things. It was a fun process to go through from this side of the table and then to see the result of that. I'm a believer for sure.
Michael: Well, and it's very interesting when we talk about values. Sometime last year we interviewed a gentleman, David, I can't remember David. He has a company called ValueGraphics and he's up in Vancouver. I don't know if you're familiar with him or not. Vancouver, British Columbia. And he has been, it's been this theme that seems to keep popping up in our lives because we really like values. We're value based. I think it's real powerful to be able to find people that align with your values because even in that business sense they were a few years in and they realized when stress came, they didn't have the same values and he bought him out. I'm like, yeah, I can see that. We have another company that the stress was really high for three years but we all had similar values and we knew it and we'd done a lot of value work in the beginning and we lived it. It helped us, not all splinter and fall apart.
Michael: But David's perspective was even that idea that instead of using demographics or psychographics, if you're marketing with values, that value speaks at a whole deeper level. And in this context, we're talking about values allow you to see deeper into an individual to see if they're actually going to fit or not or fit well within your environment or your organization and with you. Which is interesting because for so long, we've been taught that values are this fuzzy, wishy washy, fuzzy thing. And it's strange because so when it comes to vision, we follow Jim Collins' model. You've got core purpose, core values and a BHAG. And in the early days, that would have been more purpose, values and a mission statement. I'd be curious, when I'm done here, I would like to hear, how do you define a mission, a vision and values and separate it?
Michael: Because I think we're talking about the same things or at least close, it's just defining those terms as we use them. But what was interesting is we've been talking about this for 30, 40 years in the leadership development, the business development arena, but not a lot. There've been people like Collins and a few other people who've gone, these people who have this clear vision, these clear values, that live their life to it, their are companies that are doing 10, 12, 16 times the average market over decades. The value here. First of all, do me a favor, define those vision, mission, vision, value so we have that out of the way. And then talk to me about why you think going to values is so much like x-ray vision.
Brett: Some companies are mission driven and I think there are lots of ways to interpret this. If you just want to be mission driven and have values, that's great. If you want to be vision or purpose driven and have values, ultimately you need to have the values because they're the DNA. But the way I look at this is the vision is the why. Why are we here? If everything goes amazingly well, how will we change the world? Why are we here? The mission is the what. What do we do to achieve on a daily basis the vision? What do we do for our customers? What do we do for our community? What do we do for our people?
Brett: And the values or the how. How do we behave to achieve the mission and to then ultimately achieve the vision? It's how, what and why.
Michael: No, that's good.
Brett: And our values drive our behaviors. That's why, you find people who, when there isn't a values match, their behaviors are different. If everybody in the room behaves in a certain way and that person wants to behave in a different way, they have to act, they've got to wear a mask and they ultimately become toxic because acting's hard work. It's dispiriting work, especially if you're not paid millions of dollars to do it. That's the way I look at it. The reason why values are a superpower because if you define the behaviors, you then give your team a guideline on how to behave and what to do. But what we do with our clients is we take those behaviors and we weave them into everything. Leadership, processes, functions and policies. It becomes a system in the organization and it becomes habitual.
Brett: You almost don't have to think about it. When we onboard, we onboard like this because this is the system. When we recruit, we recruit like this because this is system. And when we look at our recruitment process, so this is what I'll take a client through, we look at all their key processes and we break them down into points, interactive interaction points. The hiring process is the interaction points in no particular order but somewhat could be look at the website, look at the social media, speak to a recruiter, look at a job ad, look at the job description, go for an interview, on board, probation, first review. And so we take that whole process and we look at where do we weave the vision, mission and values into and behaviors into it? Not just on your careers page but all over the website, how do you mention the culture and demonstrate the culture?
Brett: Then the recruiters, my clients' recruiters get cheat sheets so they can talk about the values and the behaviors and the culture in a meaningful and authentic way so that even the recruiter is differentiating the conversation. The job ads are different. The job descriptions are different. The interviews have values based. The onboarding is all about the culture. The culture is the lens of onboarding. How does engineering and the engineering team drive the culture in onboarding, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? And then we look at functions and we look at the embedding mechanisms of culture. It's a very deliberate process to go deeper and deeper and deeper so that it becomes a system inside the organization.
Kathryn: That's good. That's awesome.
Michael: That was really good.
Kathryn: Yeah. I really like it.
Michael: I'm like, I want to go away and sit in the corner and think.
Kathryn: We have work to do, but it's good work.
Michael: No. Well, and the work's never done in this area alone. From our perspective in any company, if you're going to do this and you're going to keep this at this kind of level, you've got to stay engaged and regularly stay on top of it. You can't just put it on autopilot and let it go, can you? Or do you disagree?
Brett: I completely agree with you. If I am successful between now and the day I die, culture will become a recognized business function in most organizations in the same way that sales, you've got to be able to manage it so there's got to be numbers associated with it. But I aim to achieve that. Culture as a business function means that yes, you may not think about finance everyday, but you will think about it once or twice a week and you will meet with your head of finance and you will make sure you have a finance strategy and you will know how you're implementing finance across the organization and budgets, et cetera. And that's how culture must ultimately work.
Kathryn: Yeah, it's fun because we have culture as one of our six core pieces of a solid business model. We're fully in agreement on that. It's you have to be intentional about your culture, because like you said, culture is going to grow. It does. It's organic. It grows regardless. The only real question is, are you being intentional about making sure it's being shaped in the way that you actually want it to be, as opposed to just letting it happen?
Michael: Well, and what do you think about this? Because our philosophy has always been culture like everything else in the universe can be affected by entropy. It could go into chaos if you don't pay attention to maintaining it and keeping it up.
Brett: Well, you're actually seeing this happen right now with this hybrid forced remote work. There's a great, I used this quote in my book, but there's a great quote by Warren Buffett that says, "You only find out who's swimming naked when the tide goes out."
Kathryn: That is a good quote. I've heard that one before.
Brett: And from a culture point of view, the tide's gone out and everybody's naked. Nobody knew it was a nudist beach but it is because 90% of companies haven't done that much about their culture. And that was okay when we had an office doing the work for us, osmosis and informal communication, et cetera, et cetera, doing the work for us. But now we don't have an office and that osmosis has gone, all of these elements we relied on, physical presence, body language, reading people. We relied on brainstorming, informal communication, real time synchronous communication, which now doesn't work so well and leaders are going, "Whoops, I'm naked. What do I do?" And so there is a forced entropy because the office isn't doing the work for us.
Kathryn: Yeah. It's interesting. I've heard this before. I don't know who we were talking to but the comment made was the companies that have made that transition well are the companies that had strong culture. And that was already embedded and so they've been able to make that transition and it hasn't impacted or degraded quite as much as those that didn't have it going in and then suddenly they're really struggling or naked as you put it.
Brett: I'm seeing that exactly. They've still found it difficult, they've not sort of waltzed through this period at all. And they're still finding elements of wellbeing and that part of it tough.
Brett: Because it's something that they're not as good at. But I've got a company, a client that I worked with previously, we went through this process. They were in the property business and they got a commercial property and they got obliterated but the original business model got obliterated but they've adapted into a hybrid service provider and it's just gone, boof. And that adaptation was because of their culture. There was that trust. There was that knowledge. There was that, okay we've got to knuckle down, we've got to realize where we are but we all know that we're in this for the same reasons. We are connected in a way that is meaningful.
Kathryn: Yeah, that's really good.
Michael: We've talked about hiring, we've talked about this whole idea of culture and defining it and giving it fresh perspective on this, the power of it to help a company grow. What is it we're missing in this conversation that needs to be talked about when we talk about culture?
Brett: Embedding. Defining culture is not as easy because it's quite amorphous. It's not that obvious. But actually there are only six ways to embed company culture. And so if you want to change your culture or if you want to embed what you have and make it better, the six ways you embed company culture are fundamentally, there's six mechanisms. What you measure and pay attention to, what you reward and recognize, where you invest and allocate your resources, how you hire, fire and promote, how you behave in crisis or difficult situations and how you train, mentor and educate.
Brett: If I give you an example, Kathryn, you come into the team and you say, "Customer service is very important. We're going to focus on it. It's going to be one of our values." Your team are going, "Okay, we heard what you said. Good. Now let's see what you do." And so Kathryn, when the commercial team comes to Kathryn and says, "We need to buy the software," and the customer service team say, "We need to buy some software that's the same price." And Kathryn goes, "Sales, commercial, you get the software, customer service, you don't." You've just demonstrated by allocating that investment to sales, that you don't really believe what you said.
Kathryn: Value sales.
Brett: And sales is more important. If there is an issue in the customer service department, you can't be bothered, you sweep it under the carpet. You deal with that difficult or crisis situation badly, your team notice it and go, "Ah, that wouldn't have happened in the engineering team. That person would have been fired immediately." And so on and so on. If you don't reward and recognize the customer service team openly and demonstrate what's important, your team go, "Okay, well, it's not rewarded. It's not recognized so why should I bother doing it?" And so on and so on.
Kathryn: Yeah, makes sense.
Brett: We've got a leadership framework, the culture leadership framework that we deliver to the leadership team and part of that culture leadership framework is built around these six embedding mechanisms. And we literally ask them to keep a score of what they're doing over a period of time against these six mechanisms. And it's a real eye opener for people to go, oh wow. Because I ask, "Okay, you recognize Jack for doing that. Which behavior is that? Which of your values and behaviors does that link back to?" They go, "Oh, I didn't think about that." I said, "If you recognize something, you want that value, that behavior to be repeated so start recognizing the behaviors you want in your values." Ah, okay. You start to connect the values and behaviors into these mechanisms and it becomes really powerful because you're reinforcing on a behavioral level yourself, the behaviors you want.
Kathryn: That's really good.
Michael: Yeah. No, and that's a key that we found to be incredibly successful for a very, very, very long time. It's okay, if that behavior is not the behavior we want, how do you identify and train and articulate and give examples. But when people behave, how do you go, that's great, I want to reinforce that. And taking it to the next level, which we didn't always do as well as I would like but we've gotten better, is articulating, I'm reinforcing that because X, Y, Z.
Kathryn: Because it ties to this value.
Michael: Yeah. It ties to this value and that's important to us and that's a good thing. We've done it but it's strange how much more we're doing it now. It was more intuitive, I think in the past.
Kathryn: Yeah, it was definitely more.
Michael: And I think we're codifying it better so we're more intentional about it.
Kathryn: Yeah, that's good. That's really good.
Michael: We've got the idea of embedding. We've got the idea hiring and we've got these six metrics, which I like that because giving everybody, and I think that's something that the listeners take away really clearly is going, okay, take these six areas and we're going to have these six areas on the show notes page so you can actually think about what does that look like to test yourself, to score yourself? How are you doing in that? And then moving that through to, okay, what can I do to improve? If nothing else, if walk away from today's podcast thinking, okay, here's six areas I can evaluate myself on and then brainstorm with my team, how do we improve this? That's going to be a significant move forward for them. I think that'll be good thing. What's the next step for you? You've written the second book. You're doing your consulting right now. Where's this going for you? I'm curious.
Brett: I'm actually building a Trojan horse.
Kathryn: Well, tell us all about that, so we can out you later when somebody wants to know what happened.
Brett: I'm building a Trojan horse to change culture on a much broader scale. I want to impact business globally. And I've tried to do that through the books, which is that's great but I want to impact it on an even bigger scale. I'm building a software tool, web based tool, that fixes meetings and the collaboration that happens between meetings. Because meetings are the atomic unit of company culture. Everything starts at a meeting. You learn about power. You learn about delegation. You learn about what's right and wrong from meetings. And meetings generally are handled badly and managed badly. And the collaboration that happens after meetings was taken for granted because we had an office to help us with that collaboration but in a hybrid or remote world, we're not going to have that office to the same degree. What's ultimately happened is we've stumbled into this remote working world and we've got Slack and a bunch of other products that are all not really fit for purpose. They are part of the stumble.
Brett: And so we are building a product that is fit for purpose for meetings and then changing culture through those meetings over a much longer period. That's where I'm heading. Last time I said this, I ended up kicking myself but I don't plan on writing another book too soon because the last one, Own Your Culture, really, really broke me. If it wasn't for my wife, that book would never have been written. And she should have got some sort of, she should've got more credit than she got but I actually wrote my first article after seven months, two weeks ago.
Brett: I just couldn't, my brain had gone into frozen state of don't ask me to write unless it's a bad email. And so it started to click back in now. But yeah, I think this technology piece that we're building could be really exciting.
Kathryn: And what's the guesstimate? Obviously I won't hold you to it, but what's your guesstimate on the timeline for this to be in beta or whatever else?
Brett: I would say we'd be optimistically talking six months. And actually the reason for this is my co-founder and I started building. And then we both believed that design, if the design on this thing isn't really beautiful, intuitive and simple, it'll die a death. And actually the UX person we brought on has just, we just go, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, okay. Just slow down, slow down. And we're going through a process now of, we kind of know what we want to build but that's like saying, "We know we need to build a car but which part of the horse goes first?" And we thought we were talking about horse power. We kind of know what we're talking about but our UX person is really making us rethink this. I'm saying optimistically six months because there's a lot of rethinking to do. We built a lot of the tech but the tech's secondary to the design and the elegance of the solution.
Michael: No, that's good.
Kathryn: No, that's good.
Michael: And that's smart because that's the part that all of us, well, it's a nice piece of software, but it's really not nice because I can't use it well or I can't find anything in it. Oh Slack, we've got a new vendor who we love. They are so into their Slack and it is so convoluted and it's like, we're all sitting around going, "Well, how do we find what?"
Kathryn: How do you find the conversation you're looking for?
Michael: And how do you find the other one you were back at?
Kathryn: Oh it's horrid.
Michael: They've become very good at threads in Slack and threads can send you off into who knows where. I'm glad to hear you're doing that. Before we wrap up, how long does it take to learn to build a good culture? How long does it take to change a culture? Two questions.
Brett: It depends on the size of the organization, I think and the leadership team. Just by the very nature of bigger organizations, that's a supertanker. You can turn a little speed boat on a dime but you can't turn a supertanker on a dime. However, if your board and your CEO are aligned, if you look at what Satya Nadella has done with Microsoft, it's an incredible culture turnaround. It's beautiful, it's elegant and he's a master strategist and really understands company culture. If Microsoft can do it, then anybody can do it. I would say that you have to start with the fundamental basics of DNA in place, so values, mission and vision. And then you just have to define the behaviors you want to change and then embed them using the six embedding mechanisms. And I would say if you're going to change a culture, expect it to take eight months, 12 months. You're not going to change things overnight.
Michael: Right. Yeah. No, I oftentimes will look at clients and because I even think eight or 12 months is oftentimes from what we've seen.
Kathryn: Pretty optimistic.
Michael: Ambitious, optimistic, especially when most people that say they want to change their culture, A, they don't have a good set of tools. They don't throw themselves completely in it. It's a secondary, probably a tertiary goal. It made it to the goal sheet but it's like, yeah, we want to change the culture.
Kathryn: Well, and sometimes they want to change the culture but they're not willing to do the work on their own, that stuff that they do that causes the culture to be what it is. I want to change the culture but I don't actually want to change myself. And so the minute you step me into it. We've worked with clients like that, where it's to change this culture, actually we need to fire you and we can't figure out how to do that. Those are some of the challenges that come as well that make it take a lot longer.
Brett: Yeah. What I've found in this situation is this is why people bring me in because they need an outsider to hold them to account. They also need an outsider who knows what they're doing. A lot of your listeners may, but I will not work with low EQ leaders.
Kathryn: Oh absolutely.
Brett: I often say to leaders, "Really busy right now," having had that first conversation with them because I will throw in a bunch of really subtle questions to see how they respond. And if from an EQ perspective, they're in the bottom half I just go, "No, thank you. I'm not going to be your personal leadership coach."
Michael: We decided a long time ago that our ideal client, we're talking 10, 15 years ago, our ideal client had at least medium to medium high emotional intelligence and we avoid them like the plague. Even that is a client, like you're saying, it radically changes. And we tell folks that we consult with and our listeners, if you can learn to do that, what you just said you do, your life becomes a lot less stressful because you're dealing with a lot less jerks. At a very blunt level, you can simplify and increase, if you have a moderately decent culture and it's like you said earlier, it's not horrible but it's not super functional, but there are little things like that you can help make your day a lot easier and then it gives you more energy and time to focus on the important things such as culture or finance.
Kathryn: Yeah. And we'll talk about that, it's really taking the value piece and saying, "I really want to work with clients who are aligned with our values." And that's an interesting thing to try and interview a client but it really does change the internal experience of culture at an organization if you have clients who are not driving your staff insane.
Michael: I'll say this with confidence and then you can tell me I'm wrong or not. But the most significant moment we have in the history of our company when it came to demonstrating our values, that turned into lore in our company because of our employees was a client ripped one of our senior leaders to pieces with a brand new employee on the phone listening as a learning opportunity.
Kathryn: We didn't know that that was going to happen. The poor new employee.
Michael: Tore them a new one, treated them poorly and they were a financially valuable client. When I found out what happened, Kathryn and I were on the same page. Within 30 minutes, they had an email and they were fired. They did something that I didn't expect them to do. I was so upset that anybody treated him but it was like, we'd rather not have the money in the company and we'll figure out how to do that, then for somebody to violate our core values and treat our employees poorly because it's amazing how many companies I grew up in where the customer was always right was the thing which basically meant if you work for me, I really don't care about you. You're a means to an end. And if the customer's not happy and or if we don't put up with all the customers crap then the owner doesn't get their money and so the employees take the brunt of it. And that just never seemed fair to me.
Michael: When we did that, this client actually came back very quickly, deeply apologetic, genuinely apologetic and we kept them for another five years as a client. They never behaved like that again but it was a significant moment and we didn't even realize how important it was going to be. We just did it because it seemed like the right thing to do.
Brett: Yeah. It's really important the demonstrating to your team that that is the way you're going to behave, it really embeds what that you expect from them as well. And that demonstration is so powerful. I've had the misfortune of working with low EQ, low emotionally intelligent leaders and I've only done it once I'll never do it again. Mainly because I've got to work with you because we're going to change your meeting structure. We're going to change your communication structure. We're going to change the way you evaluate your team. And we got to see eye to eye. If you don't really want to do this or your ego is not going to be able to handle this, let's just bow out now. You knock yourself out and continue on your merry way.
Kathryn: Yeah, totally. No, that's good.
Michael: All right, Brett, we're landing here. If I'm listening to this podcast and I'm like, okay, how do I find out more? What do I do with this? How do I stay up with when the software comes out? All those different types of things. How do people follow you and keep an eye on what you're doing?
Brett: Sure. My email address, any of your audience would like to reach out directly is brett@culturegene, G-E-N-E .ai, firstname.lastname@example.org. I spend a lot of my time, 20% of my time, just talking about culture, learning about culture because I really ultimately am the student. Every day I learn something new. Listening to you guys, I'm thinking about connecting how you talk about getting rid of a other client. That kind of thing is excellent. Culturegene.ai or .com is my website. I'm on LinkedIn @brettonputter. I'm on Twitter as well. And my books, if any of your audience are thinking, I need to start thinking about culture then my book Own Your Culture is on Amazon. It's a tactical book on starting from why culture is important, all the way to defining values, mission, vision, dealing with brilliant jerks, embedding culture, et cetera, dealing with remote or hybrid work, et cetera. My books are on Amazon and it's I love talking to people about culture and really I've enjoyed this Michael and Kathryn, really great session.
Kathryn: That's really good. Are the six steps that you outlined for embedding in that Own Your Culture book?
Brett: Correct. And there are actual examples of what companies do.
Kathryn: That's good.
Brett: Each chapter is about the chapter but there are seven to 10 to 15 actual, this is what company X does. This is what company Y does.
Kathryn: Got it.
Brett: And you can literally turn to page 25 and choose an initiative and go and run with that in your company tomorrow.
Michael: Oh, that's fantastic.
Kathryn: That's good. Very good.
Michael: Brett, this has been fantastic. I've really enjoyed this conversation and thank you. Thank you that you care. Thank you that you're investing. I think we as a business community globally are going to be better off for your work and we need it so thank you.
Brett: Likewise. Thank you both for the great show and thanks for having me.
Kathryn: Absolutely. Take care.
Michael: Well everybody, thank you very much for joining us today. This has been a really, really amazing interview. There's a lot of great nuggets here. I think it's worth listening to a second time. I think I'm going to listen to it a second time and all of those things that Brett put out as far as ways to contact, we're going to have those on the show notes page. Just so you know, so you don't have to go back and try and write those out. And then if there's anything you're interested in about what it means to build into what we call a passion provision company here at HaBO Village, that company that actually is financially thriving and something that you actually enjoy and the people you work with enjoy, that's values based. That has a positive, healthy culture. It's not good unless you're inside of it and you can say that, as we talked about today. And we just thank you.
Kathryn: It's strong.
Kathryn: Strong is the word. Strong.
Michael: And we just thank you for listening today. I'm Michael Redman.
Kathryn: And I'm Kathryn Redman.
Michael: And if you like this, please hit subscribe wherever you listen to the podcast and have a wonderful day. Take care. Bye bye.
Kathryn: Bye bye.