Culture Creator

Business leaders and managers often talk about company culture and its importance in creating a healthy workplace environment. But how often do they slow down to ask themselves what their culture really stands for? What are they doing to emphasize the importance of culture? And how are they keeping track of success when it comes to culture?

Even the best companies have faced culture problems. Look at one of my favorite podcasts, Startup on Gimlet Media. In season one, show creators Alex Blumberg and Matt Lieber shared their journey to startup success. This was the story of two guys blazing a trail as podcast pioneers to reinvent the way we think about journalism in an on-demand media outlet.

Fast forward to season three: Gimlet Media has quickly grown with six new shows, more than 80 employees and more than six million dollars in venture funding. During a recent episode of Startup (#20 Disorg Chart), co-host Lisa Chow returns from maternity leave to see a different company then the one she left three months earlier. Rapid growth and success of the company has caused management issues, turnover and culture clashes.

After listening, it made me reflect on my early days at JHE Production Group. We were growing at a ridiculous rate and staying ahead of the management learning curve was a real struggle. Our entire management team, including me, was challenged and we certainly made some management mistakes (which I’m sure the team at Gimlet Media can relate to):

1 – Address the issue not the symptom.

  • As a manager of a young (and sometimes immature) staff, I often “fixed” the problem by writing a policy and holding an all-hands on deck meeting to discuss it’s implementation.

  • How would I do it today?  I think it would have served us better to deal with the employee causing the problem directly. Discussing how their behavior was violating our culture code and needed to be addressed would result in immediate action. Most importantly, it would have reinforced our culture and that deviations from our core values would not be acceptable.

2 – Over communicate your expectations.

  • I am an expressive and will throw out a half-baked idea without fully thinking it through. I am then disappointed that the poorly communicated request didn’t fully realize my vision. On the other hand, I also sometimes ask my team to create their vision when I don’t have a clear idea for the end product. Often times, my co-workers don’t know which side the request is on, leading to hurt feelings and unmet expectations.

  • How do I do it today?  SLOW DOWN. There is always time to slow down and properly communicate your needs so everyone involved has a clear understanding of the desired outcome.

3 – Create an environment to listen.

  • A former boss of mine often started sentences with “Don’t you think…” This statement bothered me because it was a question phrased as a statement. It didn’t give the team confidence to express their feedback.

  • How do I do it today?  If your intent is to build a community of contributors, it is important to listen twice as much as you talk. Listen attentively and don’t discount any idea. There is often a way to use everyone’s ideas as the seeds to an amazing outcome.

One of my tricks is using the simple statement, “Tell me more,” when an idea gets thrown out that is light on thought. The statement validates the contribution but also forces the idea to be fully developed before accepting or dismissing it.

4 – Evolve

  • If you are a Gen X’er (like myself), you are just now figuring out how to manage a Millennial and now you have to wrap your head around Generation X. The latest generation has grown up with an iPhone in hand, Google a the ready and a Kardashian as a role model.

  • How do I do it today?  Understand that every generation (new and old) has fundamental differences based on the world they grew up in. It is our responsibility, as managers, to evolve with the times so your culture can do the same.

5 – Respect

  • This management fundamental is often overlooked and affects every aspect of the workplace environment. In the past, I was called out for being tardy to meetings, mentally absent or dismissive of opinions. These are all signs of a lack of respect that don’t go unnoticed.

  • How do I do it today?  It worked for your grandparents and your parents, and it’s still certainly true today. RESPECT is a key attribute to any healthy environment. Remember, respect is earned, not given. It can be lost in an instant so put down the phone and be present.

I have been blessed to learn from some amazing culture creators. I get excited when I see a healthy workplace culture that truly “gets it.” As a devoted podcast listener and fan of Gimlet media, I hope that their young team continues to protect and fight for the culture that has made them special.

Remember that creating an amazing culture is a marathon, not a sprint.




To learn more about the culture that I am creating at Traction Event Labs, check out our video series Making Traction.