Leadership Rule No. 1: Epitomize Your Company Culture

THE CULTURE GAP | Paul Spiegelman
Mar 28, 2013

Only one thing is universal about company culture: You can’t delegate it.

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The definition of company culture varies dramatically from leader to leader. Some see it as the extent to which employees are engaged in their work. Others view it as how well the company has defined–and employees live according to–core values. Yet others describe it as the feeling you get when you walk through the front door and into the lobby. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things. Either way, all three definitions (and any others) are a direct reflection of the personality of the leader.

If you recognize this and take advantage of it yourself, you’ll see tremendous results in your business. As the leader, your company culture is only as valuable as your personal role in it.

Company Culture Is About Authenticity

I originally thought that shifting culture-building responsibility to existing employees at BerylHealth, which I founded, would get those programs done. But I soon realized that those employees needed ongoing cultural direction from me and I had to participate in the culture we were creating, not simply behave as a bystander. If you don’t commit to institutionalizing your culture initiatives as essential to your business, and implement traditions yourself, your employees will think you are disingenuous.

To that end, I’ve dressed up in crazy outfits, made funny videos, attended community service events, espoused the importance of core values, and written thousands of personal notecards to recognize milestones in the lives of my employees.

Culture Became My Competitive Advantage

Over the years, I realized that company culture became something that was deeply aligned with my values. And because the culture was grounded in that, it became the award-winning secret sauce that my customers feel and all stakeholders value.

This isn’t to say that employees can’t lead and execute on your culture programs. However, you have to set the vision and give them permission to use their creativity to do the culture-building things they are passionate about.

Now that I’ve sold BerylHealth to Stericycle, a publicly-traded company with 13,000 employees, I am honored that–because of my culture experience–the role I will segue into is Stericycle’s chief culture officer. I’m excited to help define and shape the culture of a company that is spread over 12 countries, and implement programs that will enhance the lives of all employees.

Culture Remains the Boss’ Job

But I have no illusions that my new role gives me the ability to set the tone or the culture vision for Stericycle. That job is reserved for Charlie Alutto, who after 15 years with the company became CEO in January. He will have the distinct opportunity and challenge to make this journey part of his legacy and a part of what Stericycle is all about. I’m just there to establish programs, recruit passionate volunteers, and scale what I was able
to do at BerylHealth–now for a much larger company. I’m up for the challenge.

As a leader, you can and should delegate most of your company’s day-to-day operational work to those who have the talent to do it. But you can’t abstain from your responsibility to create the culture that drives your company’s potential success.

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Inside Facebook’s Internal Innovation Culture

HBR Blog Network
Inside Facebook’s Internal Innovation Culture

by Reena Jana | 8:30 AM March 7, 2013

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Business news headlines featuring social-networking giant Facebook change almost as often and as dramatically as a teenager updates her Facebook status online.

But one big part of the Facebook story that rarely gets told is that of the company’s internal innovation culture. Obviously, it’s a story worth investigating, as executives at established corporations and startups alike wonder, how does such a young organization grab so much attention — and a billion customers — regardless of whether people “like” their product or their privacy policies, or its stock is so volatile?

Today, Facebook is expected to announce significant changes to the design of one of its core products, the news feed. Ahead of these changes, I sat down with Kate Aronowitz, Facebook’s Director of Design, a veteran executive of two other Silicon Valley giants that changed the way the world does business online, LinkedIn and eBay (where she directed design as well). I asked her to reveal how Facebook encourages creativity and collaboration, both philosophically and practically.

Our conversation revealed these innovation tips that Facebook is currently following — and shared exclusively with HBR.

1. Encourage everyone — even those in the C-suite — to learn by making. At Facebook, Aronowitz told me, top executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Vice President of Product Christopher Cox, are “super involved” in the conception and design of all products. In an age when user experience as king, it’s important that top management weigh in directly on prototypes themselves before approving any project. “There isn’t a review board that designers and engineers go present to with PowerPoint slides. We’re very much a build and prototype culture. Ideas presented on slides just don’t stick,” she said, echoing the credo of Steve Jobs.

At Facebook, all top executives are cast as entrepreneurial thinkers, not as judges. “They’re just other people on the team, in a way, even if they are Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Our innovation process is less about getting approval, and more about getting these thinkers to participate. Why have them sequestered?” Aronowitz told me. If leaders’ hands get dirty in design decision-making, then decisions don’t come as a surprise. Plus, as she added, “It can be hard to judge something if you’re not part of the process of making it.”

2. A winning mobile strategy: ask what’s essential and contextual. More active Facebook users now access Facebook on mobile phones daily than on desktops or laptops, and Facebook is now quickly challenged to be a primarily “mobile” company. What are the strategies being used to propel Facebook into the #1 used mobile app (across Android and iOS, according to the latest stats from ComScore)? Sure, there are the no-brainer approaches, such as simplifying images and text for smaller screen sizes to make them appealing on a handheld device. But the way Facebook approaches mobile innovation is to ask, What’s most essential thing I can present to somebody? “Our attention span is different when we’re using a phone. We need to give users something interesting, relevant, and create an experience where they can take action very quickly,” Aronowitz said. “They’re not focused, like they are at a desk.”

The way Facebook is promoting mobile innovation internally is by creating an internal mobile design think tank, which it established last year. The team created mobile-experience best practices for all of Facebook and has a strategy for 1-2 years in the future. The company also embedded a designer who has been steeped in mobile strategy to each and every product team.

Facebook is working on refining the experience of “contextual sharing,” Aronowitz said, in terms of offering information that can be understood, questioned, or answered while on the go on a phone. For instance, engineers and designers constantly ask how to make the experience better of asking friends for directions or advice on a tourist destination while you’re on vacation, in real time.

Some of the general mobile innovation tips that Aronowitz can offer, though, are that any design learnings from creating mobile interfaces can go back to the design of the Web site, to make it more streamlined and appealing.

Also, companies in general need to really think about the appropriateness of its mobile notifications — say, when a bill is due in the case of a bank, or when offering new discounts or offers via texts, emails, and other ways on phones. “We’ve learned at Facebook, where we offer so many notifications, that we can’t flood phones with those, as it gets annoying. We constantly ask, what do we buzz about? It’s important to think of every part of the mobile experience: what’s the most essential experience to serve at any time?” But the biggest challenge is also how to give enough of a compelling experience that is also satisfying enough if someone is using their phone while commuting or waiting for a flight in an airport.

3. Physically mix up your work environment on a regular basis. “Your physical environment influences how you think and feel. If you want to build openness and collaboration, then the office must reflect that,” Aronowitz said. Although such an observation might seem painfully obvious in an era of open-plan seating, what sets Facebook apart is that engineering, management, and other teams at Facebook often physically move around their desks and furniture to focus on hatching fresh ideas by joining new groups — in person, and on a daily basis rather than moving back and forth from permanent desk locations.

Also related to Facebook’s focus on keeping an office in constant flux, Facebook is currently in the process of expanding its headquarters (with Frank Gehry). Sure, cynics will say this is a purely a show-off move because Gehry is a marquee-name designer — but his design isn’t a swooping, shimmering showpiece. Facebook and Gehry are designing a space that is not only large and open, but with many intimate meeting areas. Colors will be “residential and comforting,” Aronowitz says, reflecting the current palette of Facebook’s offices, so workers feel comfortable and at ease while at work. The new space will have moveable walls and furniture so workers can feel nimble and ready to switch gears, building on the current Facebook practice of reconfiguring desks and chairs.

10 Things Extraordinary People Say Every Day

OWNER’S MANUAL | Jeff Haden

They’re small things, but each has the power to dramatically change someone’s day. Including yours.

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Want to make a huge difference in someone’s life? Here are things you should say every day to your employees, colleagues, family members, friends, and everyone you care about:

“Here’s what I’m thinking.”
You’re in charge, but that doesn’t mean you’re smarter, savvier, or more insightful than everyone else. Back up your statements and decisions. Give reasons. Justify with logic, not with position or authority.

Though taking the time to explain your decisions opens those decisions up to discussion or criticism, it also opens up your decisions to improvement.
Authority can make you “right,” but collaboration makes everyone right–and makes everyone pull together.

“I was wrong.”
I once came up with what I thought was an awesome plan to improve overall productivity by moving a crew to a different shift on an open production line. The inconvenience to the crew was considerable, but the payoff seemed worth it. On paper, it was perfect.
In practice, it wasn’t.

So, a few weeks later, I met with the crew and said, “I know you didn’t think this would work, and you were right. I was wrong. Let’s move you back to your original shift.”
I felt terrible. I felt stupid. I was sure I’d lost any respect they had for me.

It turns out I was wrong about that, too. Later one employee said, “I didn’t really know you, but the fact you were willing to admit you were wrong told me everything I needed to know.”

When you’re wrong, say you’re wrong. You won’t lose respect–you’ll gain it.

“That was awesome.”
No one gets enough praise. No one. Pick someone–pick anyone–who does or did something well and say, “Wow, that was great how you…”

And feel free to go back in time. Saying “Earlier, I was thinking about how you handled that employee issue last month…” can make just as positive an impact today as it would have then. (It could even make a bigger impact, because it shows you still remember what happened last month, and you still think about it.)

Praise is a gift that costs the giver nothing but is priceless to the recipient. Start praising. The people around you will love you for it–and you’ll like yourself a little better, too.

“You’re welcome.”
Think about a time you gave a gift and the recipient seemed uncomfortable or awkward. Their reaction took away a little of the fun for you, right?

The same thing can happen when you are thanked or complimented or praised. Don’t spoil the moment or the fun for the other person. The spotlight may make you feel uneasy or insecure, but all you have to do is make eye contact and say, “Thank you.” Or make eye contact and say, “You’re welcome. I was glad to do it.”

Don’t let thanks, congratulations, or praise be all about you. Make it about the other person, too.

“Can you help me?”
When you need help, regardless of the type of help you need or the person you need it from, just say, sincerely and humbly, “Can you help me?”

I promise you’ll get help. And in the process you’ll show vulnerability, respect, and a willingness to listen–which, by the way, are all qualities of a great leader.
And are all qualities of a great friend.

“I’m sorry.”
We all make mistakes, so we all have things we need to apologize for: words, actions, omissions, failing to step up, step in, show support…
Say you’re sorry.

But never follow an apology with a disclaimer like “But I was really mad, because…” or “But I did think you were…” or any statement that in any way places even the smallest amount of blame back on the other person.

Say you’re sorry, say why you’re sorry, and take all the blame. No less. No more.
Then you both get to make the freshest of fresh starts.

“Can you show me?”
Advice is temporary; knowledge is forever. Knowing what to do helps, but knowing how or why to do it means everything.

When you ask to be taught or shown, several things happen: You implicitly show you respect the person giving the advice; you show you trust his or her experience, skill, and insight; and you get to better assess the value of the advice.

Don’t just ask for input. Ask to be taught or trained or shown.

Then you both win.

“Let me give you a hand.”
Many people see asking for help as a sign of weakness. So, many people hesitate to ask for help.

But everyone needs help.

Don’t just say, “Is there anything I can help you with?” Most people will give you a version of the reflexive “No, I’m just looking” reply to sales clerks and say, “No, I’m all right.”
Be specific. Find something you can help with. Say “I’ve got a few minutes. Can I help you finish that?” Offer in a way that feels collaborative, not patronizing or gratuitous. Model the behavior you want your employees to display.
Then actually roll up your sleeves and help.

“I love you.”
No, not at work, but everywhere you mean it–and every time you feel it.

Nothing.
Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. If you’re upset, frustrated, or angry, stay quiet. You may think venting will make you feel better, but it never does.
That’s especially true where your employees are concerned. Results come and go, but feelings are forever. Criticize an employee in a group setting and it will seem like he eventually got over it, but inside, he never will.

Before you speak, spend more time considering how employees will think and feel than you do evaluating whether the decision makes objective sense. You can easily recover from a mistake made because of faulty data or inaccurate projections.
You’ll never recover from the damage you inflict on an employee’s self-esteem.
Be quiet until you know exactly what to say–and exactly what affect your words will have.