The Blog Revelations and Observations

Themes in Culture


I was a facilitator and closer for the Culturati Summit in Austin, TX. It’s a gathering not only of culture authors, but people in companies, boots on the ground and implementing.  Here are the notes I thought would be helpful to share:

Themes in culture 2017

1. Getting Real
It used to be about hype and spin and staying positive. Now it’s all about the reality check. It’s about being authentic over looking good.

2. Embracing contradictions
We want to succeed, but we also want to make it safe to fail. We don’t want to get political at work, but we want people to be free to speak their minds. We want stability but there’s a need to disrupt ourselves before someone else does.

3. Values as clarity
There are so many distractions and interruptions that values are the only thing that really keeps us on track. It keeps us deliberate rather than being reactionary.

The Sweet spot

There was a talk on the new book An Everyone Culture that advocates for organizations that are constantly growing their people. I found this model interesting because it shows the balance of challenging people (edge) supporting people (home), and creating systems and processes (groove).


How to increase performance, FAST.

Anders Ericsson, author of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, shared a fascinating way to improve performance across industries. The best way is not more and more practice. It’s this formula to generate the feedback loop of success:

  1. Do your thang.
  2. Have it video recorded
  3. Watch it and analyze
  4. Take the feedback and adjust

Rinse and repeat.

I’ve seen how incredibly this works for me as a speaker. I’m excited to see if others apply it to their industries.

Note, studies have shown that people are really on for peak performance for 4-5 hours a day. Makes me wonder – What if a company had people work from 9am to 3pm – with just highly focused work? I wonder if they’d be more productive and they’d have time to do the other things that make them happy (or do things like pick their kids up after school).


Progression: The Key to Sustained Culture

One of the biggest challenges I hear from top performing cultures is how to keep their talent. In fact, some have speculated that the old adage, “People don’t quit companies, they quit their managers” is no longer true.

Top companies know that the key to keeping people is a strong progression plan, but they don’t know how to execute on it.

Russ Laraway figured out a great approach to progression while at Google. He discovered that a past/present/future conversation that is based on individuals (rather than positions and titles) is key.

  1. The Past

    This is the conversation to be like Barbara Walters and figure out what they have loved in the past. It’s about connecting the dots in their story.

  2. The Present

    The interviewer listens for the skills being developed and ask about what the person sees in their future (from the present view).

  3. The Future

    Now they co-create a plan together to help that person achieve those goals (both personally and professionally). The interesting part about the plan is that it’s not just about developing their skills, it’s also about developing their network (because that’s how you really get things done). I would also advise building their communication skills.

NOTE: As with any culture hack, it has to be co-created, and you have to keep experimenting. There is no “right way.”

The hack for great customer service

I was visiting with Stewart Emery, author of Success Built to Last (and many other books). We were standing over his La Marzocco GS/3 espresso machine. He was telling the easiest hack to make great coffee – “Start with really great coffee.”

Yes, there’s a lot more to it that that, but what a head start you have with great coffee. He shared with me how the same thing applies to business:

“If you want to deliver great customer service, start with great customers.”

He said we have more choice that we think – Whom we choose to serve and market. It’s far easier when we choose great customers whom we enjoy serving and being around. Then customer service becomes easy (or at the very least, desirable!)


How to be “referable.”

It’s the golden chalice of marketing – when you don’t have to even market your products and services. Your customers do it for you.

The early history of Zappos is based on this. At a time way before social media, the company decided to spend money not on marketing, but on a remarkable experience so that people spread the word.

So what makes a person or an organization referable? You may be surprised how simple it is.

The technique comes from Dan Sullivan‘s book, The Gap. He says referable means the best people say the best things about you. And here’s how you do it:

  • Show up on time
  • Do what you say
  • Finish what you start
  • Say please and thank you

Yup. That’s it.

You can have the fanciest branding and marketing, or the most well developed core values, but without this, it’s all wasted.

Is Culture Overrated?

Fast company is saying culture is overrated. As with many articles, it begs the question I ask my audiences…

What is culture?

I’m sure many people are confused by this, considering Webster’s dictionary recently said it’s the most looked up word in the English language.

The article directly relates culture work to employee happiness. If that’s your definition of optimal workplace culture, then yes, culture is not only overrated, it’s dangerous. It’s like being parents who think they have total responsibility for their kids being happy, when it reality it’s their responsibility to develop people who can make it in the world.

Strong cultures are not about happiness, they are about engagement. And strong cultures are simply in alignment. That means what they believe, say and do are all consistent and evident. They hire for it, fire for it, and reward by it.

The Culture Coffee Hack


In the last blog post I talked about how drugs could impact corporate culture. Well, it turns out the best culture drug is very available and very legal. Most people actually use it, but I wouldn’t say they use it correctly. It’s called coffee.

Quick story: There was a company from Mexico that visited the Zappos Insights program. They saw the popcorn machine in the front and said that’s the culture hack they’re taking back home. I thought, “What?! You can’t think a popcorn machine will help culture.” Well, I was wrong. It became a central hub of conversation. A group of people took care of it, another group operated it, another group brought seasonings and flavors. Talk about co-creation around ritual!

I knew coffee could be a great ritual when I read about how Apple does it. But I was really happy to see a service bring it all together: Bloom.  They were launching a startup, and then…

To spice things up and quench a mad thirst for delicious coffee, we created a coffee corner in our office. Soon, we were brewing fresh coffee everyday with our coworkers. We knew more about who we were working with plus what they were working on.

The coffee culture we built not only made us more effective at our jobs, but made everyone’s days more enjoyable.

Now they have a service around providing quality coffees.  And it’s not just the quality, it’s the ritual, it’s the process. And of course, coming together.

And then there’s the Bulletproof coffee phenomenon I’ve talked about before. I’ve introduced it to people and went from six cups of coffee a day, down to one of Bulletproof.

While great coffee won’t solve all culture problems, I’ve definitely seen how weak cultures almost always serve weak coffee. (I’ve even seen them charge for it!)

If you do get into coffee, I recommend checking out how to hack the coffee experience.  

Let me know how it goes!