The Blog Revelations and Observations

Your people are not loyal.

Navy Seals are the best bed makers you’ll meet. They learn how to make beds to perfection as part of their training.  If it’s not perfect, then they have to do it over.   

But sometimes they will have do it over again, even if it is perfect. This drove some recruits mad – to the point that they quit. While those who stayed on, did as they were told. Even though it made no sense.  What better way to test true loyalty than to see if someone will follow command, even if it’s completely irrational.

And that’s the distinction.

If your people are truly loyal, they’ll do what you say, even if it doesn’t make sense.  But unless you’re in the Seals, it’s likely that your people won’t do this. They have agency. They have choice of where to work. If what you’re asking them to do makes no sense, then it will frustrate them and they’ll leave.

So perhaps the best thing you can do is drop that word, loyalty. And instead go for engagement. Share the why, allow people to push back. Or go even further – have them write up their job descriptions and their progression plans.

Number 1 rule is to co-create.

If you’re alone, and stressed out, you’re doing it wrong.

We Buy and Sell Time.

What business are you really in?

For Zappos, it’s:  “A a customer service company, that happens to sell shoes.”

Other businesses would come to visit our headquarters, hear that phrase and then have an epiphany…

“Oh! I’m in the business of making restaurant owners’ lives easier. I just happen to repair refrigerators.”

For Zappos Insights, we created a experiential belief changing company that happened to sell corporate training.

The more I do culture work, the more I realize that I (and many others) are in the business of buying and selling time.

Think about it…

Cars save you time in traveling. Netflix saved you time in going to the DVD store. Restaurants save you the time of making food, and Chipotle even saves you the prep time so you can eat immediately.

As technology advances, it saves us more and more time.  And advances in medicine and health give us more time on this planet.

This how businesses SELL time.

The same goes for culture work. Yes, it’s about vision, values, communication, leadership… but at the end of the day, all those things simply clear space to do what people are born to do.  Does anyone really want to have meetings, draft reports or work through obstacles?  No, we want to perform our unique talents.

Great culture clears the space and time to do so.

Here’s how, in three steps:

1. Clearing out the time wasters

This can be distractions, inefficient processes, and even certain people who need to leave.

2. Focusing on the core

With all that new time back, it can be easy to fill it back up with new distractions or shiny objects. Getting clear on vision and values is key to stay focused on the core people and core offers.

3. Gaining Leverage

Hiring more people means you are buying time.  More people means you can leverage whatever you’re doing, and servee more clients/customers. You can also off-load more and more that you don’t want to do.  The most efficient leaders are simply having fun everyday because they are master delegators.

This is (above) is businesses BUY time.

So ask yourself:

  1. How does my business save time or create time for people?
  2. What can I stop doing to create more time for myself?

PS – I love saving time with Get Magic (virtual assistants)

3 Conditions for Disruption

3 Conditions for Disruption

These are the conditions for disruption, and I’ll use Uber as the example.

A market is ripe for disruption when:

1. Existing solutions are far below satisfaction

And yet users tolerate existing offers because there is no alternative. Taxis are stereotypically old, smelly cars, with gruff drivers, and high friction payment systems that leave people itching to get out of them. Enter Uber… In dating, people literally say, “I hate this app” but continue to use it for lack of alternatives.

2. System Capacity is massively under-utilized

The basic exchange system of buyers/sellers, creators/consumers is completely inefficient. Before Uber, there were many cars going unused, and many riders who could use a ride, but didn’t want to deal with the hassle of calling a cab, and waiting for an unclear period of time for it to arrive. And there remains a massive number of people who want to take people out, and who want to be taken out.

3. Lack of Transparency, Progress and Control

Trust is created when we feel like we have the real information (e.g. driver reviews), a sense of progress (we see where the car is on the map), and a sense of control (we can cancel the ride if we want). In dating apps there is no accountability, little progress when it feels like there’s only swiping and texting. And very few controls to create and choose experiences.

Next I’ll describe how markets are disrupted.

It’s not the software

You’ve probably heard this one…

The story about the company that was so excited to bring in the new intranet software so they could finally get everyone on the same page, share knowledge, stay up to date and unify the company, and then… no one used it.

Something happened when we started using the word “Human Capital.” It used to be called “Personnel” – as in real people. But companies got so big that people became numbers. We then start to track them, count them and trade them like they’re any other resource. Just one of several cogs in the machine.

People are emotional, irrational, passionate and full of surprises.

Some will read that and be terrified by that statement.

Others will know that this is the source of innovation, fun and ingenuity that make work exciting and that enable us to solve the world’s biggest problems.

Now that more and more companies understand it’s all about the culture, along come all the people who think software can run the show. Graphs, numbers, input/output, dashboards….

“Ahh, I finally have the feeling that I’m in control of the people situation!”

Guess again.

To be fair, some visual tracking can be very helpful. Especially with simple elegant systems like NPS. But anything more than that comes with a few issues:

1. Survey fatigue

2. Nothing actually happening with the results of said surveys

3. The feeling that people are getting dehumanized

I saw a meme on Facebook that read, “Do you ever notice your successful friends are never posting inspirational quotes?”

In that spirit, have you ever noticed that the really successful cultures aren’t using complex systems to track how happy their people are?  When you’re clear on vision and values, and get the right people on board, people can create their own happiness.

Let’s get back to the basics.

In the spirit of the Mr. Rogers documentary that just came out:

“Life is simple and deep.

But we make it complex and shallow.”

-Fred Rogers

The culture of a great podcast

“The Medium is the Message.” – Marshall McLuhan.

Rogan has guests from the cultural zeitgeist, and he discusses current issues so the audience feels like they’re being educated (much the way people would get their news from the Daily show).

But I find his use of the medium the most compelling reason. Here are the factors:

1. LONG SHOWS
In the first episode I ever listened to, I heard Joe say, “This is it people, there’s no editing.” And I was pissed! I thought – Do me the favor. Edit this to the best parts so I can listen in 20 minutes. But now if it’s a good episode I’ll listen to the whole 3 hours. It feels like eavesdropping on a great conversation, as opposed to a lot of sound bites.

2. IN-PERSON
In comparison, Skype/phone podcasts feel really distant, especially if people have bad mics (or no mics).

3. STRONG ENVIRONMENT
Guests don’t go to a room, they got to Joe’s Disneyland – They see the archery range, the float tank, pool table, gym. You’re entering his world, and the guests have a great sense of wonder and respect going into it.

3. PREP TIME WITH GUESTS
While it’s not actual preparation, Joe spends time with them beforehand, talking or playing. So there’s a warm up (which all great athletes do). By the time they’re talking, they’re in the groove, unlike most podcasts, which start cold.

4. COMEDY AND IMPROV
He’s a great comedian, so he can make fun of anything. And he’s also conversing with the principles of improv – he listens really well and can riff on what anyone is saying. So there’s a flow to it. I feel ruined for other podcasts because they feel so rough in comparison. (Here is my own foray into standup comedy)

5. HAVING A LISTENER
This is a bit strange, but in the personal development space, programs like Landmark actually have people whose role it is just to listen. They’re holding space for a larger conversation. The producer “Young Jamie” on Joe’s show listens and brings in relevant information. It gives the show a 3D feeling whereas a two-person show feels flatter (think about it from a sheer physics stand point – It takes 3 points to create a stable plane whereas two points are inherently unstable).

I would recommend checking out the episodes with Jesse Itzler, and Steven Tyler.

One other show that does it well is “Anna Fariss is Unqualified” for many of the same reasons. Check out the episodes with Bert Kreisher and Mayim Bialik.

What are you leaving on the table?

I walked away from what I thought was the best meeting ever…

“Yes, we got everything we asked for!” I said.

We had just walked out of a meeting with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, and he gave us all the resources we asked for to launch a new project.

My colleague said, “That’s not good.”

“What?! Why?”

“He didn’t say no to anything. What other support could we have asked for that we didn’t think of?”

Ohhh….

Such an interesting concept.

You don’t know that you’ve asked for too much until someone says “No.”

Many friends and colleagues have offered to help me. I rarely ask for it, but when I do, I get a Yes.

So now I’m wondering: What else is possible?  What am I leaving on the table?

What could you be asking for?
It’s amazing how often the response will be a simple, “Yes.”

Have you hired a ghost?

Dave Logan, author of Tribal Leadership, helped me see the power of a good listener, who has the ability to influence conversation without even saying anything. He said, “You can tell who has that kind of power because if they look at their watch then the whole room.”  Their presence holds the space of the conversation.

Sometimes that’s a real person… The worldwide training company, Landmark Education, has someone listening to the leader just to hold space for the conversation.  I myself was the listener in the room when Dave recorded his audiobook. And I have noticed that the best podcasts seem to have a producer there in the room.

The eerie part, is you don’t even need a real person. Think that’s weird?

At Amazon.com they keep a chair open at meetings to represent the customer’s voice. How cool and weird is that?!  It’s like a ghost is there.

It seems like Walt Disney is still there when you hear the stories behind the scenes in Disney management and training. And if you can wrap your mind around this: Steve Jobs’ biographer said those close to him still speak of him in the present tense… What?!

And it hit me… Without getting into the beliefs, the world’s most well-known person may be the ghost of Jesus.

Let’s stick with the living ones, at least for now…

Do you notice who are the powerful listeners at your company?
What are they listening for?
What space are they holding?

The Secret of the Family Business

When I’m with a group of leaders and managers, there’s often one from a family business.

They are the ones who throw me a curveball. Their culture questions are very different from the rest of the group. The conversation ends pretty quickly once I give them the answer they are not expecting. I say:

“Family businesses are less like corporations and more like the mafia.”

It gets a ton of laughs but I’m serious.

The mafia plays by different rules, or perhaps different values. While corporations tend to be based in performance, results, and service. Family business usually means the values are loyalty and trust, before anything else.

So while that leader in the company (usually a son, brother or cousin) is trying to shift the culture, they have to play the game. They want to do things differently but what they really have to do is build up so much trust and loyalty by staying in-line.

In no other circumstance do I say this, but I say – Be a Yes Man, or a Yes Woman.  Do it to the point that they get sick of it.  Then they’ll either build up a ton of credit to use later, or the leaders will simply hand over more responsibility.

Whether you’re in a family business or not, it’s key to determine the real game that’s being played.

And the next question is – Do you want to play that game?

Because you always have a choice. You can leave and find a place that’s more in line with your values. Or if you stay, play the game and help improve it by working from within.

Adding Friction to Onboard Customers and Employees

I just signed up for a Virtual Assistant Service.

They made it easy on me, by making it challenging.

What?

Yes. Stay with me here…

They could have simply given me a button that said, “Sign up here.” Then they could have taken my money. Yes, that would have been an “easy” process. But how many people would do it, and just sign up cold like that.

Instead, they added friction to me buying their service, and it made it easier.

Let me show you.

First, they didn’t ask me to buy. They just invite me to try.

After clicking that, they entice me to try it for free, and take my info…

They don’t stop there, because you know how many of us sign up for something like this, let it hit our email and do nothing, right?

So instead, they get me into action, immediately. They ask me to pick a task area, and if I do it within the time limit, then I get a $25 credit.

And then step by step, I pick the kind of task I want done:

I then go on to give them exact information…

And we’re on our way.

Yes, it’s a lot of steps, but, I believe it drivers higher conversion rates because:

a) They’re very easy.
b) It screens out those who are not serious.
c) I get immediate value, and they are selling by doing.

So how does this relate to your company internally?

Add friction to the hiring process.

1) Rather than post your job opportunities, put up a form to take their email address and their interests, so that you have a way of contacting them if a relevant job comes up. If you just show them the jobs and one doesn’t apply, then you’ve lost them forever.

2) Have them contribute a video of why they are a good candidate.

3) Ask them to use a very specific subject in an email to you, just to see if they can really follow instructions and pay attention to detail. If they can’t do this simple thing, they’re out.

4) Interview people in a group, have them work together on something and have each person say a recommendation for the others to get a job. You can tell how well they play in teams, and how much they’re willing to support the bigger goal.

Add friction to a new program.

When I started up the Goals Coach program at Zappos, we had only one coach for 1500 people. Rather than just opening up for coaching, we had them:

1) Apply to be in it, making them think about what they want and why.

2) They had to take a class about coaching and how it works

3) Now that they have had all their prep, the sessions only took 15 minutes, rather than a full hour, thus quadrupling capacity.

Where might you add friction in your business or in your culture in order to serve the higher goal?

Do you have counter-balancing values?

In the Culture Blueprint I talk about how culture is related to systems theory.  There are feedback loops (culture feeds on itself).

Here are the two kinds and why you should know about them:

1. Reinforcing Loops

These are the values you want to be known for. You want reinforce behaviors that support these values.

2. Balancing Loops

I would actually call these counter-balancing loops. They make sure the intended value does not go out of control, because any system that is optimized for a value without a counterbalance will tip over.

Let me explain…

At Zappos, the first value is “Deliver WOW! through service.” There are many reinforcing behaviors that go into this, from the way calls are answered to how problems are handled.

But… if that was the only value, imagine how it would go out of control if followed to an extreme. People would spend a lot of money on making customers happy, even to the detriment of the company. Or, people would focus so much on helping the customer that they would lose focus on themselves and burn out.

So the counter balancing values are “Do more with less” to keep costs down, and “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness” to make sure everyone is taking care of themselves.

You can see this in many companies.

Google places a high priority on academics. So they balance the education intensity of college with all the amenities of college too.

Apple is known for pursuing excellence.  But if they only pursued excellence they would never ship because it would never be perfect. And because of that, they also have a high tolerance for failure.  Steve Jobs said he loved the products they never created as much as the ones that they did.

So take the highest value you have for your company. Now take it to an extreme.  Now what would be the counter balance?

Oh, and what do you think Steve Jobs said when asked what his all-time favorite invention was?

It was Apple itself – The company. Meaning the culture and people.  Culture is the key factor.