The dark secret about employee loyalty

Great cultures ,Values

I’ve heard leaders say they want loyalty from their employees.  The question is – Loyalty to what?

They say loyalty to the company but they’re really saying loyalty to the leaders and their decisions.

And when it’s loyalty to people there are only two solid use cases I see for that:

  1. Family – They are always family, so even if there is a mess up, loyalty is warranted.
  2. Mafia – A culture of loyalty (to the point of going to prison to someone). And there is a big cost to not being loyal.

In a strong culture based company, the loyalty is to the values.

And in those companies, employees may even challenge the leaders, based on those values.

Do you want loyalty? Or do you want a great company with people smarter than you who challenge your decisions in service to the customer?

Post-Covid Office Culture

Culture of Chaos ,Vision

When Pinterest pays $90 million dollars to get out of a lease (and this somehow registered as good business), then you know things are changing.

Companies that don’t need to go back to the office won’t. They’ll invest in off-sites on a yearly or quarterly basis to align their teams. Some will have small offices with a lot of meeting rooms, kitchens and creative spaces. Other than that, it’s all about getting better at defining the remote work culture.

Calling it “remote work” actually hurts the company because it enforces the notion that we’re all alone. A better term to use would be distributed workforce, or the networked company.

Whatever you call it, the shift has actually exacerbated any problems a company had before the pandemic. Bad meetings are now intolerable. Unclear accountabilities are now pain points. Defining roles, responsibilities, expectations and boundaries are extremely important now.

The Culture Power Tool to Reduce Friction

Great cultures ,Hacks ,Tools

Now, at first this power tool may seem disappointing. Like if I told you I have the secret to weight loss and said, “Workouts.” But… there are workouts you dread and then there’s the Peloton experience with great music, instruction and a crowd. Same, but different. 

So the power tool is the org chart.  Yes, that incredibly boring outline that always seems to be out of date (that’s half the problem). 

Typical org charts look like this:

Notice how dull and uninspiring it is. Why even look at it?   

The reason we don’t is because it’s not actually useful. But the potential is huge. Why? Because the bigger the company gets, the more people get confused about who does what. Who has the authority? Who is the gatekeeper? Who has domain expertise?

Imagine you have a new idea, and you don’t even know whom to talk to about it.  

Take a look at this map I did for my team at Zappos (and beyond the words, notice the feeling you have about it as you look at it). When my team saw it, it felt like a breath of fresh air. 

The opportunity is to make it come alive in the following ways:

1. Use photos rather than names. 

Using just a name and a title reduces people to letters. Humanize it. 

2. Show actual roles and responsibilities

Titles are not only boring, they’re often not fully descriptive or they assume a lot of knowledge of the person reading it. Your people aren’t there to figure out the code of titles. They’re there to do the work. And this lack of information adds unnecessary friction. 

3. Keep it up to date

I just consulted for one the world’s largest social media companies. I said a caveat to my recommendation when I said, “This may sound really ridiculous…”  And I told them that for a company their size, having a full time org chart updater actually makes sense.  This role goes beyond word and graphic updates. It takes a curious mind, a great communicator and an ability to connect people in various roles (like playing the game Memory). 

For more on this see the chapter on “The Corporate Navigator” in my book, The Culture Blueprint: The Guide to the High Performance Workplace.

The Wisdom of Tony Hsieh

Personal Exploration

I had the amazing honor of working with Tony on Zappos Insights.  The best part was the team we built and the fun we had, but that’s another story for another time. For today, I want to honor Tony by sharing some of his wisdom that I hope will add value to your own life and business.

In all honesty, at the time I wasn’t even qualified for the job. But he saw the potential of my ideas and my passion to make it a reality. He trusted me with establishing a new Zappos division that sought to turn the Zappos culture into a product itself, one that could be shared with the world.
It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to lead the effort to take the world class service and culture at Zappos and make it transferable to other companies, not as a replication of Zappos culture, but as a means of empowering other companies to create their own.

1. Talk last

Tony never dominated a meeting. He would always listen first. He knew that if the leader speaks first, that will shape the whole conversation and make people think decisions have already been made when they haven’t. Tony would listen, then by the end he would invariably drop a couple mind-blowing ideas. Finally, he would be like a switchboard, connecting people in the company to work together because he had a bird’s eye view of everything going on.

2. “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?

He would often ask this when someone complained. It’s amazing to realize how much we can be attached to being right, even when it doesn’t serve us. One day I was complaining that someone cut me off in traffic. He said, “What’s the minimum you have to be paid each time that happens for you to be happy?” I thought about it and said $12.  He said, “Any time that happens, you text me and I’ll give you $12.”  I laughed. He would have done it!  But I didn’t. I was never going to ask for $12 even once from him. Instead, I think about that conversation whenever I’m in traffic and I let it go. I’d rather be happy than right. I have used that insight countless times in other situations, both in business and in my personal life. It was priceless wisdom. I would have had to pay Tony $12 a day forever to properly compensate him for what he gave me for free.

3. “Always be on time.”

Tony never said this. He simply lived it. In my 12 years of knowing him, he was never once late to a meeting (personal or professional).  I know for Tony it had a lot to do with integrity, but since then I’ve seen how it’s even more important than that. First, there’s respect for the people you’re meeting. But more importantly, leaders who walk in late are unconsciously delivering the message that they are out of control.  Something else is in control of them (the traffic, the board, the meeting before or after). And it’s hard to trust a leader who is not in control of their own schedule. A leader on time, all the time, creates a sense of safety, and models the behavior that makes a culture work. When Tony considers it just as important to be punctual with you as he does with Jeff Bezos, it speaks volumes about how he valued everyone.

These are just a few of the thoughts that are flooding my mind as I think about the immense loss of Tony, but also the immense gift he was to me and so many others. May his memory be a blessing.