Intentional Culture

Successful start-ups often feature an executive who gets credited for a brilliant product or strong service. The product/service is absolutely necessary for buyers, but the leader is celeberated for the wrong reason. Successful start-ups are made of great people. Great executives build teams and cultures that allow their concepts to come to fruition.

When I consider my past efforts to scale, one thing I want to do differently is build an intentional culture to attract the right talent. The culture will be clear in advance about benefits, lifestyle and tone.

Most start-ups create cultures in a haphazard fashion. They figure it out as they go.

The results are obvious. Lack of growth, high turnover, dysfunctional team behavior including absenteeism, poor work quality and infighting.

A founder’s job (and lead executives, too) is not to be the centerpoint of all things in the company, rather the principle enabler. The intentional culture builds a framework for employees to do their job with as little friction as possible.

The framework gives employees clear parameters to operate in and meet their goals. A leader’s job is to find great people, and then encourage them so they achieve their work and grow professionally.

How can you tell a company is a winner? It produces other winners. Successful cultures are marked by people who leave an organization as stronger more capable members of the workforce, including executives capable of leading their own group or starting their own company.

Hire Great Talent

How many times have you heard people complain about their boss? Tough, but hard, or crazy, or controls and interferes with aspects of the work. Bad management is the number one reason people quit their jobs.

Granted, some complaints are the result of managers balancing workload and nurturing people. If you have happy people and no work getting done, there is a problem. If work is getting done, but people are miserable, you have a problem.

Consistantly unhappy people is a clear signal that points to the founder and/or company executives. Founders and executives who cannot manage against their own shortcomings have a hard time succeeding. Some of it is personality, but at least 2/3 of management skills are teachable.

How can you tell if you are the problem as a founder?

Turnover ratio. Get above 20-30% in a single year, and there is a problem. If you are at 50% turnover, then you have a significant issue that needs to be addressed with either training or a change in leadershop. A 70-80% turnover rate in one year is a damning statement about the founder/executive in question.

One year turnover is bad for a company. You lose your investment of intellectual capital, people don’t grow from the experience, and the business is stymied with work in a constant state of flux. Plus customers are let down and leave, and the executive(s) becomes distracted by consistently recruiting replacements.

Everyone benefits when executives optimize the workplace for happiness. Some tips for founders/executives struggling with this:

1) Nurture people. If an executive (including me in the past) has an attitude of “tough, but fair” then they are pretty much an asshole. There is no room for that, and people do not succeed in a vacuum. This is one of my primary lessons learned. The executive should delegate, but be present to encourage and help employees as necessary. They are the ultimate coach, and in helping employees succeed, they win, too.

2) Employees are the center of the workplace universe. Executive attention is good for attracting business, but inside a company an executive competing for the most acknowledgement sucks the emotional life out of the larger team. An executive looks good when the staff performs well and are considered heroes by customers.

Don’t be the hero, make heroes. Want attention? Be a soloproneur. Want to make money? Build teams of stars.

3) Successfully getting work done while keeping people happy is a balancing act. An executive needs to nurture while getting team members to commit to getting work completed. Be random in rewards so they don’t become an expectation, but always be clear to acknowledge successes and strong efforts.

4) When it comes to feedback — a necessary component of getting work done — in person or on the phone is best. Emailed feedback is almost always a disaster (yes, experience again). Avoid giving negative feedback in writing if at all possible. Rather than expressing disapointment, offer your vision and a desire for better quality. Always show the desired outcome, and offer solutions so someone can learn how to get there.

How the Framework Helps

2248688019_f5346b61fd_z
Image by Chris Perardi.

Hiring great people as a start-up is a challenge because of size and risk. Once you get them on board — given an intentional framework and the right attitude of nurturing/work balance — an executive can focus on building the business. When people can’t succeed in the framework and an executive’s assistance, well, there is little you can do other than to move on.

In my mind, part of a good framework is work/life balance. The company has ethics and principles and that drives work ethos. Then there are random rewards for performance, and stated ones, e.g benefits. These create balance.

Expected benefits, which in many ways define the spirit of the company, also attract (or repel) candidates. Here are some of the things I am doing with Tenacity5:

1) Four weeks off, vacation, personal and/or sick leave. No questions asked. One month notice in writing is required for more than two consecutive days off (past lessons learned). Team members who work with the organization for more than two years will get five weeks off. Why so much time? I want to employ rested people that deliver great creative content and strategies on deadline.

2) The work must get done, but perhaps not 9-5. Flexible hours are acceptable so long as the work gets done.

3) Junior staff can telework one day a week. Executives may be hired who work from home (if they are in a different city without an office) or if there is an office they can telework two days a week.

4) Healthcare will be paid for in total by the company.

5) If the company achieves more than 20% profitability over costs in any quarter, profit sharing will occur with all team mebers.

6) No one will be staffed on more than three accounts. It is to the clients’ and the employees’ benefit that work doesn’t get diffused. Further, employees become more capable when they learn the ins and outs of a particular business sector.

7) A new MacBook Air is provided to all new employees. If an employee stays for more than 18 months, they keep the laptop as a bonus.

Generally, this is considered a very generous compensation package. It matches my concept of a framework for an intentional culture. There is a lot to be happy about, and hopefully that will attract employees who normally would go to more established businesses. Further, given the framework and the right management attitude, I believe that people will attend to their work with enhtusiasm.

What do you think?

Featured image by FDF Photo.

5 Ways to Reverse Mentor Millennials

It’s no secret that youth are usually the first demographic to embrace new technologies and media. Older communicators often struggle with changing tools, causing them to hire younger staff to engage with these tools.

As time has progressed social and mobile media have become critical components of the modern marketing mix. In turn, Generation X and Baby Boomer marketing and PR pros have been forced to embrace new media. Learning these tools can be difficult, but co-workers — yes, the very same junior staff hired to “handle” social media — can help.

Be smart about this. One primary characteristic of millennial generation is a desire to be included and treated respectfully. Young co-workers want access to executives, and choose work environments where they can build something together.

Embracing them fulfills these needs while helping your older staff adjust. In addition, youth are missing the value experience brings. Reverse mentoring leverages both work groups strengths, and cross pollinates them.

Here are five reverse mentoring techniques to empower young staff members to help their co-workers learn next generation media tools:

1) Build Technology or Media Task Forces

We know how important technology and media are becoming to businesses. Build a task force charged with leading the company into the future. Populate it with a healthy mix of youth, communications team members and appropriate senior executives. Make sure your committee has a clear mission and structure to achieve your business outcomes.

2) Give Millennials Progressive Roles

Do more than put millennials on the committee. While it’s a great first step, you may want to assign leadership roles to those that demonstrate initiative.

Group chair, lead social media trainer, corporate ambassador to local tech/social events, etc. are all great ways to empower millennials with positions of worth in the company. Make sure you mentor first timers so they can succeed in these roles. Professionalism and leadership skills cannot be assumed.

3) Provide Reverse Training Opportunities

If you have an organization of twenty or more, it’s likely that members from the entire company are struggling with new media. Create training opportunities across the company, and have your younger team lead them. Show them how to coach others and build great presentations, perhaps even provide them speaker training.

4) Offer Access to Executives

Executives need to know how technology is changing the way customers interact with brands. Millennials want access to leadership. You can fulfill both stakeholder groups by allowing your Task Force members to brief the executive team on its findings. Or invite executives to the committee so they can ask and answer questions. This doesn’t have to be an every week occurrence, but do it periodically so both groups benefit from each other.

5) Social and UX Roles

Another way to embrace younger team members’ familiarity and knowledge with technology is to let them take lead roles in relevant work areas. For example, let millennials manage social communities, provide feedback on the online user experience, and make technology suggestions for corporate IT.

Like the other steps, be proactive and mentor your younger team members. For example, don’t leave the team out on the social web without immediate access to more seasoned senior executives who can handle an online crisis or customer service issues.

What reverse mentoring tips would you add?

This post ran originally on the Vocus blog. Featured image by ITUPictures. I am on vacation until September 30 and will not be commenting. The floor is yours!