“The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibilities. If you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things you completely did not anticipate.” – Sir Ken Robinson

I want to dive deeper into this quote, and explain exactly what it means.
Managers, please listen up. What a true leader is supposed to do, is create an environment where every single person is working towards a common goal.

When managers finally start to understand this basic principle, the world of work will change forever.

There are so many companies out there with no mission, no goal other than to make money. Is that what life’s all about?

The companies that are short sighted, and can only think to the next quarter, are the ones that usually end up suffering the most, because they’re so irrational in their decision making. They’re never thinking long term – think about that for a second.

What you need to have a successful business, is a good office vibe (pun intended) ;).

Something that I’ve never fully been able to understand, is how companies still have bad cultures. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to work in too many places where the culture was bad, but based on the statistics, the average company culture sucks.

Focus On Culture

“Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.” Tony Hseih, CEO of Zappos.com

Zappos is probably the greatest example of a company with a good culture. Tony, their CEO, was so passionate about culture from the beginning, and did every interview himself. The question he would ask himself after meeting a potential candidate was “if we weren’t working together, is this someone I would go out for a drink with?”, and if the answer was no, he wouldn’t get hired. It’s important to establish that rock solid team early on, and to make sure that employees are truly passionate when they work there. After a new employee goes through training, they are presented with “the offer”: $4,000 on the spot right now if they quit. What this does is ensures that whoever stays, isn’t staying for the paycheck. They’re staying because they love the company, and really want to work there.

Zappos understood very well that happy employees equal happy customers, and they are so focused on customer service it’s almost scary. There was a story when one of their customer service agents stayed on the phone helping someone for 10 hours!

Managers need to understand how to cultivate employees, and make sure they’re performing at their best, so that the customers will be happy. Would you be surprised if I told you that 75% of Zappos orders are from repeat customers?

What’s important for managers to understand is how to coach employees. I use the word coach, because that’s what they truly need to act like. Too often, we see managers acting like therapists, telling employees what they did wrong and focusing on the negatives. Ask any athlete, and they’ll tell you that a coach is supposed to make you better. They’re supposed to take you to that next level and teach you what they know, not tell you what you did wrong.

Employees want autonomy though, so it’s a bit of a difficult balance to try and find, but managers need to strike that line between coaching, and letting employees be free.

I was talking to a friend of mine who runs The Culture Lab in San Francisco, and what I found interesting was how much interest people were showing in the lab. There’s obviously a lot of pent up demand for people wanting to learn more about company culture.

Flatten Your Hierarchy

I was recently reading an article in Inc magazine by Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp, about why he runs a flat organization, and one part of the article really stood out at me. He mentions how instead of employees looking to get promoted, and grow vertically, they should instead become masters of their crafts, and grow horizontally. The example he gives is a programmer, who instead of wanting to become a manager, and manage programmers, they want to become masters at programming. This is an amazing idea, and something that I think makes a lot of sense. More companies should be following this model.

Zappos also recently announced that they were implementing an organizational structure called holacracy, which is a really innovative way to manage a company. There are no managers, only do-ers. Everyone is working towards one unified goal, and the power of those numbers working together produces incredible results.

The other day, I was talking to Ryan Carson, founder of Treehouse about why they removed all of their managers, and how it’s working out for him. Not surprisingly, he said it was working amazing. Super happy employees, insane growth in terms of revenue, and it seems like a much better environment. The thing I liked the most though, and managers should be paying attention to this, is that employee retention is very high there. Employees are treated so well, that there’s no need for them to think about leaving.

What’s important to understand is that managers honestly don’t know how to manage. I’d like to introduce you to something called the Peter Principle.

From Wikipedia: “The Peter Principle is a management theory which suggests that organizations risk filling management roles with people who are incompetent if they promote those who are performing well at their current role, rather than those who have proven abilities at the intended role… They suggest that people will tend to be promoted until they reach their “position of incompetence”. ”

This is why I like what Jason Fried was saying about horizontal development versus vertical development. It makes so much sense.

Think Long Term

In a flat organization, one of the first questions that comes up is what does the founder/CEO do now? They’re the captain of the ship, and all they do is steer the boat into a direction. It’s the crew who autonomously keeps it running.

Great leaders understand that the trick to success is to be extremely focused on a long term mission, and to make sure to never steer away from it. Great leaders set very broad goals for the team to achieve, based on that long term mission, and then let the team figure the rest out. The goals are often very vague, even stupidly obvious, but it’s done on purpose to give the team the freedom to figure out that long term plan.

Hiring new employees also becomes so much easier when you’re thinking long term, and are focused on a mission, because you only hire people who believe in that mission. Even the onboarding process is improved because everyone knows what the long term goal is, so it’s easier to spread that message.

Personal Development

The key point I’m trying to get across is that managers need to actively encourage that all employees are working on bettering themselves. Personal development is something that should be baked into the management process. But not only is it the company’s responsibility, it’s each individual employee’s responsibility as well.

Make sure that you’re exercising, and keep yourself energized, hydrated, and strong. You should also be exercising your mind, and learning new things all the time. There are so many amazing free resources online to learn almost anything, and you should be taking advantage of them. I’ve mentioned a lot of these in the past, but my favorites are Udemy, Udacity, and Coursera.

An easy thing for companies to do is what are called “eat and share”, where employees can get together over lunch and share knowledge with other members of the team. If you’re willing to go that extra mile, invite a guest speaker from your local community to talk about team building, culture, or other advice relevant to your industry.

Companies should also be actively encouraging their employees to take breaks. This is also important when setting deadlines for projects. Always include a large amount of break time in your scheduling. One of my favorite concepts in psychology is called The Shower Principle. I originally heard about it on an episode of 30 Rock (one of my favorite TV shows), but it’s actually a real thing. Essentially, it’s the theory that your brain has that “Eureka” moment when you’re not doing actual work (like in the shower).

Let’s all remember to slow down a little bit, and work smarter, not harder.

What do you think companies get wrong about culture?

Let me know in the comments!