“I empower people who don’t feel like their empowered people.” —Robert Richman
Employees don’t leave companies—they leave their managers. The relationships we have at work are one of the main reasons we enjoy coming to work each day. Research by Gallup and others has shown that if you have a friend at work, you are more likely to like your job and stay at the company.
On the other hand, indifferent or toxic bosses at work will drive you to seek your fortune elsewhere. With employee turnover costing businesses anywhere from 20-300 percent of an employee’s salary to hire a replacement, maintaining a positive company culture has become critically important.
Enter Robert Richman, former Zappos employee and shaman of company culture. While working for Zappos, Richman co-created Zappos Insights, a program to educate companies on the secrets behind Zappos’ amazing employee culture. Under his direction, Zappos Insights grew to a multi-million dollar business reaching over 25,000 students per year.
Since leaving Zappos, Richman has worked as a business culture speaker and consultant, improving the employee culture at hundreds of companies like Google, Toyota, Eli Lilly, and Inuit. He eventually turned his insights into the book, The Culture Blueprint, which provides a systematic guide to building a company culture of committed and enthusiastic employees.
The ingredients of culture
In a recent podcast interview with Richman, he explained how he helps companies by hacking their culture and empowering employees to run cultural experiments.
Richman explained that company culture is everything: recruiting, training, innovation, leadership, management, communication arts, etc. His expertise is to approach a company’s culture from a systems perspective. This way Richman can get a sense of what’s really going on with human communication and understand what’s behind it.
Use open space strategy
However, Richman’s goal is not just to understand company culture, it’s to empower employees to make positive change. To do this, Richman uses an “open space strategy” to create a hole in which people can discuss issues and empower themselves.
Richman explained that open space strategy is a game meeting format that allows the individuals and the company, team or division to surface all the best issues and ideas and work on solutions together.
The most important thing is that the employees co-create their own solutions. In the past, Richman used to provide all the solutions for the company. He’d do a week-long review, create a big report telling the company what to do and not to do—and the company would ignore the suggestions. Nothing would change.
That’s when Richman had a “Eureka moment” about how to help companies. Companies and employees need to co-create solutions. If they don’t co-create the solution, they don’t take ownership.
Choose specific outcomes
The key to co-creating solutions, Richman said, is to be very specific about the problems and goals. When Richman meets with groups, he asks, “What would it be like to knock it out of the park for you? What would be a huge home run?’ He then asks them to be as specific as possible about their goals.
Being specific is important because the more specific they are about the outcomes, the more you can change. For example, if you set a goal to run more, you need to say how many miles, or else, how do you know you achieved your goal? Or if you want to increase your sales, you need to say how much.
Finally, Richman doesn’t try to implement cultural change by installing new programs wholesale. Richman believes new programs feel like they are going to last forever and when they don’t, the organization loses a lot of credibility.
Run cultural experiments
According to Richman, the key to implementing change is to convince people to run experiments. Experiments are short term with a defined beginning, middle, and end. One of his most common experiments for changing a company culture is “being on time.”
Instead of dictating a policy for everyone to “be on time or else”, Richman tells companies to run an experiment for two weeks in which everyone is on time. Afterward, the companies can inspect the results and see: Do we like that better? Do we get more done? Are we less stressed?
Richman explained that running experiments is a better practice because experiments allow for people to learn without needing to change their beliefs. The result is your belief is based on an experience rather than based on what the company thinks works or could happen.