This is something that has been bugging me since October and I gotta get off my chest.
A few months ago, I attended a riveting presentation by a keynote speaker, a CEO of another organization, who spoke about the importance of culture; specifically how culture had transformed his company. While most people were enthralled by his message, I was jaded. It’s not that I undervalue the significance of culture, in fact I think a meaningful culture, intentionally designed, communicated well, consistently applied, and embraced by all staff can be a game-changer. The positive impact culture had on this guy’s staff and customers was significant.
So, what didn’t sit right with me? I was left with the impression the culture he developed is fine for everyone except for the keynote, who seems to live by a different set of standards.
The session started out with the CEO telling the story of how he realized his company was suffering through a severe morale issue which was impacting his happiness, the company’s profitability, and his customer’s level of satisfaction. He went on to tell us how he walked around the office randomly selecting and inviting 12 of his 25 office staff into the conference room. I waited with baited breath to hear how he and his hand-picked 12 would roll up their sleeves and tackle the morale issue collaboratively and fearlessly. Instead, he fired the 12. Huh? He did what? Did I miss something? Yeah, he fired 12 of his office staff. I must have missed something because this didn’t square with someone attempting to establish a strong culture.
I’ll admit the next 30 minutes were inspiring as he explained how he rebuilt his company with a strong cultural focus. His clients received outstanding service; his staff became inspired. They had a core purpose, or a “why” for the work they did. They developed core values by which they lived. Revenues increased as did profitability. I had just about forgotten or forgiven the “firing of the 12,” but then…
He went on to explain how important it was to ask his staff what made a difference in their lives. He explained most folks simply wanted the basics from life: security; a safe place to live; ample food for their families; time to spend with loved ones; simply stated, the simple things in life. I thought, “Yeah, cool. Isn’t that what we all want? Right-on, Dude!”
Then he shared what was important in his life; what fulfilled him and his family, and that’s where he lost me for good. While he was applauding his staff for their basic desires, he then shared a photo of a lone tree canopying two chaise lounges on a beautiful, white, secluded Hawaiian beach—nirvana. Expensive vacations, board seats, and a seemingly lavish lifestyle was what motivated him. Hmm, applauding his staff for their simple tastes while then talking about a trip only few can dream of really disturbed me.
My first thought was, “What a hypocrite,” but with some distance I don’t think he’s a hypocrite. I think he is simply unaware of the seeming dichotomy of what he espouses and what he lives. I think he genuinely values his company’s culture. His staff is happier, they deliver better services to their clients, and his company is more financially successful.
Granted I’m a skeptic and a cynic, so I asked a few others what they thought of the speaker, and it was a mixed bag. Some were gushing over his presentation and couldn’t wait to begin similar initiatives at their own businesses—cool. Others felt the same way I did.
I know I’m being overly reactive because I’m wondering if I’m guilty of not consistently living Aptify’s Core Values. If I am not, then I sure hope my team feels they can call me out and identify where I’m failing to meet our Values and Purpose. That also goes for anyone in a leadership position; we must be able to accept constructive criticism if we’re screwing up. If you’re building a culture by design, then you’d better make sure everyone embraces the culture—everyone—and it starts at the top. At the end of the day, we all benefit, including and perhaps most importantly the clients we serve.
Those in a leadership position must hold themselves to a higher standard and lead by example. My 13-year-old niece picks up not on what I say, but on what I do and how I act. Culture is a trump card in a game in which we all have seat at the table—all of us.
Whew. I finally got that off my chest.
Want to read more about creating (and living) a culture by design? Download the eBook.