Culture: It’s Not a Piece of the Puzzle… It’s the Entire Puzzle.

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A few years ago, I changed my title from CEO to Chief Cultural Officer. And the question I often get is: “What is a Chief Culture Officer”?

I will get to that in a bit. First, I think it would help to explain the journey that led to the title change. I am sure most, if not all, of you reading this will be able to relate.

I started my company 15 years ago and was mainly focused on sales, production and finance. Like any company just starting out, I had to find people to work at the company and I felt we were pretty selective in who we hired, to make sure they were a fit. Most would think that our purpose of restoring people as well as property and community would attract the right people to grow a sustainable, well-oiled business. But truth be told, it was messy and far from the ideal.

I focused very heavily on sales and production and the business was growing extremely fast. Within the national franchise where we started, we went from a startup to the third largest franchise within three years. And while the company looked great from the outside, it was absolute chaos in the day-to-day operation. Simple things would hijack my day, like a technician not returning a customer’s call or a project manager not making a log note that would have saved us a boatload of money. Can you relate to that?

These types of things went on for years and the frustration grew more and more. It was so bad that I hired consultants, joined business groups and even went so far as to meet with my pastor to see if my purpose was what the good lord intended for me or not. It was that frustrating. It wasn’t until I brought in my friend, who was extremely successful (he scaled his business to over $1 billion in sales in the trades, with a work force similar to the one we have in the restoration industry). For one week, he met with each part of the company and with all of the branch managers.

At the end of the week, he sat me down and told me that he consults for companies with $500+ million in sales and that very few of them have the systems and organization that we do. He reaffirmed that we have all the pieces in place and he went on to list those things. At this point, I was feeling pretty good …until he said “But.” Then he hit me right between the eyes when he said, “You are the problem. You keep solving everybody’s problem. What you need to do is to put the onus back on the team and tell them they need to come up with a plan to fix whatever the issue of the day or week is.” He further went on to explain that I needed to let go of every part of the business except the HR department, as hiring and retaining the right people who share our values is the key to our scaling.

After a lengthy discussion and a laundry list of things he suggested needed to be done, I told him I understood what needs to be done. I just wasn’t sure how to do it. After this consulting session this is when the trajectory of our company changed, as the very first thing we did was turn to our values. Like many companies, we had really good values that look good on a poster. But those values did not matter as we were not living them as a company.

We then assembled a task force consisting of at least one person from each role in the company and one person from each office in the company. We had a series of meetings over a six-month span to really drill down on what values we wanted in order to achieve our objective of developing a High Performing Team that creates Cheerleader Customers. The values had to be very specific. While this exercise was exhausting, it was also the start of an ownership-thinking mindset in our team that continues to grow stronger by the day.

Most companies would call their values Core Values. We decided to call them our Operational Values, as this seemed to help people understand that this is how we expect them to operate…or put another way…behave.

This proved to be a powerful exercise as it brought so much clarity to our team. It reinforced who should be on the team, and more importantly, who should not be on the team. We are big believers of addition by subtraction. So, we were prepared to have a high level of turnover at the end of this exercise if you choose to do it.

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes it hurts living by your values. But our pain was short. We now work with people that not only believe in our mission, but also share common values. And because they do, they became staunch defenders of the company’s culture.

Most people know the CEO’s role is a big job, being responsible for managing a company’s overall operations. This may include delegating and directing agendas, driving profitability, managing company organizational structure, strategizing, and communicating with the board. But let’s not forget that every one of those responsibilities involves dealing with people.

As the Chief Culture Officer (CCO), it is my job to be the Keeper of the Culture by making sure that we are recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, promoting and exiting people based upon our values. While that may sound simple enough, it is a tall task and an article for another day.

If you can relate to any of the examples I noted, it might give you some confidence to go through this exercise with your team. All I can tell you is that I look back on the days when I also justified keeping a team member because I felt we couldn’t lose them for a variety of reasons — even though they were rubbing others the wrong way by not being dependable or urgent, or by violating some other operational values that we now have clearly defined. Our research proved it was way more costly to keep them on the team than it was to let them go. I assure you that your A-Players will appreciate you for operating this way as they are the ones who are most affected, dealing with the fallout from the people who did not operate by your company’s values.

Until next time, Be Not Afraid….and Let. It. Rip!

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Mike Bevilacqua

Chief Culture Officer of Mammoth Restoration.

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