Month: December 2017

Check Out This All-Star Collection of Culture Powerpoints


Capturing your culture – distilling it to a few powerful sentences, a radiant set of core values —  is a helluva task. Get it right, and you’ve created an identity. Get it wrong, and you sound like a cheesy advertisement.

Which is why you should check out this all-star collection of culture decks. It includes some great ones, including Google, IDEO, Zappos, and Netflix. (And yep, it includes Reed Hastings’ legendary culture deck, which you should also check out if you haven’t already.)

A couple of patterns jump out:

First, how important the voice is. The best of these speak from a distinct POV, with attitude. There’s a truth-telling vibe that goes beyond the usual corporate-speak. They lean into humor and wit.

Second, how often they go beyond just values (which, to be honest, tend to be pretty interchangeable) to spotlight specific behaviors that drive their culture. For instance, here’s a slide from IDEO’s deck:

And here’s one from Hubspot:

All of which adds up to reinforce the old truth. Culture isn’t something you are; it’s something you do.

Video Trailer for the New Book

Here’s a sneak-preview of the new book (which comes out January 30th). Thanks for watching!

Read this Book: The Power of Moments


You should check out Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, which is essential reading for anybody who cares about culture and leadership. The core idea: the most important things in life arrive in the form of moments — and those moments follow a template that can be learned. The Heaths identify four types of moments in which positive change occurs: pride, elevation, insight, and connection, and they explain how these can be built to help individuals and groups thrive. 

My favorite part: learning about the Magic Castle Hotel, which is one of the top-rated hotels in California. Their success has little to do with the facilities (which are utterly average) or the location (same), but rather with fact that the hotel has a knack for engineering peak moments for their clientele. For example: 

Let’s start with the cherry-red phone mounted to a wall near the pool. you pick it up and someone answers, “Hello, Popsicle Hotline.” You place an order, and minutes later, a staffer wearing white gloves delivers your cherry, orange, or grape Popsicles to you at poolside. On a silver tray. For free.

The book is filled with moments like that. They’re not complicated. But they’re kinda beautiful. 

Try This 10-Second Hack to Measure Your Culture’s Health

Culture is impossible to measure precisely, because it can’t be distilled. But while I was reporting for The Culture Code, I came across a cool culture-assessment hack. It comes from someone who knows a few things about starting and sustaining a healthy culture: restaurateur Danny Meyer, who founded Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and Shake Shack, and many other successful ventures. Here’s Meyer’s method: 

Step 1: wait for a problem 

Step 2: monitor the group’s energy level, to see if it goes up or down

On the morning I met with Meyer at one of his restaurants, we got to witness a problem. A waiter dropped a tray of glasses with a huge crash. It was a giant mess.

As the other waiters started reacting, Meyer explained: “One of two things will happen. Either the people will work together well, and the energy level will end up being higher than when they started. Or, there will be subtle signals of blame, resentment, and anger, and the energy level will drop lower than before the problem.”

That’s it. Energy up, or energy down. If it goes up, Meyer says, the group’s culture is strong. If it goes down, it’s not. 

On the day we watched, the energy level went up, and Meyer smiled. The culture was strong. And the larger truth was clear: Every interaction matters when it comes to culture — especially those around solving problems.

Here’s Google’s Holy Grail for Measuring Leadership Skill (How Do You Stack Up?)


Few groups on the planet are more obsessed at unearthing the secrets of cultural success than Google. They use their massive analytical muscle to continually study thousands of their teams to see what works best, what doesn’t, and how to improve.  What’s really useful, however, is Google’s willingness to let outsiders peek inside their findings.

So here’s the latest peek: the 11 questions Google uses to evaluate team managers. They ask team members to answer the following using a 1-5 scale (strongly disagree…strongly agree).

1. My manager gives me actionable feedback that helps me improve my performance.

2. My manager does not “micromanage” (i.e., get involved in details that should be handled at other levels).

3. My manager shows consideration for me as a person.

4. The actions of my manager show that he/she values the perspective I bring to the team, even if it is different from his/her own.

5. My manager keeps the team focused on our priority results/deliverables.

6. My manager regularly shares relevant information from his/her manager and senior leaders.

7. My manager has had a meaningful discussion with me about career development in the past six months.

8. My manager communicates clear goals for our team.

9. My manager has the technical expertise (e.g., coding in Tech, selling in Global Business, accounting in Finance) required to effectively manage me.

10. I would recommend my manager to other Googlers.

11. I am satisfied with my manager’s overall performance as a manager.

Check out how completely this list explodes the myth that leaders add value through their knowledge. Technical expertise shows up just once, in question 9.

To the contrary, this profile describes the skills to build relationships, guide toward goals, understand context, and care for people. In short, it’s not about knowing stuff. It’s about the supple skill of connecting people and ideas. 

We often think of leadership skill as analogous to being the captain of a ship. But this shows a different model. Leadership is not like being a captain. It’s far closer to being a good coach.

(It’s also a reminder that the word culture, after all, is derived from the Latin cultus: to care.)

PS – If you want a deeper dive, I highly recommend Work Rules, by Laszlo Bock, former head of Google’s People Operations and current CEO of Humu

You Can Learn a Lot by Reading Elon Musk’s Emails 


Good leadership is about having good reflexes, especially in moments of crisis. When there’s a problem in a group, most leaders tend to respond by protecting the group: letting people know it’s going to be okay, and putting problem in wider perspective. They strive send a signal of reassurance: This isn’t a big deal; we can get past it.

But is that the smartest response? Consider this recent email from Tesla CEO Elon Musk that captures his response to a particular crisis: a report that showed injury rates in Tesla’s Fremont factory were dangerously high. 

Here’s the key part of Musk’s email: 

No words can express how much I care about your safety and wellbeing. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful.

Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.

This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own.

Notice first what Musk doesn’t do: he doesn’t protect the group or minimize the problem. Instead, he connects with the group through three signals: 

1) He expresses intense personal regret (“It breaks my heart”)

2) He demonstrates caring action (“I’ve asked that every injury be reported to me… I would like to meet with every injured person… I will work on the production line”)

3) He defines the culture’s identity (“At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower”)

In a few dozen words, Musk proves that cultural leadership is not about protection — it’s about connection.