Adam Bryant: The Importance of Culture in the Workplace

Adam Bryant: The Importance of Culture in the Workplace


By now I’ve interviewed more than 300 leaders
and I always just listen for patterns and themes that come up during the course of the
interviews. And I started hearing a lot of great insights about culture. And I heard
this one expression from one of the CEOs were he said we want to be the largest small company
in our space. And I was really intrigued by that. What does that mean? How do you do that?
Obviously largest in terms of size, smallest in terms of just that start up culture feel,
and I just got me thinking about culture and what it means. And the thing about culture
it’s such an amorphous word. I mean if you’ve got ten people in front of a white board and
said what is culture, you could put 100 things on it and they would all be true because it
is such a fuzzy concept. So, the more I thought about it the more I
tried to frame the question in the right way about culture. And I really framed it this
way, which is what are the biggest drivers of culture, the things that if done well have
an outsized positive impact, and if done badly or not at all have an outsized negative impact?
And that was really the question that framed the book. And I just went through millions
of words of transcripts looking for the insights that helped answer that question. In terms
of why now for this book, I really think that culture is increasingly the X factor that’s
going to separate companies. Because business is just moving so fast, there’s so much disruption
in so many industries. And you can have two companies with a similar strategy, similar
backing and the one that’s going to win is the one with the better culture. A lot of
people don’t focus on culture though because it is so amorphous. People tend to focus on
strategy. They tend to focus on results because you can put the results in a spreadsheet,
but culture is really the X factor that’s going to drive the results, and I’ve heard
that from a lot of really smart CEOs. I wrote the book as really a playbook because
CEOs just have so many things on their plates. They could do literally 100 different things
on any different day. They’re responsible for everything and kind of nothing at the
same time. And because culture is so amorphous it can be hard for them to figure out well,
is this a good use of my time. so that’s why I really tried to frame it around the question
of what are the biggest drivers so that if they’re really focused on these things that
they would see an impact, even if it’s not super tangible, but just to know, based on
the experience of hundreds of other CEOs, that this had an impact on their company. If you’re a startup CEO you really have to
be thoughtful about culture because you’re going to have culture one way or another.
It’s going to happen on its own and every company’s culture is different. It’s really
the sum total of kind of the DNA of the people in your company. And the metaphor that I like
to use about culture is that it’s sort of like cholesterol. In any organization you’re
going to have good and bad culture. And just like with cholesterol you’re going to have
good and bad cholesterol. The trick is to focus on the things that are
really going to boost the good aspects of the culture and make sure that the things
that are going to hurt your culture don’t creep into your company. And I’ve heard a
lot of really compelling stories about that. I interviewed Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos
now with this first company where he is the cofounder. He reached a point where he didn’t
even want to go to work in the morning. He told this story about how he used to just
keep hitting the snooze button because he didn’t want to go into work at the company
that he founded, and that was pretty remarkable. And that’s one of the reasons why he focused
so much on culture when he went to Zappos because he just learned that you have to be
deliberate about it. And there are all sorts of romantic notions about a startup culture,
and many of them are true, that sense that we’re all in it together, that there’s an
impact, you know, everybody’s kind of picking up an oar and rowing together. Not all start up cultures are great, and we
shouldn’t think that they are. There could be a lot of chaos and if the leadership isn’t
focused on culture then you’re going to get the kind of the problems that Tony Hsieh had.
But it is important to try to hold onto that start up spark. Because what that really means
is that sense that people are committed to the mission. It’s not just work for them.
They’re not just punching the clock. And to me one of the biggest drivers of that, one
of the most effective tools for creating that sense is what I call a simple plan. I think
it’s a leader’s job to stand up in front of their employees and effectively say this is
where we’re going and this is how we’re going to get there. The reason that’s so important
is that people need to understand how the work they are doing is going to contribute
to those broader goals. And there really can’t be more than three because all the brain science
shows that most people can’t remember more than three things day to day anyways. So you
have to pick the right measures. And if you do that then you will really tap into people’s
desire to contribute to something. Because I really think as human beings we’re
wired that way. We want to contribute to the team. We want to help. But it’s a leader’s
job to say this is the scoreboard and it’s very clear and it’s very simple. And then
you get that benefit of people saying I understand now how the work I’m doing will help us reach
those goals. Because if you don’t do that that’s when you get silo behavior, whether
it’s people operating in their department or division, essentially pursuing their own
goals, but that can also play out in an individual level. People are just doing their own thing
and that’s when you get all the politics and turfiness. And silos can be really dangerous.
One CEO said to me, “Silos are what toppled the greatest companies.” And even a company
like Microsoft by it’s own admission in the summer of 2013 said that they have a problem
with their organization. They have to look at the organization chart to create much more
of a one Microsoft culture. And I think as companies get bigger and they really have
to contend with that.

30 thoughts on “Adam Bryant: The Importance of Culture in the Workplace

  1. There's no need for culture in the workplace when using zero-hour contracts. The moment an "employee" runs out of favour with their boss/manager then get replaced.

  2. Being a grass roots (multi)national company is essentially a contradiction in terms. "Culture" varies from town to town, suburb to suburb. Whenever someone tries to create a specific culture, people pick up on that very quickly. Unless it's done perfectly and honestly people will see it for what it is, a facade, a lie. Culture can be guided by certain decisions, but not created. The reason for that is that culture is as much down to the consumers as it is to the CEOs, if not more so. That is the key aspect many businesses miss out on when it comes to culture, it's not about them, it's about their consumers.

  3. There is a bigger picture behind The Importance of Culture in the Workplace.

    Have we resolved issues like long work hours and the toll its taking to our lifes?

    No, but big thinkers dirorient common ppl from the real issues. U know the ones that make our lifes unbearable.

    Imo, find a serious subject or dont bother.

  4. Ok, good culture is important; but It would be interesting now to expose the structure of a (good or bad) culture, i.e., break culture it down so it is possible to analyse it as a system. Also, could be interesting to show how can that (breakdown) can be achieved (if it can at all).

  5. you can replace the word culture in this video by any other word and the video would still stand. at no point he explained what he means by that. bullshit talker

  6. I just don't understand the general distaste for this video. Corporate culture is such a fascinating example of interpersonal motivation and relationship, and it seems like a fine example of broader cultural interactions that influence us all constantly.

  7. I'm getting very tired of watching these pseudo-philosophical Big Think videos making vague unscientific observations with patchwork conclusions.  This guy made zero tangible points.  It's all nonsense.

    edit:  And I know, I know, "You don't have to watch them" blah blah blah.  But when you tote around people like this guy with people like Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson it looks really stupid and insulting to the intelligence of anyone watching these videos expecting actually interesting ideas.

  8. I thought he made one simple but valid point, which I have paraphrased here in my own words because he kind of lost track … 

    It's the leaders job to make sure everyone knows exactly how their work is contributing to the goals of the company. Pick up to three key metrics to focus on, and make sure this scoreboard is communicated to your team often.

    ^ This at least creates a visible & realistic rallying point for your team to get inspired by. If you can communicate this scoreboard often, and in a fun or unique way, it could benefit the overall culture. (i.e. number of users, number of products sold, etc…)

    Lots of thumbs down, but I didn't think it was all that bad as a thought initiator on the topic … 🙂 

  9. Lots of thumbs down because most people doing the base level work ie. the grunt work feel under appreciated and over worked. It's fine for the top executives to sit back and analyze high ideals while joe or Jane everyday has to go punch the clock daily and be judged according to how much revenue they have generated for said executive to sit there and have hi minded ideals there is a HUGE disconnect from the thinkers and the do-ers

  10. Add to the mix that that one executive makes more in a year than most of the grunts in a "unit" make combined only adds fuel to the flame

  11. Did anyone else feel that this guy didn't really say anything? I mean he said allot of words, but they meant nothing really.

  12. This is bullshit, CEOs don't give a flying fuck about the individuals, culture usually means sorting out undesirable people and ritualism of uniformity into conformity into a corporate religion

  13. This is what big think needs more of.  Real world talk about real world issues.  Michio can amaze us with predictions 200 years into the future, but what I want are ideas that are useful right now, in the present.  Huge companies are humanity's future, getting 50 000 experts to work on a common goal is what makes substantial change.  Thanks to Adam for giving everyone an inside look on how that happens.

  14. Science has discovered culture to be a form of intelligence without anybody having to think. 💡

  15. Companies don't give a fuck about anything but profit maximization. The successful ones at least.

    Whatever a company perceives to most efficiently maximize profits is the culture they will promote or enforce. I put in the word "perceive" because companies don't always do what's best for them and may inadvertently make a decision that does not help maximize profit. Everything about office culture from the dress code to HR rules to the management structures are designed to maximize the profits.

  16. "A simple plan" – true, and also the story of how you got there.. I've worked with many top level CEO's and the most memorable & successful would tell the story at bi-annual company meetings of how he started hiring and planning this $100+ million company in the hotel lobby when he first was hired and moved to the new town to set things up.

  17. That amazing company helps you to automate new employee onboarding process in easy way! You may easily build your own onboarding academy. Copy and open CASE .XCOURSE .XYZ

  18. How do you create high-performance culture in your organization?
    Even though organizations globally aim to understand what drives their employees’ performance through multiple performance management tools, it has unfortunately help them to only map out ‘what’ leaders and team members aim to achieve, and does not lay emphasis on the ‘how’ and the intangible factors that influence employees' performance.
    Read our blog to know more about what drives effective performance management-
    https://blog.peoplehum.com/performance-management/performance-management-system-all-you-need-to-know/#bl

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