Be More is a weekly one-on-one podcast about how everyone can thrive in the new world of work. Hosted by Peakon’s Chief Evangelist, Patrick Cournoyer. This week: Chris Dyer, keynote speaker, bestselling author, and CEO of PeopleG2, on how his business has been adapting to remote work for over a decade.
It’s safe to say that most organisations have faced some form of cultural evolution over the past year. For some, their culture has changed for the better thanks to the adoption of new ways of working. And for others, it’s been a struggle to keep their culture alive and healthy.
Either way, remote working has held a magnifying glass up to existing issues and teething pains alike.
Chris Dyer — author of the bestselling book, The Power of Company Culture and the upcoming Remote Work — is a remote work expert and advocate. In fact, he’s been advocating for remote work long before the pandemic necessitated such action. Moving forward, it’s important to recognise why remote work was become so prevalent even before COVID-19.
If you want to know more about how remote work can be a real ongoing benefit, rather than a symptom of our current situation, then check out the key takeaways, or read the transcript below.
Remote work puts a magnifying glass up to your organisation. So whatever is going on in your company, you go remote and notice everything a bit more.Chris Dyer
- Remote work places a magnifying glass up to your organisation. Which teams are functioning well and which managers are effective at building productive teams becomes much clearer — but the inverse is true as well.
- Don’t go remote if your culture is not well-defined. Remote work won’t improve your culture automatically. There is a process in between that companies can’t skip.
- Shift from customer-focused to employee-focused. Chris and PeopleG2 switched focus in 2009 to become an employee-valued company. If you take care of your employees, they will help you take care of your customers.
- Pair the meeting type with the problem type. PeopleG2’s meetings are designed to be very specific with distinctive names: for example, “Cockroach Meetings”, which are 15 minute blasts focused on one small problem that needs to be fixed.
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Patrick Cournoyer: I feel it’s safe to say that almost every company around the world has seen an element of culture evolution within their organisations over the past year. For some, their culture has changed for the better with the adoption of new ways of working, and for others, it’s been a struggle to keep their culture alive and healthy with the introduction of significant change — an example of which is remote working.
My guest today is an expert in driving workplace performance through company culture. He’s authored a bestselling book which is titled The Power of Company Culture. He hosts Talent Talk, which is a podcast focused on hiring and developing talent, and he’s also the founder and CEO of PeopleG2. He has been an advocate for remote working since day one of his organisation and has had great success leading a fully-remote workforce for over 10 years. Chris, thanks so much for joining the conversation today.
Chris: Well, I’m really excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
Patrick: Excellent. Chris, I’d love to start out just with your overview of how culture has changed at a lot of organisations in the past year. I think one thing to think about is; maybe your organisation is one that has not had a significant culture change in the past year, because it sounds like you were quite set up for operating in 2020 way before the effects of 2020 happened. It’d be interesting to get your perspective on how a lot of organisations have experienced culture change in the past 12 months.
Chris: I think you’re right. I guess it’s a little bit like if gasoline disappeared and you were already driving an electric car. You may be impacted by everybody else around you, but you yourself are doing okay. That’s a little bit how we felt. We certainly had things we had to deal with, but from a culture standpoint, a business standpoint, we were already remote 100% — we’ve been doing this for 10 years. We already have all of those bugs worked out. It was not a huge impact. There were things that happened that we definitely had to deal with. We had real issues, but not cultural issues, not sudden systematic change to how we do business or how we work.
I have certainly seen businesses have really, really difficult times. I think I did 70 trainings and webinars for companies. People came out of the woodwork. Johnson & Johnson and Ikea. I did one for Ikea! They sell furniture and they were like, “How do we work remotely?” I go, “I don’t know, but I’ll help you. I’ll tell you what I can tell you. I don’t know how you sell furniture from your house, but we’ll figure it out.” So everyone did change.
What I really noticed was that remote work — and I think the pandemic too, there’s two parts there, but remote work let’s just say for the first part — really puts a magnifying glass up to your organisation. Whatever it is that’s going on in your company, you go remote and then you just notice everything a bit more. You notice the good gets better, you notice who’s really doing a great job, what teams are really functioning well and what managers really have their teams really working properly.
And you notice the issues. You notice the bad stuff. If your boss or the leader of your organisation walks around managing people by seeing who’s active and who shows up to a meeting and how much paper is rustling over there in that corner, and then they suddenly lose that, they lose their minds, because if they can’t control and manipulate and do all these things, or hold court in their office every day and have everyone listen to them pontificate their total BS. That just gets worse. Now, they make everyone sit on a Zoom call for three hours straight while they just talk incessantly and no one’s really–
We saw examples of it getting worse and we saw examples of it getting better, the best of companies coming out. It really was all over the board. I’ve been saying it for years to people, “Don’t go remote if your culture sucks.” Remote is not going to help you make your culture better. Your culture has to be a thing that you’re working on.
I hate to keep using these simple examples, but you don’t suddenly decide to go climb Mount Everest. Maybe that’s a goal, that’s a cool thing you want to go do and it might give you other things that you want, but you don’t decide to go from sitting on the couch eating potato chips to climbing Mount Everest overnight. There’s a process in between and companies can’t skip that.
Patrick: Tell us a bit about your organisation, because you’ve had the success of incorporating remote work for over 10 years and it’s been incredibly successful. How is your organisation structured? How many people work there, where do you have offices, where do you operate? Just give us a bit of idea and context of the scope of your business.
Chris: There is no office. We used to have one little office where there was a file cabinet for some legal requirements, and now that has loosened up and we don’t need that anymore. There’s a place where the mail goes. If you want to send me a letter, there’s a place where the mail goes. That gets sent to someone based on whatever — people get mail rerouted. Our people are just spread across the country, so there is no centralised place.
Now, because we started the company in Orange County, California, and there were people originally from here, you can feel a little bit of a Pacific Standard Time bias in the organisation, but we have people everywhere. I oversee a group of about 35 people that are the full-time heart of the organisation, but then we also interact with 3,000 independent contractors across the country that at any given time are interacting with us in our meetings, and really at times feel like they’re part of our teams and what’s happening in the organisation; although they are technically independent, they technically do part of their work for other people.
We had to take our blueprint and then suddenly be able to loop five people in for a few days on a project and then loop back out again. We don’t talk to them for a month, but they’re still doing things for us as a part of that process. That’s how our organisation is built.
Patrick: You’ve been on many lists of fastest-growing companies multiple times over the past 15 years.
Chris: Five times. I’m proud of my team. Five times. [laughs]
Patrick: That’s amazing. Obviously, you’ve done a lot of things right and you have a interesting perspective or way of working at your organisation. I think it would be good for us to dig into some of those. What are some of the things that stand out to you? You also, as you said, do a lot of trainings, a lot of facilitated sessions with organisations around the world. Small, really large enterprise or global organisations, so you see how other organisations work, the inner workings of companies. How is your organisation different and what are some of the key operational differences that you have?
Chris: I think first and foremost, we are a company that is built around teams. Our teams are pliable and they move and they change. We have what I call an ‘infinite teams’, meaning your sales team, your customer service team. These teams are going to infinitely exist for as long as the company exists. Then we have these finite teams that come together for projects or initiatives or cool things that somebody in the organisation wants to do. Those teams come together and anybody can be a part of these teams.
I can get into what makes a good team, but one of the big things is they’re self-forming. They decide they want to come together. They decide that this is something cool they want to work on. Not me saying, “I need you five people to go do this thing,” and they’re like, “I don’t have the time for that, I don’t have the energy, I don’t have the passion for that.” Instead, someone says, “We should do this cool thing,” and four or five people raise their hand and go, “That would be cool. I want to be a part of that,” and they go and they do it. We’re very team-focused that way.
We’re decentralised, we’re not hierarchical at all. Everyone knows who their person is they report to if they want a raise or have a real HR issue. They have a line on a chart somewhere, but beyond that, that’s just not how we work. That’s a big takeaway. If you’ve ever read anything by Marcus Buckingham like the Nine Lies About Work. He gets into this really cool thing about culture is not what the organisation thinks culture is or what the organisation is trying to tell you what culture is, it’s actually what your team culture is. Those 5 or 10 people that you work with every day, that interaction and who that team leader is — that’s your company culture.
We picked up on that idea before I read his — his work really crystalised all of that for us, which is awesome — but we picked up on that idea that like we noticed that certain leaders who are fun and everyone want to work for them, that their teams always excelled, and so we went well, let’s just spend more time making the teams more awesome, and less worrying about this large pontificating of, “Here’s our vision, and we’re going to do this thing, and here’s the five words on my wall that you’re supposed to memorise.”
I tell the team leaders what I’m thinking, what my vision is, and where I think we’re going, and then they can go back and they crystallise that back to their team in a way that makes sense for them. I feel like we’re connected, but also very different at the same time. That’s one of the things I think that’s really, really big for us, is that team energy and being able to work that way.
Patrick: How do values work into that at your organisation? I’m just curious, have you had the same set of values over the past 15 years since you- well, longer than that, almost I guess 20 years now, since you originally founded the company. How have your values evolved, because it sounds like your culture is very focused, as you said on how your teams work to your values also. Are they team-based? Do you have corporate values? I’m just curious.
Chris: I think this is one of the tricky things. It’s easy for an organisation to say they have values, and if you’re a Fortune 500 company, maybe you do have some on the wall and maybe you’re trying to lean towards that. If you’re not that big of an organisation, your values as a company are probably the values of the CEO, of the final leader at the top of some pyramid of hierarchical chart that no one ever looks at. At some level, the values of the company are driven by my ultimate values.
That’s the starting point of what we think, and so I set that course. At one point our organisation early on from 2001 until maybe 2013, 2012, we were a customer service focused organisation. That was what our values really permeated around. Then I changed that. In 2009, I changed it to an employee valued company. Our values were first about our employees, because if I take care of my employees and their teams and everything is working for them properly, they’re going to help me meet the goals that I want to meet, and they’re also going to take care of the customers and the vendors and everybody else, because we have taken care of them.
We were skipping that step. All of our focus on was on what does the customer want and how can we keep the customer happy, and we were forgetting about the person in between me and that customer was my employee, and if I wasn’t taking care of them, then they can’t do what’s best for the organisation and for that customer. That was a big shift. Then again shifted in like 2014 or something to, okay, we’re employee-centric, but we’re also a sales-focused organisation. We’re trying to have rapid growth, we’re going to focus on how do we become bigger, how do we sell more?
That really gave us the new focus again on, well, if we want to sell more, we have to be more competitive, which means we have to really think about costs. It gave everyone in different departments different marching orders or at least different inspiration on how they could help us meet those goals. We’ve changed over time, but that’s come from me and then they extrapolate. If I say we’re a sales-focused organisation, what does that mean for operations? Well, that means they need to really work on their costs so that we can really- If we got to be really competitive and go out there and go on low margins, just trying to get this big account so we can grow, that they can help us do that. Well, sales is a totally different focus. Customer service has a totally different focus on that same value that I have now put out there.
The last thing I’ll say about values that has been the most important for us is to actually talk about our values as people, not as much as the organisation. We spend more time talking about our values as individuals. Every two or three years, we go through an exercise with a senior team. I’ll ask them all to write down- you can pull up a list of like 200 or 400 values online. I think I got this exercise from Brene Brown’s book, Dare to Lead.
You just get like a whole list of values and tell everyone, just pick 10 or 12 values you think are you, then like the night before at like 10:00 PM, you send them a text. “Oh, I’m so sorry, can you cut it down to six?” Then when they show up in the morning to do this exercise, you go, “Okay, now I need you to cut it down to five.” You get them to kind of like in an unexpected moment have to cut it down, because they have a really hard time cutting down their list. You get them down to five and then you go around and share. “Here are my five values and why-” Personally, personal values. As it relates to the company, sort of, but it’s still very personal.
“Here are my five values and why are they my values and why-” Talk about it. I have had grown adults weeping in meetings talking about their values, and I’m like, what is going on? I had no intention of ever making anybody cry at work, and I had people really giving up just deep stuff about themselves. When that happened, I’m like, “Ding, ding, ding.” Lights are going, fireworks in my brain.
“I need you all to go do that with your teams now, and let them have that experience inside of their group and share what makes them tick and why.” That kind of values thing on a very micro level has been way more impactful than me saying, “Our corporate values are honesty and blah, blah, blah,” and everyone went, “Yes, okay, Chris, yes, all right,” and then they never thought about it again.
Patrick: I think there’s so much truth in that. I also believe that that is the future for organisations, and competitive organisations in the marketplace, because personal values have never been more connected to the decision-making process of employees and their employers. Where they choose to work — especially with the younger generations as well, millennials, gen Z — they will choose where they work based off of the alignment of the performance of a company. Not financial performance. Their corporate social responsibility, how they interact with their local areas that they work in, what their sustainability goals are, all of these things that are incredibly important to people for the future.
They’re making that connection between, do I want to work for a company that doesn’t share the same values, we’ll call them values, but basically what I’m passionate about as a person, does my company share that passion or show that passion as well? I think there’s a lot that organisations have to think about as they build for the future, with the majority of the workplace being millennials and gen Z over the next two to three years. Thank you for sharing that with us as well, because I think that’s a great perspective.
Let’s jump back to how your company runs. We had an interesting conversation as we were preparing for the podcast around meetings and how you approach meetings. First, let’s talk about: how do you effectively have meetings as a fully remote workforce? Let’s talk a little bit about one-on-one meetings because I know that’s a bit of a difference, but first let’s talk about group meetings. How do you effectively do that because that is a challenge point for a lot of companies right now?
Chris: All companies need to have meeting types and curate meetings in a way that makes sense for them. I’ve heard examples of a golf company that came up with the 19 holes of good meetings. It was these cute little rules about what they valued around what made a good meeting. That was good for them. I’m a firm believer that everything that’s right in the world and everything that is wrong in the world is because of a system. Systematic things that occur are intentional things that create the environment around us. Now we could take that into politics. We could take that into systematic racism.We could take that into healthcare. We take that into poverty.
Let’s stay with business here, and we can say, you can take that back into how we meet, and how we collaborate and whether or not people are heard and whether or not good ideas surface to the right people. That’s all based on your system and how you curate that to begin with. Now, I read a great book called The Art of Gathering, and a fantastic book around how do you curate these experiences?
Now the author really got into all these different types of meetings and dinner parties and like political leaders coming together to have armistices and stuff, but I learned so many things out of that and it reaffirmed this belief that if you don’t tell people how to work, employees are looking for cues all day long on how they’re supposed to act. What are they supposed to do? When is it the right time to do that? That is a system. That is your culture, those are the norms. Those are the things that happen.
You have to be in a most boring, terrible way, overly rigid and overly explanatory to people about what’s expected. What we do, is we have almost no one-on-one meetings. That is because I think teams are more powerful. I think a group of people — and science has proven this, there’s a million books I can refer you to where this has been shown to be true over and over again — a group of people will outperform two people all day long, or one person all day long.
So if you keep calling one person at work to get help, the amount of ideas and your progress is fairly limited. You’re also not able to move the organisation along faster, because if you come together with five people, all those people now understand what’s happening and they know what’s going on and they have ideas, so things can move so much faster. You don’t have to spend time repeating and regurgitating and all of that.
We design our meetings to be very specific. We gave them cute names because cute names and little funny ways to remember things stick in people’s brains, so we’re playing on that a little bit. In my book, I talked about all these different companies that do different things. Like Walmart’s got these acronyms that are longer than just saying the word sometimes. The acronyms give their people that sense of like, “We have our own special language, our own code.” Disney uses cast members and they have all these words that are just like differences.
It’s like tribal speak. I don’t know if you’ve ever been somewhere in the world and no one around you is speaking your language, and you suddenly hear someone speaking your language and you’re like, “Whoa.” You bolt right to them and you have a conversation. You’re like, “Oh, you’re from Kansas. I’m from California. Oh, that’s cool.” If I ran across that person today, I would ignore them because I’m in my place, but when you’re in a foggy situation and you hear a common language, you’re suddenly connected, you’re suddenly with that person. That’s what, in a business context, we want to have some business language that’s special to our company.
Longest answer in the world. I apologise. I’ll get into the meeting times now. We do a few meetings. The most common meeting is a ‘cockroach meeting’. Imagine you have a cockroach in your bathroom. It’s a small problem. You may not want to be the one that cleans it up, but it’s not a big deal. It’s a small problem. We can fix this, right? 15 minute-meeting or less, optional to attend. Remember, you don’t always want to be the one that cleans up the cockroach. It’s optional for people to attend if they are invited. Invite anybody you want. There is no hierarchy. You can invite the CEO. You can invite someone in sales. Even though it’s a marketing or a customer service issue, you can invite anybody you want.
It has to start on time. Within the first 60 seconds of that meeting, it has to start. If anyone is late, they have to sing. Usually, we pick the song and if they are a good singer, then we make them recite terrible poetry or something. Give them some other punishment. That rarely happens. That usually happens once every maybe two years or something and when someone has to sing, everyone hears about it and everyone’s reminded. We start meetings on time here. We value everyone’s time. No one’s time is more important than someone else’s. If you are a CEO and you walk in 10 minutes late to a meeting, think how much money you just spent. All those people’s salaries of that 10 minutes, just sitting there waiting for you. If you don’t care about people, you should at least care about your bottom line. You should start meetings on time.
We start on time. 15 minutes. One topic only. We do not talk about anything else. If that meeting is about company XYZ that is unhappy about their turnaround times on this one thing, that is all we talk about. Then we try to end the meeting early. There’s a cognitive bias called Parkinson’s Law that says, “If you set an amount of time to do something, it tends to take you that amount of time to do it.” If we set a goal to end early, we won’t fill that time up full of junk just to make that 15 minutes happen. Our brains are trying to get us to 15 minutes for some reason.
Those are the rules of that one. We also have ‘ostrich meetings’, exact same rules, one topic. All the same rules apply, except this is just, “Help me get my head out of the sand. I don’t know something. Who in the company knows about this thing?” We’re not going to solve any problems. They don’t need you to come prepared to do work. I just need you to fill me in. How do I write an Excel formula? Why does this customer get all these special things? How do I code? Whatever: it’s just informational. Come and teach me, please. I need help. That’s a really important distinction between solving problems and, “I need people to help teach me.” It’s a different energy and different people show up. Again, optional.
The next one is a ‘tiger team meeting’. Imagine there’s a tiger in your bathroom. If there’s a tiger in your bathroom, it’s a lot bigger deal, right? You’re going to need help. You’re going to need a dart gun. You might need a crane. You might need animal control. We’re going to have to plan and coordinate and come up with all these things we’re going to do to be able to deal with the tiger. This is a big issue. We’re going to lose our largest client. Our largest vendor wants to raise our prices. There’s a pandemic ravaging the world, right? What are these giant issues that we have to get together and meet about? That meeting is mandatory to attend. It is called by a manager. You better come prepared. There is a strict agenda. The time is set, but it may be an hour, maybe four hours. It may be an all-day with breaks, based on how big the issue is. We’re coming into the battle room and we’re going to have to do some big heavy lifting here.
The focus is different. I think the problem that people have had is that they are basically scheduling tiger team meetings for hours on end all day long, for things that are cockroach meetings and ostrich meetings. They should be meeting separately in little groups, in little pockets of time. They could meet for 15 minutes with someone on their team and then go work hard for 45 minutes on the stuff they need to do. Come back, help some people get some things figured out, go back do their work.
Now, the last, and I think probably the most important meeting is the ‘tsunami planning meeting’. That is the, “What if?” This meeting is what creates the system and the norms that I talked about. This one tends to be 30 minutes. We do it once a month in every infinite team. They are given a prompt. The leader comes up with a random prompt. “What if Chris got hit by a bus tomorrow and was in a coma? What would we do?” What if our business doubled overnight? What if there was a pandemic?
It is a fake prompt so that the team can practice having a discussion, practice being heard, practice disagreeing. This idea of practicing having an argument with your team, and practicing having a debate and showing good manners and good behaviours and when to speak up and when to be a good listener, actually facilitates good meetings the rest of the month throughout the organisation because we are showing them what we expect.
If the leader picks up on someone not talking, talking too much, being rude, running over people, then we can go back and coach that person and say, “Hey, I noticed you didn’t talk that whole meeting. Why? Why did that happen? What would make you feel more comfortable?” We can get people to do the things we want them to do in the real meetings all the time. I’ll pause there. I’m sure you have some questions.
Patrick: That’s amazing, first off. I can completely see how the tsunami planning meetings can be so impactful. This concept of “what if” and just going through the steps to have an effective meeting, and to resolve something effectively, really must be super-effective, so when that tiger situation comes up, or when there is something that really needs to be solved that is not the cockroach, that you’re highly functioning. You’ve prepared in how you interact with each other. You have practiced respectfully pushing back. Ensuring that everybody is involved in the conversation. I think that’s amazing. I would think many, many companies don’t do that.
I used to work in the airline industry. We used to do a lot of these scenario-based situations on a regular basis, because obviously, when you work in a type of operation like that, you have to be consistently prepared for something that’s going to happen. In general, most organisations don’t just take that 30 minutes to just prepare for “what if” situations. I think that’s a really smart and thoughtful way of looking at more effective working between people.
Chris: I’m always surprised too. They come back to me sometimes with really awesome ideas. Once I get past the practice of how we’re supposed to act in a meeting and how we’re supposed to interact and argue and all of that, we’ve given them the norms and we’ve shown them it’s safe. It’s okay. Your boss is not going to fire you for telling them, “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” or noticing other employees are telling their boss, “No, that would never work.” We show them that psychological safety. Beyond that, once that’s been established, if your team doesn’t change too much, you notice that they think, “Hey, I get it. This is a place I’m allowed to talk. I get it.” Then they start coming up with cool ideas.
Millions of people watched an apple fall, and it was Newton who asked why. That was because the guy is sitting in the field and he had time to think and was inquisitive. Didn’t just ignore all the things happening around him, and instead had time to ask why, or to question, what if? That’s where we find great ideas.
Patrick: You talked about psychological safety a minute ago. As you were talking through that process around your tsunami planning meetings, I also thought about the fact that; talk about being able to create an environment where people can just feel comfortable and bring their full selves to work and feel comfortable with, as you said, disagreeing, and having it be in a way that is not retaliated against, and because they’re in a safe environment to be able to do that, so that when they need to do that, or when disagreement happens, that it’s not an uncomfortable situation, it’s not a taboo situation to disagree.
I think that is an area that so many organisations are really focused on and need to be focused on for this year is, how do we create environments where people feel comfortable, feel they can be themselves, feel they can communicate in an effective way in a work environment? You’re very fortunate that you’ve created that, because many organisations, as you know, are struggling with that today.
Chris: Again, if anybody hears anything, it’s create the system and train the people to help you manage the system, and then they will run with our good ideas. The managers will do great things inside of that, what you’ve created, but if you don’t build the freeways and the on-ramps and the off-ramps and you don’t build the streets and things like that, people can’t move, they can’t do the things they need to do. You’re leaving them out in the desert to drive a car instead of driving it on a nice clean highway. Those are the things I think, that’s where leaders need to spend their time, is working on that part of it, and less in the micro stuff. Well, why did someone make that mistake? Then blowing that little tiny thing up, that cockroach-type thing, turning a cockroach issue into a tiger issue. That’s what we want to avoid.
Patrick: As we were talking about this, you had mentioned at the start of the conversation around meetings that you said you have very few, if any, one-on-one meetings. I struggle a bit with the concept of that because I think a struggle area that I see is, how do you provide the opportunity for people to have that coaching or feedback, or that focused time with somebody in your organisation for development, mentoring, or all of the things that may be more of a one-on-one or maybe classically a one-on-one interaction within a workplace?
Chris: There’s a couple of things there. I have my, I call it the tiger’s den, they’re my senior team. It’s the people that are directly reporting to me, there’s four of them. I have a 15-minute open spot on my calendar for them on Mondays, if they want it. I have my Zoom on, the same Zooming for all of them. They have a 15 minutes slot and they come in there to say what are they working on this week, and what are their obstacles? Where do they need my help? If they need my sword to come in and help them clear the way, my machete, I can do that and we can talk. Most of our development though is done as a group. We have our tiger den meeting once a week and once a month, we do an all-day strategic session.
In that strategic session, we’re talking about big things and where are we trying to go. We also, each person has to go around and do a presentation on what’s happening in their department, inside of the organisation for them, and they get feedback and they get pushback and they get questions and they get all of that from the entire senior team. It is all of our jobs to help develop that person together, to help the organisation. It is not my job only to sit and coach you, and you’re only getting the value of my opinions and my coaching or my experiences. Instead, you’re getting four other people who are smart and intelligent and they’ve had experiences and know things to tell you what they’re seeing. That allows, I think, larger growth.
I will also about maybe once a year, every 18 months. I will send two or three of them at a time to some sort of a learning, some sort of a course or a class or something, and then they will bring that back. We won’t all do it, but two of them will do it, and then they’ll come back and they’ll teach the rest of us what they learned and we’ll discuss it, and we’ll talk about it. Get inspired. We tend to read one book about every month — we were a little shaky during COVID. There was a need to push that back at times. We maybe, probably did seven books last year. As a team, we read a book and then we discussed it and we talked about the themes and why it was important.
We are finding ways as a group to coach each other, and I find that — especially for people who want to grow — it’s way better to have a group of people helping you. And for people who are stubborn and don’t want to change, and don’t see their issues, and don’t see their shortcomings, it’s a lot harder to ignore them when you’ve got a team of people telling you, “You’re doing this thing,” instead of just, “Well, my boss is a jerk or my boss doesn’t get it. That’s just something that one person doesn’t like about me and they can excuse it.” Four people telling you, “Dude, you’re always late to meetings. You’re sending the wrong message. This is a complaint. You’ve got to be better about this.” You get a mob telling you, you’ve got to change, it’s a lot different than one person just yelling.
Patrick: That’s quite insightful. I can see how that is successful because I agree with you. I think that being able to gather insights, thoughts, feedback from a group of people always resonates more effectively. How do you handle recognition within your organisation? Do you have a recognition program or is there a structured recognition system? I’m assuming there is, and I’m assuming you’ve had some success with that. How do you handle that?
Chris: There’s only in my opinion, only two types of recognition programs that actually work. The first program I’ll tell you is mine, which is, ours is completely voluntary. We have Slack, we have a water cooler room that we’ve created. In that water cooler room, people can talk about anything they want, as long as it’s work appropriate. Where we say happy birthday, it’s where people share pictures of their kids scoring a goal in a soccer game or whatever. It’s just the general area where people talk.
That’s also the place where we go to thank people and we have what’s called a green flag. We have a little emoticon, it’s a little green flag. Someone comes in and says, “Hey, Mike just landed this big account, green flag, way to go, Mike.” Everyone who’s online at that time jumps in, “Green flag. Way to go. Awesome. I know you’re working hard on that.”
What it is is it’s public, but it’s also not so public that I’m putting someone on the stage or on Zoom. I have a lot of introverts in my company. If I put them up in front of everyone, they would literally prefer to eat dirt than to be on camera or on stage being recognised in front of them. As a card-carrying extrovert, I’m like, “Get me on stage. I want that. Yes, please.” I can live with just the water cooler. Thank you. We don’t track it. Nobody gets a gift card or a raise or a bonus on how many green flags you get.
There’s no gaming the sytem here. We really coach our people to give the green flags first, and we tell our managers to limit the amount of green flags I get. If they don’t feel like someone’s getting a green flag, they should pick up the phone and call someone and say, “Hey, can you go give a green flag to Melissa? I noticed she did this awesome thing.” We want it to come from the bottom up. My people run the recognition program. It is their program.
They manage it, they run it, they do it. I was the idea person behind it but I give very few green flags. I give them after. I’m a part of the celebration, but it is very rare that I’m the starting point because that’s intentional. All people really want is for someone to say, thank you. To just give you a pat on the back, to just be like, “I recognise what you did.” It’s impossible for leaders to see everything that’s going on, so if your person who you work with the most notice you did something good, they’re the ones that are going to pop in and say, “Thank you,” and the rest of the team can see it, and we all celebrate it. It works because there’s no gaming, there’s no reward. There’s no material reward to it.
On the flip side, big organisations can leverage a different type of recognition program. You could do this decentralised thing like we do and that would work. Caesar’s Entertainment would be the best example of a good recognition program from a big company. What they do, is they have a point system and people are rewarded points and they take those points and they can go and use them to buy basically iPads and bicycles. They have a shop full of stuff that you can buy based on the points that you bank.
The reason it works is that the points are delivered from the customer. If you go to Caesar’s and you’re a guest in the hotel and you fill out their survey at the end and say, “Yes, my room was cleaned. My person who cleaned my room was fantastic. The dealers were all super nice to me.” Whoever they recognise is doing something great, that entire team gets points, not just the person, an entire team of people that interacted with that guest, get points that they then can save and bank to go buy things.
It works for two reasons. One, as they admit, most of the people working for Caesar’s would maybe not be able to afford to buy an iPad that year. These are not jobs that are high paying jobs, and so they can bank these things to buy things for themselves or their family, their kids…It has a big impact on their lives to be able to have access to this.
Number two, they can’t game the system. The customer is the one giving the points, and even if they do give the points, even if they got the customer to somehow- they manipulated them to mention them on the card, the points are going to go their entire team, not just that person individually. That system works really well for them. They spend millions and millions of dollars on that program every year. It’s complicated and it’s big and it’s whatever, but that works for them for those reasons.
If you’re not doing one of those two things, I would argue you probably have a broken recognition program because someone’s gaming it. Three of our people get together and they know if they all just keep recognising each other then they’re going to get that gift card at the end of the month, and then you disenfranchise other people. Your extroverts have taken it over. Your introverts aren’t being paid attention to. I mean, there’s something broken in there if it doesn’t fit one of those two models that I’ve given.
Patrick: Chris, so much great conversation today. I love your perspective, your different approach to running your organisation. You’ve shared a lot of really thoughtful and thought-provoking perspectives today. For probably many people in the audience that are looking at how their organisations are structured, how they’re going to effectively operate for the next year — at least the next year — and incorporating just new ways of working. It sounds like you’ve had a lot of success with looking at things from a different perspective, and I celebrate that.
I think it’s amazing. I love when people organisations, do things differently and can share that success with others as they’re going along their own individual journey. We appreciate it. As a reminder, for people to hear you, you have a great podcast titled Talent Talk. Your book is also titled The Power of Company Culture and you have a second book or you’re working on a second book. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Chris: Yes, the next book will come out here in May. You can pre-order that on Amazon or wherever you buy books online. I think currently it shows some really expensive hardcover on Amazon for the pre-order but don’t worry there’s a paperback that’s much more affordable. Don’t be scared by that. I think they’re fixing that little issue at the publisher but, yes, wherever you buy books: Remote Work.
It’s got a lot of the stuff from the original book. It’s got some of the culture things, but it’s really how to have a remote organisation, or a remote team or to build one. If you’re going to have remote work now, forever or hybrid, we’re really going to- It’s myself and my coauthor who also had a remote organisation for years, and many times she was my mentor. We have all of the best different perspectives. A lot of awesome case studies from generals in military to big, big top CEOs that suddenly found themselves 100% remote in the pandemic and what they did.
A company that staffed 5,000 nurses in New York when they were hit with their biggest thing. How did they handle that? Real lessons from different industries, and different people, and different companies on how to make remote work work for you.
Patrick: That is going to a great read. What’s the title of the book?
Chris: Just Remote Work. It’s so easy to remember it.
Patrick: That’s it, Remote Work. We will check it out on Amazon. Chris, thank you so much for spending time with me today. I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you again for your perspectives.
Chris: Thank you so much for having me.