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Living your values and other keys to building company culture

The skeptics among us tend to view company culture, corporate values and mission statements as hokey and ultimately meaningless. But to Shane Green, a consultant who coaches companies on improving their culture, there’s a direct line linking cultural breakdowns to scandals such as those that have plagued Wells Fargo and Volkswagen.

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“Culture is the most important business thing today,” Green writes in Culture Hacker. Green, who’s based in Las Vegas, spoke to getAbstract about the advice he’s giving companies.

How does a company go about building a vibrant culture?

Green: First things first: Have you got your values in place? I look at values like the rules of the sandbox. How are your employees going to interact not only with each other but also with customers? The next step is we have to have a really good selection process. Companies are still using behavioral interview questions from 10 years ago. Every interviewee has nailed those behavioral questions. What we’ve worked on is doing group interviews and activity-based interviews. A lot of companies have started bringing people on temporarily, for 30 days or 60 days. If you can really do what you said you can do in the interview, we’ll give you a job. I really think in today’s economy, you’re going to see more of this testing out. And the next step is the onboarding and training process. The first day on the job needs to set the priorities around mission, values, purpose. A lot of companies just throw people on the job on the first day. What’s the message? Just get the job done.

Activity-based interviews? Give me an example.

Green: We just did a cool one for a huge hotel here in Las Vegas. We brought about 200 applicants in, and we were looking for 40 people. We divided the interview process into parts. The first hour was a social outing. There was no alcohol, but there was coffee and food. The applicants would start mixing with other people, and we had 10 coaches sprinkled in there. We wanted to see if the applicants had social skills. Then we went into a room and rated people on their social skills, and we invited those who passed on to the second phase. The next part of the activity was that we gave them an app they probably hadn’t seen before. We gave them five minutes to learn the technology, and then they had to come teach it to us. We were trying to gauge their comfort around technology, whether they were comfortable using an iPad in front of people. Again, we invited those that passed on to the next stage. In the third phase, we gave them a photo of a guest, and on the back we had some details about the person’s story and interests. We said, “You’ve got this guest. Recommend a great day out in Las Vegas.” We wanted to see if they could recommend some experiences that were outside the normal activities. After that, we did a traditional interview with a manager. But first we were able to narrow it down to people with great social skills, who demonstrated comfort around technology and who were able to curate and recommend an experience that’s outside the box.

What’s the most common mistake companies make on the culture front?

Green: I’d come back to the whole ideas of values. Unfortunately, a lot of managers see values as bullshit — words on a wall. Whether it is Uber, whether it is Wells Fargo, whether it is Volkswagen, mistakes happen. Uber was just all over the place. As we’re learning more about Uber, it’s clear it was a complete bro network. There’s no telling how many billions in value have disappeared as a result. Wells Fargo was focused on getting accounts opened. Volkswagen was focused on emissions. Volkswagen claimed to value sustainability, but their actions were the opposite of that. The reality is that when you’re overly focused on metrics, you’re going to get found out in today’s world. Companies are not paying enough attention to how people are acting. You can’t focus only on numbers, and values can’t be a piece of paper with a bunch of words. It has to be something you live every day. When Google ran into an issue with an employee making statements that didn’t fit the company’s values, they let the gentleman go. Google came out immediately and said his views didn’t reflect the company, and that story died in a week. But companies that try to BS values are going to get found out.

What are some companies that get it right?

Green: I hate to be a broken record, but it’s the companies you always hear about. I came from Ritz-Carlton. They treated their people as ladies and gentlemen. The day I joined there as a manager, I was told that the guest is no longer my priority. My priority is the people who work for me. By creating a great culture for the employees, you create a great customer experience. Southwest Airlines has a great culture, and they treat their people well. Starbucks, Disney and Zappos all do it well. The problem is that people will go to training at Ritz-Carlton or the Disney Institute and think they can take those practices back to their company. Companies say, “I’m going to just act like Disney.” It’s fine to take lessons from Disney, but it’s impossible to copy Disney. Disney’s Disney. You have to come up with your own culture.

The U.S. economy is at full employment, and employers lament the lack of available workers. Does a tight labor market make the culture hacking approach more challenging?

Green: The employment situation makes culture an even bigger priority. The war is over, and labor won. There’s plenty of people out there looking for jobs, but finding the right fit is a challenge. Especially with today’s younger work force, when they’re looking for jobs, they’re looking for culture and purpose. It’s critical that companies are investing and putting that stake in the ground. The reality is that turn and burn is costing companies a lot, and hurting the bottom line. It’s also hurting your customers, because you’ve always got new people coming in. The only way you’re going to succeed is by building a system to attract and retain talent.

About Shane Green

Shane Green is a world-renowned keynote speaker, author, television personality, and consultant to global Fortune 500 leaders on customer experience and organizational culture. Shane draws on his foundation at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and his work in multiple industries, to help clients transform customer experiences by improving employee habits and mindsets. As president and founder of SGEi, Shane leads a team of professionals who inspire iconic brands like the NBA, Westfield, Foot Locker, Net Jets, Inc.., W Hotels, and BMW to reprogram their employee experiences—in order to create loyal customers and raving fans.

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