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Scaling Culture — The Toughest Job For Founders: Five Questions with Ian Berry

I met Ian nearly a decade ago on a flight. During our conversation, and in a time prior to my first venture but during my first episode of intrapreneurship, Ian impressed the idea that a leader’s role, beyond helping to create more leaders, is to do everything possible to create and maintain environments that allow people to be the best version of themselves.

In one of the best posts of 2015 Kim Scott presented how radical candour is a linchpin to scaling culture. I was moved by the obviousness of this idea and starting introducing this at AirShr. I was also fortunate to discuss it with Ian.

Yes I totally agree.

Corporate anthropologist Michael Henderson says “Culture is what it means to be human here.” I think this is very insightful. What should be front and centre of every business is what is means to be human there.

In my work with business leaders over the past 25 years, helping them to be a human being fully alive, and to be the best version of themselves, is the forefront of my work.

When leaders are being the best version of themselves they engage in the art of ensuring people feel valued, which for me is the essence of leadership. When employees feel valued, they live their values and deliver value to other employees, customers/clients, and other stakeholders of the business. Employees feeling valued, living values, and delivering value is fundamental in my experience for scaling culture and sustaining high performance.

I work with candour a lot in my work. I’ve come to see it as one side of a coin that’s pivotal to increased and sustainable momentum in a business, regardless of products and/or services. Being convivial is the other side of the coin.

When candid and convivial communication and conversations are integral to daily work scaling culture is a consequence. Pixar is perhaps the best known role model using candour effectively as a critical success factor for their success. I have many clients not as well known, yet nevertheless who are great role models too.

Having regular 1:1 check-ins is one way to ensure the scaling of culture and relationships. Regular check-ins are a pivotal aspect of candid and convivial communication and conversations. Technology of course make this easy when people are working off-site. For people who are co-located I’m a strong proponent of walking while meeting, it can make a big difference to the context of the conversation.

I also recommend teams undertake After Action Reviews. I often facilitate these with my clients. What’s really important is understanding what happened and which learnings can be taken into the future, central to this is a review of how behaviours influenced decision making and the outcome. All too often it’s assumed that learnings are automatically understood and accepted by team members. This is rarely the case.

Creating routines and rituals that place value on reflecting how the behaviours of each value played out on each project is a great first step.

When I first start working with organisations, I work to understand in what’s worth celebrating and what can be better in terms of the ‘Seven Areas of Significance’:

  1. Where are we now? (Reality)
  2. Where are we going? (Possibility)
  3. Why are we going there? (Purpose)
  4. How will we get there? (Strategy)
  5. Who will do what, and when? (Execution)
  6. How will we know we’re on track? (Milestones and Lead Measures)
  7. How will we behave along the way? (Culture and Values)

Maintaining routines and rituals that are anchored to each team member’s visibility and clear understanding these seven areas is critical to scaling culture. Not surprisingly it’s also key to creating and sustaining competitive advantage.

All success begins with giving and not being attached to getting back. The great paradox of having such a mindset is that we get back a thousand fold!

I think the key to giving is making it a habit. Personally I do this through my partnership with B1G1 meaning in my case that every time someone buys one of my Changing What’s Normal books 12 families in need receive nourishing meals. B1G1 is approaching 100 million giving actions and is a fine example of the power of small and giving as a habit tied to business transactions.

My wife and I also are in the long term habit of giving regularly to causes we feel passionate about. Helping to provide education for children through World Vision is something we’ve been doing for over 20 years. A key to both of the above examples is that small contributions tied to business actions by lots of people make a significant difference.

About Ian — An author and consultant who has been helping business owners and leaders achieve ‘Better Business Results, Less Personal Cost’ since 1991. You can continue a conversation with Ian by contacting him here.

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I write about what I see building companies. Currently growing dropbio.com

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