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E91 | Cultivating Company Culture in a Crisis with Melissa Daimler

How is your company culture looking? Worried that it’s taken a hit during the ongoing pandemic? What can you do to stop your best employees leaving? 

Who better to provide the answers to these questions than the doyenne of culture herself, Melissa Daimler. 

Melissa cut her teeth at Adobe, Twitter and latterly, WeWork, leading their learning and development efforts globally. Today she helps organisations, predominantly tech firms in Silicon Valley, operationalise their culture.

“There’s just a lot of companies who are now realising having seen the downfall of WeWork and other companies that if you don’t pay attention to that [company culture], you know, things fall apart on the business side.”

In today’s episode, Melissa shares her thoughts on company culture and her model for how to make culture real in an organisation and how you take a value statement, and how you then turn that value statement into a set of behaviours that you overlay with performance expectations. 

“Make sure that if you have values, that they’re not just values on a wall, that they’re actually behaviours that you can see and experience in the daily workings of the company. And if that’s not true don’t even have them. Don’t bother.”

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  

On today’s podcast:

  • Operationalising your culture
  • Why culture isn’t ‘the fuzzy stuff’
  • The impact of culture on employee churn
  • The theme of bad meetings
  • Embracing remote working
  • How to maintain company culture in this new normal


The importance of company culture with Melissa Daimler

If you want to grow your organisation, one of your top priorities should be to nail down a really great company culture. That isn’t to say you simply write a list of values and pin them to the wall. What that means is creating a system of processes around your core values and ensuring that every employee works to promote them. 

So who better to listen to and learn from about what makes a great culture and how to implement this culture in your business, than Melissa Daimler. 

“I really have sought out in my career to, you know, one of the main roles I’ve played is connector and curator. How do you take all the information that’s happening, you know, that’s relevant for your business in the world? How do you take that into the organisation, and then figure out based on your values and behaviours, what we need to learn.”

Melissa has held roles with Adobe, Twitter and WeWork. She has made a career out of creating systems that unlock both individual and organisational capacity and along the way she’s learned what works and what doesn’t work, as well as what needs to evolve in rapidly changing times. 

“In recent years the focus has been on values, culture, and mission. Too many companies preach, but don’t practice these ideals, resulting in missed opportunities to inspire people to meet their own potential.”

Culture and the crisis

Now in particular is a great time to improve your culture. Everything is amplified right now, every action you take, every communication you make, how you do it matters. 

“My whole kind of premise is that every action you take is a communication. You know, I think everything that you’re doing and how you’re doing it right now is being watched. And so, you know, I think that crisis amplifies culture.”

And this pandemic has laid the foundations for all businesses, should they wish to re-evaluate their current company culture, and if necessary, take the opportunity to double down on how they’re working, particularly from a leadership perspective. 

Because a lot of companies are struggling right now in terms of what to do to weather the COVID-19 storm. 

Operationalise culture

How do you know if your company culture is working? It isn’t something that is easily measured, 

“I think so often people define culture as ‘the way things are done around here’ or, you know, it’s what people do when the manager isn’t looking and all this fuzzy stuff. And I don’t think that’s what culture is. I don’t think that’s what it can be. I actually think it can be something that is more concrete.”

Melissa defines culture as more than simply a set of values, for her, it’s the behaviours that accompany those values that you can actually observe. Those behaviours that you can see people doing. And these behaviours need to be integrated into your processes and your practices. They need to be in every aspect of daily company life, from how you interview people, how you onboard them, how you do promotions, to how you give feedback.

“If we’re clear about and define our expectations of what we want people to do, or what we’re supposed to do with each other, how we work with each other, then when it comes time to these processes that are normally really challenging, it’s just so much more clear because we have more of a playbook on how to work with each other.”

The myths of culture

One of the biggest myths of culture is that you only need to define your values once and then they’re done. You don’t need to revisit them again. But you wouldn’t write your business strategy and then never go back to it. 

Values, like strategy, should be an organic process that is revisited along with behaviours, because over time, as you grow, they change. And you need to make sure, as your company grows that you stay aligned to the values that you said you were all about.

But don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t there yet, even the big giants still get it wrong. 

“With Twitter, I think they had amazing values. You know, there were 10 values that were created, bottom up from an engineer. But when I asked people what they meant, and how that looked day to day, people couldn’t really tell me. So, we built more specific behaviours and org skills around them so people understood what it meant to exemplify each value.”

Teach your values

Finally, if you want your values to become embodied in your organisation, you need to teach them, to demonstrate them, to show people how you want them played out, how each value can be exemplified. 

For example, if one of your values is to be a team player, then teach employees the behaviour that is required to demonstrate being a team player. That way, your values playbook becomes an easy concept for people to understand. 

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