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Behind the Numbers Podcast: Making Mondays Great

JOSH LEVINE, APR 25, 2022: Dave Bookbinder goes Behind The Numbers with Josh Levine, Managing Partner, Corporate Culture Design for Technology and Social Enterprise, and author of Great Mondays.

In this episode, Josh discusses the main components of corporate culture and why is should be a core business strategy. He also shares tips for how to retain top talent in a challenging market, and how to scale culture in a merger/acquisition scenario.

Listen to the full podcast on Stitcher, Spotify, or Apple.


Speaker 1 - Dave Bookbinder (00:24):

Hi everyone. And welcome to Behind the Numbers. I'm Dave Bookbinder. I am a managing director at B Reilly financial, and I'm also the author of the new ROI - return on individuals today. I've got an interesting guest who says that Mondays are great, or at least they should be. Please welcome Josh Levine, who's the author of “Great Mondays.” Josh, welcome to Behind the Numbers.

Speaker 2 - Josh Levine (00:43):

Hey, thanks for having me.

Speaker 1 (00:45):

That's my pleasure. Josh, why don't you tell the audience a little bit about who you are?

Speaker 2 (00:49):

Yeah, so, um, my name's Josh, I run an agency called great Mondays and wrote a book called Great Mondays because I believe that business has the opportunity to help itself by helping its employees be more engaged in the work that they do. And that's gonna help everyone in the long run.

Speaker 1 (01:08):

Yeah. And I think that's probably, the answer to my next question here, but maybe you can expound a little bit. Tell us a little bit about what the book is about and what inspired you to write it.

Speaker 2 (01:18):

Yeah, absolutely. So about 15 years ago, I came, I left a job in brand strategy and realized that the biggest difference that I feel like organizations could make, that they weren't, was really investing in company culture. So I dug in and tried to figure out what that was and what the definition was and how to do it. And it didn't seem to be a very good answer. And so, along with some colleagues of mine, we, we came up with, six components that helped organizations that could help organizations really dig in. And that's what I wrote about in my book. The tools, the levers to pull in order to help engage their employees because up until then was really kind of, uh, “ping pong and pizza”. People sort of responded, uh, leaders would say, “oh, what we need to, we need to make things, people happier around here. Let's install a, a cold brew machine or something like that.” And, that really is, is not, not the right way to go about things. And so that's, that's really what I tried to articulate in the book and, um, communicate with a series of tools and frameworks to help leaders think more strategically and more rigorously about what, up until now, has been kind of a fuzzy subject.

Speaker 1 (02:39):

Yeah, for sure. Fuzzy is a great word to describe it. Um, but I'm hoping that the tide is turning now. I, I do see, a lot of posts on LinkedIn for instance, where folks are seemingly recognizing that the toys and, you know, the ping pong tables, aren't the answer. Um, you mentioned six components of, of culture. Would you mind delving into that here?

Speaker 2 (03:01):

Yeah, absolutely. So six components are actually in two categories. The first three all are about, uh, designing the culture. So purpose values and behaviors. Purpose is the peak of the mountain. What's gonna inspire people to get up in the morning and, and answer the question why, why are we doing this? Uh, values are the guardrails to get to that peak. Those are the three to five most important things that we need to focus on and behaviors are really the result. That's why we focus on, uh, culture. And so we articulate where we're headed with those three. So purpose, values and behaviors. Now the second three are, are all about activation, um, recognition, rituals, and cues. So recognition, everybody knows there's recognition and rewards programs. Those have been around for a long time, but they're not done well and they're not done right. They're rewarding outcomes.

Speaker 2 (03:52):

And really my point of view is that they need to be rewarding values, driven behaviors. Um, rituals are how we connect with one another. Um, relationships are the synapses of culture and that's how, when we work so hard to create the kind of, uh, culture that we need, we need to share that between individuals and between groups, um, and cues are the reminders as to why we're here. We're busy. Uh, we get busy drowned in emails and quarter-end reports, but the most, um, most important piece of this is not to forget. And so cues are gonna be behavioral and physical reminders of the culture that we're trying to achieve. So that's the six components and it goes around as a self-reinforcing cycle can be either if it's done well, it could go up. If it's not, well, then it will reinforce itself downwards.

Speaker 1 (04:44):

Yeah. And Josh, how have you found the, uh, remote work environment impacting these, these core principles?

Speaker 2 (04:51):

Yeah, well, the biggest one is really around relationships. Isn't it? Um, there's a number of studies that have come out to say that we've spent more time and gotten closer with our, with immediate teams and drifted further away from those loose connections. And that's problematic when we're trying to figure out, um, what I say in the book, the who's and the what's of the organization. So if you work within an organization of any, of any significant size, you need to really be able to understand what's happening in the world. So we don't have the tools just yet to be able to, um, connect with one another beyond our immediate teams in a really effective way, both, um, formally what's happening and, you know, who's responsible for what, but more importantly, informally, because that's really where the relationships build. And to me, that is one of the biggest, um, problems and why folks are having such a hard time and you hear folks like Jamie diamond say, and the work has to be in the room.

Speaker 2 (05:54):

We have to be here. Well, I think that's because we don't have those tools to have those relationships yet, and to work collaboratively. We can do it, but that's gonna be the biggest, that's the biggest pressure that I've seen from, uh, my clients is, is really this like weakening of relationships. And I think if, if I'm, if I'm correct, I think in the next year or so, you're gonna start to see the result of that. And it's gonna be kind of scary because it's gonna be a decrease in collaboration, a decrease in innovation, decrease in creating value.

Speaker 1 (06:25):

Yeah. I had a guest on last week who was talking about the Great Resignation leading to ultimately the Great Termination. Um, but I don't wanna go down that path just yet. What I do want to ask you though, when you talk about culture and you mentioned <affirmative>, I'll use the term squishy, um, it, it, it's one of those amorphous topics that you, it's hard for folks to really wrap their head around. What does a good culture look like from your perspective, Josh? How, how does, how does the company know if they're doing it right and how do they know if they're doing it wrong?

Speaker 2 (06:52):

Hmm. Well, let's first start with, um, it depends on what you're trying to achieve. So what is a good culture? Well, a good culture for me is gonna be a different, uh, different than a good culture for someone who works at, uh, Amazon, let's say, and Amazon is notorious for, um, unrelenting pressure. Now you can't argue with the market results. Clearly there's a lot of value there, but that's just not the place that, that I would want to work. Uh, so is there, is there such thing as a good culture and a bad culture? I, I think, I think it depends on what you're looking for now. If we're to dig a little bit deeper, um, a, uh, you, an organization has a culture, whether you intend intend for it or not. And so it's better to start really thinking about and constructing what that is.

Speaker 2 (07:44):

Um, if you are able to articulate what it is you're doing, why you're doing it and what you expect of your employees, and everybody gets on the same page, that is a well organ, nice culture. Now there's a lot of different flavors. Are we really about efficiency? Are we about, um, creativity? Because those two things are very different. And so we really have to decide what we prioritize. What kind of culture do we want to get to? Once you understand that and you set the rules of the game, then I think you're, then I think you really can start to say this culture is well defined. It is a good culture because we all understand we're on the same page.

Speaker 1 (08:30):

Yeah. Josh, for folks watching and listening who wanna learn more about you or, or reach out to you, how can they do that?

Speaker 2 (08:36):

Ah, they can head over to I got a lot of, uh, free tools and downloads, articles to read, um, and ways to get your hands on the book itself.

Speaker 1 (08:46):

Awesome. Uh, Josh, we've only got a couple of minutes to go here in this first segment, but I wanna sneak in one more question and I want to ask you, why is culture such an important topic now in particular?

Speaker 2 (09:01):

Hmm, well, you know, I've been banging this drum for 15 years, but um, it depend it's, uh, it's really critical because of the great resignation. Um, why are people reassess thing and reevaluating what they're doing well, cuz they don't feel like, um, they're getting the respect that they need. They're having the influence that they need or, or the impact on their work. And so, uh, HR managers are scratching their head going well, we've given them five days, um, uh, work from home like, well, what else do they want? We've them, you know, uh, as much money as we can afford. But the thing is that folks are looking for a lot, a lot more and that's really where culture comes in. What is it that you, um, can help your employees? Do they want to feel like they're spending their lives, doing something that has, that makes a difference that has an impact. And it's the, not that you have to invent that out of thin air, you just have to discover it in, articulate it in a really compelling way.

Speaker 1 (10:01):

Yep. That's a good spot to take a break. Josh, don't go anywhere you watching and listening, you sit tight. We'll be right back on behind the numbers after this quick commercial break.

Speaker 1 (10:53):

And welcome back to Behind the Numbers. I'm Dave Bookbinder, and today we're talking about culture with Josh Levine, who is the author of Great Mondays. Josh, um, wanted to ask you in the beginning of this segment to talk about scaling culture, you know, obviously in a smaller organization, it's easier to control you're all in the same room maybe, but as companies start to get to a certain size, it seems like you get a little it more challenging.

Speaker 2 (11:20):

Yeah, absolutely. So the number that you're looking to you're looking for is about 50 that's. What I've observed is, um, when you are an organization of 50 or less, you have the culture that the founder or founders have established, um, and whether it's distributed or you have as an employee direct access to the, to the founder. But once you grow beyond that, it starts to get a little harder just because the sheer amount of people and what, um, the research that I did for my book, um, I looked into some of the kind of biological, um, constraints to relationship building. And, uh, Robin Dunbar was a, um, a scientist who studied, uh, chimps and studied the size of their tribes. And when he found was that 150 was about the number of, um, individuals in a particular tribe. Now why is that important? Because that is the ideal number of, um, individuals that anybody can get to know any one individual can get to know.

Speaker 2 (12:29):

And the benefit is outweighs the amount of energy that it takes to get to know those folks. So when we're talking about hunting and part or feeding, protecting the young at work, that number drops drastically. How much energy does it take to actually get to know folks? The answer is somewhere between, uh, the, the ideal number, the optimal number somewhere between 50 and a hundred when your organization grows beyond that. And some of my high tech clients are growing very quickly beyond that, right? They have to mandate to double their staff from 200 to 400 in the next year. All of a sudden people are super busy and they're like, “I don't know, some new people showed up. I don't know who they are.” And so what happens is, and this is what we talked about in the first segment is those relationships start degrade and you don't know what the, who those people are and you don't have relationships for them.

Speaker 2 (13:19):

And that makes the work a lot harder. And that's why I have observed it is so hard to scale culture is because it's those relationships that aren't being observed or aren't being measured. And aren't being rewarded that are, are causing the literal and physical barriers between people and you have these, uh, cubicle walls that'll go up or you'll have the departments, uh, different floors, different locations. And now we're across the world distributed. So it's like who slack channel are you in? And that's it that it's kind of the people that, you know, so that to me is really gonna be the big challenge, uh, to help culture survive in this distributed world, especially when you're talking about scaling, uh, and scaling quickly.

Speaker 1 (14:07):

Yeah. When you talk about new people showing up, let's talk about, uh, the case of a, uh, merger and acquisition, bringing two companies together. Uh, so here you've got a situation where you've got potentially disparate cultures and everything that I've read and, and from the CEOs that I've interviewed, they all say that to really achieve the synergies in a, in a merger or an acquisition, it's really about the integration of the teams and the culture. So talk a little bit about putting together two organizations and how culture is impacted that way.

Speaker 2 (14:36):

Yeah. Um, it's a really interesting thing. A question we're in the middle of a program right now with a client brought together four different companies and that, um, <laugh> two at a two at a time is tough. So four, four is even worse. Um, the, the real challenge is that someone always feels caught out. And so you'll see that with organizations acquiring another one. And they'll the, the acquiring organization will say, well, this is the way we do things you guys have to get on board and that the people and the individuals inside and say, Hey, we've got things that are working here, why I have my own identity and that becomes problematic. And they sort of bristle against that. What we try to do is pick the best of all of them together and create a system that helps bring all of those, um, great elements together so that the people feel engaged and valued.

Speaker 2 (15:30):

And seen. So when we're talking about, if you're acquiring another company, the question shouldn't be, how do we get them to do more of what we're doing? It's Hey, let me hear what you're you are doing. Why is that great? What is, what can we learn from you? And the same with, um, merger of equals. What are the great things that are going on here? Let's figure out, um, who the, the really amazing culture, you know, culture carriers are in these organizations and figure out what they do that makes it so successful. And so it's, um, it takes longer, it's harder to do, but in the long term, it is gonna be, is gonna pay off, um, in that a successful merger or acquisition.

Speaker 1 (16:16):

Yeah. And, and that's the feedback I hear constantly. It's about being intentional. Josh, for folks who wanna learn more about you, what's the best way to connect with you and how can they get a copy of Great Mondays?

Speaker 2 (16:26):

Yeah, absolutely great Mondays available on Amazon and all the different places where you buy your books. We have an audio book. If you like the sound of my voice, you can listen to me. Um, only

Speaker 1 (16:36):

When you do that

Speaker 2 (16:37):

Can also head over to I'm also, um, very active on LinkedIn. Find me on LinkedIn, @AKAJoshLevine with a little lightning bolt next to it. Um, I would be happy to talk to you.

Speaker 1 (16:47):

That's great. Thank you, Josh. Earlier, you mentioned the great resignation. So I think we need to touch on that just a little bit here. And, um, there, there seems to be a conventional wisdom that folks aren't resigning to go to other positions. They're still very tough talent market out there in attracting talent. So to avoid this great resignation problem, or certainly mitigate it to some degree, companies are, are clearly focusing on retaining their people. What's your advice for them on best to do that?

Speaker 2 (17:16):

Uh, it's all about re recruitment. You've gotta constantly be articulating why it is they should be there. Um, it might seem silly, but, um, when individual employees are beginning to go, oh, look, I have some other options they're getting hit on by head hunters. Um, they see other options and opportunities. Um, you need to describe what it is that you're doing for them. And one of the things that, that we help our clients do is create an employer value proposition and under, and help them define right, not invent, but define, identify what it is that you're doing. Um, so of course, uh, I, I think about it like a, uh, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, um, for employees and employee are really about, uh, want to think about, um, each level. And once you've satisfied that level, you can go to the next. So the bottom is package that's, that's what they get today.

Speaker 2 (18:19):

That's the, um, money or the healthcare or whatever. It might be great once we have that, um, potential that's about me tomorrow. What is it that we're doing? What do I get tomorrow? Is it, um, a, uh, uh, a path to leadership? Is it a name on my resume? Um, people is the next one up. What do I become when I join this organization or stick with this organization, I aspire to be like those people. So who do you have and how do you expose those people? Both the, the folks on the inside and the outside.

Speaker 1 (18:53):

Yeah. I like that term. You use re recruitment.

Speaker 2 (18:57):


Speaker 1 (18:57):

Yeah. I think you've been quoted as saying I, I saw it somewhere that, um, your employees are your new customers.

Speaker 2 (19:03):

Yeah, that's right. That's um, that's exactly what we're starting to say is that if you think about how customers, how out, um, 10 or 20 years ago, um, organizations started to think about really get deeply empathetic about who their customers are and what do they need and what are the, what are the drivers and the desires. That's what we have to think about with our employees and the candidates that we're trying to bring in. So how do you create an incredible, um, employee experience and how through that demonstrate that you care, you are gonna help them fulfill the needs that they need. It's not just, Hey, come in, we're gonna trade you a paycheck for your time. Those days are long gone. This is about actually demonstrating. And, um, that you care about these folks and not just, um, performative, but in a way that is, um, helpful. We are in a, um, a society where we are exchanging value. And so what can I do for you? It's not just about that money. It's about what you become, it's about helping them achieve those goals. What is it that you're employees are looking for beyond money? What is it that they're trying to achieve in their life and how do you help them do that? If you can do that, if you can help them achieve that, then they're gonna be extremely loyal to you.

Speaker 1 (20:25):

Yeah. And that that's gotta be tough, right? When you talk about scaling and larger organizations, each employee has their own, we'll call it value proposition and they each have their own particular goals and aspirations. How do, how do you drill down into each individual to, to really understand if you're fulfilling those needs?

Speaker 2 (20:42):

Yeah, that's, uh, that's a good question. I um, the answer, I think comes in two forms. One is, uh, and again, I'm, I'm pulling from this kind of customer, uh, centric, uh, point of view and case studies, which is, um, understanding who they are and creating personas, uh, so that you can really get to know, um, those kinds of people. Now, of course, that's a broad stroke, but at least it's a starting point. What motivates them. But then more specifically, this is to me where I think we've under invested in business, which is the manager, the manager is the one that has the, the direct connection with, uh, his or her employees. You as the manager, your job is to get to know these folks, not just to tell them you don't wanna be just an information hub. Your job is to connect with them in a human way. And that is how an or a large organization gets to know what those folks are. So provide those managers with that toolkit, Hey, you need to be re recruiting. You need to demonstrate what it is that we're helping them. How do you, how do we support you to support them? How do you get to know them? And that is the modern definition of a manager. It's not about, uh, Hey, go do this, go do that. It's about help getting to know folks, supporting them to do their best work, um, as humans.

Speaker 1 (22:06):

Yeah. Let, let's talk just a little bit here about rewards and recognitions. You, you alluded to the idea that the ping pong table doesn't cut it. Um, what, what matters when you think about what you're talking about here, where there's this, this bigger mission, if you will, for the employees where do rewards and recognitions come into play here and, and what do they look like?

Speaker 2 (22:25):

<laugh> yeah. Um, so earlier I said that, um, we, you want, um, the best rewards and recognition are gonna identify and elevate, um, how we do the work, not, not what, not what we crank out. Um, if you start with how many widgets you're producing, well, then I'm just gonna make more widgets, but probably, um, uh, willing to make more errors. So what we need to do is actually demonstrate, um, to folks that it's about values, driven behaviors and choices. Um, now to your second, uh, to the, to the second point here is like, what does that look like? So rewards and recognition. It can be, um, monetary, that's fine. But what we need to do is more and more demonstrate an in inherent or intrinsic value in being rewarded. And often folks will say, “Hey, great, thanks for the, you know, 10 or $15 coffee card, but a pat in the back and a public recognition” from your manager is gonna be, or even the level, the skip level is gonna be more valuable.

Speaker 2 (23:33):

And so that's one of the things that we try to do is say, “Hey, look, take your team to lunch. Uh, maybe grab some time with another, um, senior leader, uh, another element that is becoming more popular, and you're seeing some software around, this is peer to peer recognition.” This is, um, something that is really powerful. If one of your peers, thanks, you and connects it to one of those values and then elevates that and exposes that to everyone else. They feel good about the work that they did. Everybody else goes, oh, that thing that's, that's what you want me to do. Got it. I'm gonna do that too. Because as mammals, humans, we wanna succeed. We want to be rewarded. Now the one caveat I would say is, um, tight, right back to the last, the last topic, which is <affirmative>, you need to understand what your, um, team values and doesn't so extroverts as an extrovert, you, I would love to be up on a stage.

Speaker 2 (24:36):

Someone goes, Josh Levine is the best. And they did this incredible thing. And that really fills me. But if you're an introvert, that's like a punishment, right? So you have to understand who your people are and how they appreciate being rewarded. Everybody wants to be rewarded and acknowledged, but it needs to be, you know, does it need to be quiet? Does it need to be loud? Does it need to be some little physical, um, little physical gift? Or is it something else, more gestural? And that, that's a lot of what I try to cover in the book is how do you create a multifaceted system of rewards and recognition that is tied right back to those values? Not, not rewarding outcomes, but how we do it.

Speaker 1 (25:20):

Yeah. That's awesome. Josh. One more time. Tell the folks where they can get a copy of Great Mondays.

Speaker 2 (25:25):

Yeah. Head over to You can search for it on Amazon and, uh, feel free to send me a note,, always happy to chat about company culture.

Speaker 1 (25:36):

Yeah. And is this gonna prevent those Sunday night scaries? You know, when people look at their watch and it's seven o'clock on Sunday evening and they start to get jittery.

Speaker 2 (25:43):

Yeah. Well, I can't promise it's gonna solve all your problems, but, but, uh, I do believe if you are connected more deeply to the purpose of a, an organization and it, it aligns with what you wanna do. Um, then I think it could be a little less scary and a little more exciting.

Speaker 1 (26:00):

Well said, Josh, thanks so much for joining us today in Behind the Numbers.

Speaker 2 (26:04):

Thank you

Speaker 1 (26:05):

Today. We've been talking with Josh Levine, author of Great Mondays. And again, my name is Dave Bookbinder, and I'm the one that my clients reach out to when they want to know what their most important assets are worth. You can reach me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, always happy to have a conversation and thank you for watching and listening. We can't do it without you. Please be sure to hit the subscribe button, leave a review, reach out to us by email, let us know what you think. We will see you next time on behind the numbers. Take care of everybody.

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