How Important is Corporate Culture Today?
How To Define Company Culture with Great Mondays’ Josh Levine
In this episode of The Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks with the CEO and Founder of Great Mondays, Author of Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employees Love, Josh Levine.
Josh shares his passion for helping leaders create the kind of company culture they want for their employees. He says defining corporate culture and creatively designing it, as they see fit, is something leaders can do proactively. He guides them through his 6 components of corporate culture that will enable employees to work better. He says the secret to making employees more invested and engaged is to make them feel loved and understood. He advises companies to create a culture where employees can feel their impact, understand that they are part of something important, and work with a team they can trust.
Josh also addresses the issue of deteriorating employee relationships, especially when the pandemic hits, and offers practical ways to rebuild and strengthen them again for future investment and productivity. He says relationships are the synapses of culture – if you want people to connect around a shared set of values, beliefs, and commitments, you have to make sure those synapses continue to be built and strengthened.
Josh Elledge (00:05):
Hey, they're a thoughtful listener. What is your number one lead generation blocker? Head to up my influence.com/quiz to find out right now. That's up my influence.com/quiz, and I'll share why you aren't getting the intros and sales you deserve. We're also actively seeking guests for this daily commercial free entrepreneur Wisdom podcast, agency, owners, consultants, coaches, and B2B service providers. Head to up my influence.com/guest and I'd love to promote your expertise to our amazing audience. Let's get on with the show with us right now. It's Josh Levine. Josh, you are found on the email@example.com. That's the name of your company. You're the c e o and founder. You are also the author of the book, great Mondays, how to Design a Company Culture Employees Love. Josh, thank you so much for joining us.
Josh Levine (01:13):
Yeah, thanks for having me.
Josh Elledge (01:15):
Well, anytime there's two joshes in a room, you know, it's gonna be fun. So <laugh>, so tell us about, I listen, I love the concept of Great Mondays, um, but give us an overview of, of your work and, and, and exactly like what you do and, and we'll get into the book as well.
Josh Levine (01:30):
Well, I, um, I actually started as a brand strategy guy and found that the work that we did, um, and that I did as a brand strategist was kind of making all these promises in the, in the market, but the companies could never deliver on it. And so I decided to turn that skillset to the inside to help organizations identify and activate that story that they're trying to tell and help their employees actually do their work better so everybody gets on the same page. And that is what led me to this idea of company culture. Not that I invented company culture, but um, the kind of the whole market of it. And, uh, and I created, uh, six components because, um, uh, of the sort of virtuous cycle of cult, uh, of company culture. Um, and, and it was because that not a lot of people understood how to define it and what to do about it, and I really felt like there was an underutilized business tool that people could be really rigorous with and use it to improve not just employees' lives, but also bottom lines.
Josh Elledge (02:35):
Yeah. And, and boy, I think especially, you know, over the past few years, couple years e past year, how important culture is today in today's conversation, when I talk with other business leaders, um, you know, there's been a lot of turbulence in, you know, kind of boy, the supply and demands just all over the place when it comes to, you know, kind of the balance of, you know, is it a, is it an employee's market? Is it an employer's market? And then yeah, you know, but, but then you also have new demands that I think that the, that, you know, the employees are rightfully asking for. We, we want to work someplace that that matters. We wanna work someplace where we feel valued, not just by what we get on the paycheck, but that what we do, like we give a darn about what
Josh Levine (03:24):
We do. Well, here's, here's, here's the, the secret is that when people care about what they do, when they feel they can see their impact, when they understand that they are working with a team that they trust, they are going to be more invested and more, uh, engaged. And that's what we leaders always talk about. Well, we want to improve employee engagement, improve employee engagement. This is how you do it. Employee engagement is the definition. And I heard this definition, I thought this was so good. It's any effort that someone puts in the, uh, above the, the bare minimum where they're gonna get fired. Okay, <laugh>. So that's, that's engagement, right? It's pretty cynical, but that's engagement. Um, I never hit that line in my career, but there you are. So if you wanna improve employee engagement, you gotta give back to these people and make sure that they are doing their best work. And when they do, when they, when they are able to be them, be their best selves, uh, it is, that is how they're gonna be able to do their best work. And so they no longer feel like a, a cog in the machine. They understand that this is really important stuff and they feel part of it. And that's, that is really what the goal, ultimately the goal is.
Josh Elledge (04:45):
How much of this is tactics versus how much of this is, you know, kind of philosophy and strategy and mindset, you know, in other words, here's here's what I'm thinking. Someone might listen to our conversation and say, cool, I'm gonna go do some tactics next week so I can improve employee morale.
Josh Levine (05:03):
Ah, yes. Right, exactly. Uh, it's not ping pong and pizza. That's, if that's what you're asking, right? So, um, I, uh, I spent 20 years in the Bay Area working with a lot of tech startups, and it was like, it would always be like, well, people are not really happy. Let's put in a foosball table or Yeah, let's hire an onsite barista, if you can believe it. And that is, perks are not culture, perks are part of culture, but they're not. And so what you really have to do is identify, this is why I created the six components of culture, why I've written it in a book. Um, it starts with purpose, values, and behaviors. Purpose is the top of the mountain. That's where we're, that's what we're trying to do. That's the why. It's not your mission, it's not your vision. Purpose is your why.
You exist beyond making money. That's what's gonna give people the energy both internally and externally in your organization. Okay? And then if you are leading this trip to the top of Mount Everest or you know, Mount Success, um, you can't just say there's the peak. Everybody go there because they or might take the wrong route. They might cheat, they might, you know, fall down the crevasse. So you need values. Values are the how, values are how we get our group to say, okay, this is the path that we're taking. This is what we value when we make the three to five most important things that you are working on that's gonna make the biggest difference for your organization. So these are your values, and that's gonna help you get to the peak, that mountain and the, the line that you, that you draw between that peak and the flags, the guards of value, those are the behaviors.
And that's ultimately what we're talking about. Hey, let me set the expectations for you around what, what is, what's success look like? What are we trying to, how are we trying to make these decisions? Now, I'm not gonna prescribe for you, Josh, exactly what you need to do, but I'm gonna say, here's the guardrails. Here's what we're looking for. And when it's in your employ, you know, your, it's in your annual review. And when someone comes and says, how have you been delivering on this idea of, uh, invest in we, or connect with others or do it together, whatever that value is, then you can say, oh, this is what I'm doing in my position. So those are the first three components, and that is ultimately when you think about setting up that foundation for a great culture and setting people up to succeed so that they're not just going, oh, I should be doing this. Oh, I should be doing this. It's, Hey, here's what we're trying to do together, purpose. Here's how we're doing it. This is what we're gonna focus on. We're gonna work together, whatever it might be, collaborative, innovative, whatever it might be. And that's how we get started on our journey. Um, so don't start with that, the tactic of, of putting in that foosball table, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, that's, that's not where you start. You gotta start with that strategy.
Josh Elledge (07:44):
Yeah. You know, culture is something I don't think you can fake. And you certainly, to your point, right, you can't buy, you know, you can't really buy, you know, foosball table, you know, is, is not not necessarily the answer. Um, you know, but, and I think there might be, you know, a lot of employers, maybe someone's listening to this right now, that, that might be experiencing frustration that, um, for example, they're just like, listen, ever since that darn pandemic and everybody started working remote, now nobody wants to come into the office. Yeah. Now we're just in this man, why can't we go back to the old ways? Right? <laugh>? Yeah. How can we get that toothpaste back in the tube? Yeah. Well, I don't know that there's any toothpaste, you know, way to get the toothpaste back in the tube, but I think great leaders have already, like they were quick to think about, you know, these issues and, okay, this is our new reality, so how do we work with this? Um, how have you worked with employers when maybe the hybrid or the remote, you know, work environment has really caused some operational challenges?
Josh Levine (08:51):
Yeah. Um, so I'll, I'll tell you the, the biggest single challenge that most leaders are facing right now when you're talking about hybrid or distributed, it's those, um, the degradation of the relationships between employees. Oof. There was a study that came out, um, halfway through the pandemic from Microsoft that said, oh, well, we're closer with our immediate teams cuz we're freaking on the zoom calls all day with them. Yeah, fine. Okay. So you're like eight, maybe eight people that you're working on a close team with, but everybody else has sort of disappeared and, and you don't know what they're doing, you're not connected with them. And if you don't, if you're, if you don't have those relationships, which relationship is built on trust? And if you don't have that trust, then when you wanna work with somebody, or you even identify an opportunity to work with somebody else outside of your project team, which by the way is the way most organizations are going, right?
You're not just on one team, then you, you don't, you don't have those interstitial moments inside of the office anymore. You don't get a chance to hit, you know, hit them accidentally and you're like, oh, hey, what are you doing? Da da da da. Yeah. And then, and then you have these new employees that they don't know what's going on and they don't know who they are, who's, who's out and about. And so your world starts to disappear. And so what we need to do, what leaders need to do, and what businesses need to do is start to invest in establishing, building and strengthening those relationships again, but at a distance. So the pandemic broke this, and it's not gonna get fixed in the same way. You can't, what got you here is not gonna get you there. And so what we need to do is start establishing ways, modes of working, ways of connection to build and strengthen relationships Yes. With your immediate team, but also with others outside of your group. So what are some tangential things that we can connect over? And one of the things, one of my glib answers, um, to solving this problem is hashtag cats.
And what I mean by that is if you have a slack, uh, or a teams, um, communication system for your organization, you wanna start to build a, um, you wanna start to create these channels of interest that people can connect with. Yes. Um, outside of work. Because that's what you wanna do, is you wanna learn about these people, you wanna meet people. And so when you think about the cat channel, the dog channel, the baby channel, the parent channel, the Mets channel, all those things are things that I'm naturally passionate about. I'm gonna connect with people that are not, you know, that I don't normally connect with. Now, is that the panacea? Is that the only solution? No, obviously there's a lot of different ways to do it, but that's an example of how we start to, um, an easy way to start to create groups and, and opportunities to connect re um, creating those, those, those collisions that used to happen in the office.
And maybe actually, to be honest, maybe it didn't really happen before. I don't know if you know this, but if you are on a different, um, if you are on, in an office, but you're on a different level, you might as well be in a different building, right? There's, there was, it's not you, you never really got to know those people. So here it's not that it was working, it actually wasn't working. Now we have the opportunity to actually use technology to connect with other people in meaningful, um, ways that actually can improve their lives, right? Back to, you know, the, the, the getting that feeling of like helping people connect with others and feeling, you know, they can be engaged and they're excited about that. So this is the, this is the stuff that most of my clients are looking at right now is like the big challenge. Once they have that foundation set up, they're like, what are, how do I build and strengthen these relationships? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I don't know anybody anymore. Uh, they can't, you know, the collaboration or the innovation or whatever it is. And you know, the, the, if you're, if you're not, if you are connected to the past of like, we just have to get people in the room, and you know what, sometimes that's okay, but that's not gonna happen all the time. Yeah. It's just not,
Josh Elledge (13:05):
I think about to like social media for example. And, you know, I probably use Facebook more than any, you know, in terms of like connecting with friends. Um, and I think about, you know, the relationships when I eventually do connect with them physically in person. Yeah. And, you know, there's certain people, like, there's a conference I go to, uh, you know, FinCon for, you know, money nerds and stuff. But, um, you know, it's like the, the friends that I seem to bump into a lot on social media and we chat about not just work stuff, mostly not work stuff, mostly TV shows, movies, you know, that sort of thing. So I like that. I think that's great. And, and so, you know, what are some ways that, you know, cuz I, I don't think, I don't know if anyone necessarily wants to just waste time during the day, but, you know, uh, I wanna address that.
I wanna address that is, is is giving our employees the space for free time. Cuz I know sometimes, or that might be a concern like, well, am I, are we encouraging this too much, um, to the point where productivity is gonna really, um, suffer as a result of that? So how do we, how do we find that balance of encouraging levity, of encouraging socialization, um, so we can kind of hit that sweet, I don't wanna say hit that sweet spot of roi, but you know what I'm saying? Or like, I, I don't, I wanna, for, for the employee's sake, I want them to love coming to work, but I also want them to be successful at their work.
Josh Levine (14:29):
Um, uh, I've got bad news for you that never happened. The, the working, you know, eight hours start to finish never happened anyways. Were you gonna them when they went and got their coffee in the, you know, and took a 15 minute smoke break or whatever it is. Um, we gotta treat people like adults and yeah, some people are gonna take advantage of that for sure. And that's what you have to put in place. We're gonna, you know, measure results, not, you know, butts and seats and that's the way it should be anyways. Mm-hmm. Um, and I think the error, it, it, we want to error on the side of more connectivity, not less. And so you're worrying about the wrong thing. Yeah. I hate to tell you're doing it wrong, but you're weren't about the wrong thing because it's an, it's an investment in future productivity and future engagement and maybe not even that far into the future.
Josh, if I have, um, something that I need from, let's say you're in accounting and I'm late on a, you know, budgeting proposal and something is missing and I email you and you don't know me from Adam, you don't know anybody, you don't know me, you don't, you've never, we've never really talked before. And I'm like, Hey bud, yeah, I'm kind of panicked. Can you help me out? I mean, if it's after work and maybe you're like, uh, what? Don't, who's this asshole? Right? Like, who's this guy? Like, come and ask me for these things. But if we've connected on the Mets channel Yeah. Right? And, and we know each other a little bit, even a little bit, Hey man, listen, I need, can you just go a little, you know, I just need this little, I'm gonna be much more likely to be able to help you in a pinch, right?
That's the worst case scenario. So you are, we always, we, we talk a lot, especially when we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Um, we talk about a lot about, um, positive intent, assuming positive intent. And that is something everybody's like, okay, assume positive intent. Assume positive intent, assume positive intent. But what you really, you, you can't just force it, right? It's a practice. But if you know somebody and you're like, okay, Josh, who's got a family and lives in Orlando and does all these things, I know you're a human and not just an email address. And so you're gonna be able to connect with me and respond to me. And you know what, hey, maybe we should start thinking about, I had this idea about the thing in Q3 and maybe we could work on something. And that then is where we unlock the real potential that goes well beyond the 15 minutes that I'm gonna be kibitzing with somebody on, you know, the, the Facebook for your, for your company, right? Like, that's, that's really what we're looking for is the, the relationships are the synapses of culture. Relationships are the synapses of culture. And if you want people to, to connect around a shared set of values and beliefs and engagement, we need to make sure those synapses are, are continuing to be fed, built and strengthened. Otherwise, all you're gonna have is just, you know, laptops across the United States, you know, emailing each other and it's gonna be a, you know, a big uphill battle. Yeah. Um, Josh, your website is great
Josh Elledge (17:48):
Mondays.com and, and I wanna make sure that, um, you know, for someone's listening to us, they're like, listen, I, I don't know necessarily what the solution is. I think I, I I enjoy this conversation so far. Um, all I know is we have a problem with turnover or all I know is we have a real problem with recruiting. Like, we are just not getting the caliber people or you know, the people we are getting, they're just, you know, we're just not hitting it in terms of like, you know, hitting their compensation. Like it's just not working. Yeah. Like, um, and, and they know that they need help. What does engagement with you typically look like? How can you help an employer who, who's identified there's some either problems that exist or risks that they know, and by the way, everyone should be concerned about risk when it comes to employment <laugh>
Josh Levine (18:39):
Yeah, absolutely. At
Josh Elledge (18:40):
All times. Absolutely. Never, never, never sleep easily
Josh Levine (18:43):
<laugh>. Yeah, exactly. When
Josh Elledge (18:44):
It comes to, you know, thinking that, ah, I got this solved forever because I, there things are just beyond our control,
Josh Levine (18:50):
Right? No, of course. And that's, you know, an astute business leaders, uh, you know, <laugh> can't sleep, can't sleep well. Cuz there's always something right in at, you know, midnight that wakes 'em up. Look, when we're talking about, um, when we're talking about recruiting and retaining talent, when we're talking about engagement, you need to understand, you need to both identify what your company provides for these people because they're not just showing up for the, from their own, you know, from their own goodness of their heart, right? They expect something. Now you can say, well, I've got the paycheck, right? But you and I were just talking and we were saying, well, I can make money anywhere. I can really make money anywhere. So what we're, what we're hoping to do here is demonstrate all the ways in which we can provide the company can provide value for you.
And by the way, part of that value is enabling you to make an impact here. And so when we're thinking about either the employees that already are there, retention and engagement, or employees that you wanna bring in, think about what your and then product marketing will talk about, might talk about value proposition. What's your employer value proposition and how do you think about not just the base of the pyramid, how, which is, which is that salary when you think about me today, you gotta go up above that. So the bottom is me today, what do I get? Package healthcare, I get, I get money me tomorrow. Uh, there's a potential for something in the future, whether it's, um, this job as a resume builder or there's a path forward for me. So we've got me today, me tomorrow, we today, who am I working with?
What do I, who do I get to work with? Who do I get to learn from? We tomorrow? What are we doing together? This is the purpose. And then we think about, finally we think about, um, what is this gonna do for me in the future when I look back on this time at this company? What do I get to, what, what do I, what am I gonna say about how it changed my life? And once you've identified and then fully articulated this, I started by telling you that I started in brain strategy. And so I believe deeply in the power of words, you've identified what is the value at each of these levels. And you were able to articulate that value clearly and consistently across your entire ecosystem. Then we're starting to think about, we're starting to build a system that enables people to see talent, potential talent and existing talent to go, oh, I get it.
These people are really care. They are doing X, Y, and z. They're doing this particular thing. And then we can start to have this conversation around finding the exact right people, what are they looking for? And that's when we, when we want to think about getting those people in the door, by the way, that is, that it is hard, but the hard work's just starting because don't forget you have to deliver on those things. That's true. But that ultimately, when you are able to articulate what your value proposition is, and not just to the new recruits, you gotta keep recruiting internally.
Josh Elledge (22:19):
Josh Levine (22:20):
You gotta keep giving back so that they understand why they should be engaged. Once you have that, then we're really talking about building a kind of company that has a culture that people are passionate about, they're gonna tell other people. And you get a virtuous cycle. You gotta come work here. This is where you want to spend the next five years of your career.
Josh Elledge (22:39):
Yes. Uh, so living it, you, I I, I've had some great guests talk about like equity and inclusion too. And you know, again, it's not one of those things. You can't just, you know, relegate to HR to make sure it's on the jobs page and it's on a poster in the break room. <laugh> like, you know, it, it's, you know, great culture is lived, it's lived daily and you know, and that's the line. You know, like if it's like, you know, values, right? And so if we're making our decisions based on our values, if we're, and our values are equity inclusion, then we, I don't have a problem. Like it's, we're gonna have alignment, uh, everywhere anyone looks. And if there's misalignment, we know that that will, that doesn't really belong here. We believe in equity and inclusion. We believe in, you know, making the world a better place. We believe in, uh, uh, a clean planet, whatever these things are that are part of like who we are and what we stand for. Um, you know, I I wanna make sure, gosh, um, your book Great Mondays, cuz I, I want to make sure that, you know, our folks have something that's very actionable, um, how to design a company culture, employees love. Um, which again, you can go to great mondays.com, you can buy the book there. Um, but, but can you tell us, tell, tell us a little bit more about the book.
Josh Levine (23:53):
Yeah, so the book, I wrote the book because, um, and I kind of referred to this before, which is when I first got into company culture 15 years ago, there wasn't a shared definition around culture and people didn't know how to define it or what to do about it, right? They were just kind of slap shot, you know, like, it's like, it was like, oh, money or pool tables or whatever it is. And so I created, uh, six components of company culture and we talked about the first three purpose, values and behaviors. The second three recognition, rituals and cues. This creates that virtual cycle, that virtuous cycle that enables you to actually think about culture and activate culture in a rigorous professional way. It is a business tool just like finance, just like it, it isn't this quarter's prioritization, it's, it is now part and parcel of what your company does.
So the book goes through, um, a ton of case studies. It's got examples, it's got, um, worksheets. I've got a bunch of, um, interactive opportunities within the web, uh, website. Also on, um, Miro. There's a bunch of templates around how to actually define and, um, activate each one of these components. And so it's really part workbook and part business book. And that's what I'm trying to do is get more my, my mission in life, right? My purpose is to help more people, um, be more engaged in the work that they do. And I work with leaders to help them create that situation, that environment for their employees. And we want to think about culture as a business tool. And that's what this, this the book starts to get to, uh, is defining it as something that you can actually do something about proactively. Not just, oh crap, you know, what just happened. It's thinking about it, like you said, what are the risks, thinking about it ahead of time and being able to creatively design the kind of culture that you're looking for. Yeah.
Josh Elledge (25:56):
The book is also available in audiobook. Thank you very much. <laugh>.
Josh Levine (25:59):
Yes, that's right. If you enjoy audio, if you enjoy my, the tones of my voice, <laugh>, you can, uh, you can pick up the audiobook. I spent three days in the, uh, sound booth recording it. Yeah.
Josh Elledge (26:09):
All right. Yeah. How was, how was that, how was that process? Egg.
Josh Levine (26:12):
Egg, exhausting <laugh>. It is.
Josh Elledge (26:14):
Yes, yes. As I've heard <laugh>. Yeah. Now you know how I feel. Day in, day out recording podcast all day. Uh, yeah. But, okay, so great Mondays, how to design a company Culture, employees Love. It's on Kindle, it's on, uh, audiobook, hard cover, et cetera. It's on Amazon. And again, the website for that is great mondays.com. Um, in addition to the book, uh, how else would you recommend folks engage with you? Josh,
Josh Levine (26:40):
Find me on LinkedIn. Um, I use LinkedIn, um, every day, and it's, it's, uh, it's really kind of the only social network that I'm en engaged with. So just look for the, um, you can go to, you know, slash aka Josh Levine, or it's the Josh Levine with the little lightning bolts. You'll see my, uh, my face there. So, um, absolutely grab, you know, grab my attention there, send me a note. Happy to do that. Um, and you can also email me josh great mondays.com, uh, open 24 7.
Josh Elledge (27:08):
Love it. Awesome. Josh Levine, again, founder, c e o of Great Mondays and the new book, great Mon or not, the, the, the book. The book is, you got a lot of reviews, your books, your book has become a staple in the HR world, uh, and beyond. Uh, great Mondays, how to design a company Culture. Employees love. Josh, thank you so much for joining
Josh Levine (27:25):
Us. Thanks Josh. Appreciate you having me.
Josh Elledge (27:33):
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