I remember watching The Love Boat as a kid in the 1980s. I loved that show. Doc, Isaac the bartender, Captain Stubing, and, of course, Julie the cruise director, perkily corralling octogenarian passengers into rousing games of shuffleboard, limbo gyrations, and myriad other antics aboard the massive Pacific Princess. Julie was in charge of preserving and enhancing the ship’s culture, and she worked at her task 24/7, flashing her pearly whites the entire time.
Unfortunately, most businesses don’t have the payroll set aside to afford their own cruise director. This means culture is largely in the hands of whatever team you’ve assembled and their interest level in keeping the flame burning bright. As a result, companies experience cultural ups and downs the same way a sports team might during perennial winning seasons before succumbing to the doldrums of mediocrity. Culture is a funny thing. When it’s great, it’s amazing, euphoric, and you can’t believe things are going so well. When it’s not, getting back to great can feel like nailing Jell-O to the wall. How can we build more “Julie-esque” intentionality into our company cultures, maximizing the peaks and minimizing the troughs?
My company, Livewire, got serious about our own culture in 2015 after seeing entrepreneur Cameron Herold present to a group of CEOs at a conference. I took it all in and set about implementing a mission, vision, and values initiative into our company. It took a while, but the efforts paid off, and we could start seeing employee happiness move northward as we started using a tool called TinyPULSE to send a quick, weekly, single-question survey aimed at keeping small issues from turning into big problems.
Fast forward to 2022 and we’re at the tail end of the pandemic era that saw us all hunkering down and working remotely. Our in-person monthly all-hands meetings served as our only touchpoints together where we were able to see each other and praise great work and efforts around “living the values.” Life during wartime is fueled by adrenaline and it’s impossible to keep that energy up long-term. Employee burnout becomes a real risk factor and we’re no exception to this maxim.
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I promoted Stacy Hicks to COO in June 2021 and started the process of reestablishing roles where I would become “Mr. Outside” to her “Ms. Inside.” The relationship is amazing and I’m so grateful we get to work together.
In an effort to step back and let Stacy get her sea legs, I’ve intentionally distanced myself from projects and committees where I used to be a central figure. Livewire is now employee led and doesn’t need me day to day. There’s a thin line between enabling and abandoning, which I’m learning to find the same way I do most things — by making mistakes!
Great culture is built on happy employees all rallying around a system of shared values and pulling in the same direction. Employee happiness is a direct result of how focused our employees are on making others happy. That’s a tough one. It’s all too easy to expect happiness to come from a central figure. When the chips are down, it can be tempting to rail against the hierarchy and minimize one’s own part in the bigger picture. Amazing company cultures emphasize groupthink and the power of teamwork moving the company forward. Consider companies like Under Armour with its “Protect This House” slogan or cities adopting mantras like “Boston Strong” during times of tragedy. The more an individual sees his or her own efforts contributing to the bigger picture, the more engaged they become. Obviously, the opposite is true with employees who commonly express during exit interviews that they didn’t feel heard or that their efforts hadn’t been duly recognized.
As we head towards closing out 2022, it’s apparent we have some work to do around rebuilding our company culture in the post pandemic (endemic?) era. We’re focused on celebrating instances of employees making each other happy, hoping that by praising the behaviors we want to grow, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just like anything worthwhile, all of this takes work in the beginning and a willingness to sustain it over the long haul.
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What are you doing to reboot your culture post Covid-19?
Stay frosty, and see you in the field.