The Culture Blueprint & Secrets to Building a World Class Company Culture with Robert Richman

Robert Richman. Co-creator of Zappos Insights & Author of The Culture Blueprint.
Robert Richman.  Co-creator of Zappos Insights & Author of The Culture Blueprint.

Robert Richman
Co-creator of Zappos Insights & Author of The Culture Blueprint.

Robert Richman is a Culture Architect and Keynote Speaker.  Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh hired him to develop Zappos Insights, a company that educates organizations on the secrets behind Zappos’ successful employee culture. He has since helped companies like Intuit, Toyota, Google, and shared his expertise with Harvard’s Innovation Lab. Most recently, he authored The Culture Blueprint, a guide to building a business around company culture. Robert graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in film, as well as from Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching Program. He has been a FoundersCard Member since 2011.

Why is the culture of a company so important, for employees as well as the customers?
Culture is made up of the beliefs, values and stories that drive people’s behavior and ultimately get you whatever results you’re seeing. Culture is invisible, so if you don’t know how to see it, then you don’t know how to shape it and shift it.
How did you become one of the world’s authorities on employee culture?
I was fortunate to be invited by CEO Tony Hsieh to build Zappos Insights – the company that shares practices in culture, management and service. Since then, I wrote The Culture Blueprint as a systematic guide to understand culture, build it and shift it. I’ve been privileged to speak for Toyota, Google, Intuit, the Gartner conferences and many others.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to a company or CEO?
Don’t tell people what to do. Instead listen and ask great questions.  We’re moving away from a hero-based leadership model and into a network model. Leaders who believe they’re the smartest people in the room are killing the wisdom and intuition of the team or tribe by speaking first and quickly making decisions. It turns people into robots.
What is the most common mistake companies make that affects their culture?
The most common mistake is mandatory meetings. They kill culture. Optional meetings put the responsibility on the inviter to either a) show why the meeting is very important for people to do their jobs, or b) make it so interesting that people really want to go.  Why else would I go to a meeting when I could be doing work? If you make meetings optional (and you must stress that it really is optional and people will not be judged for not attending) then you drop a lot of negative energy from people who don’t want to be there.
If you could give one piece of advice on improving culture for Founders to take back to their company tomorrow, what would that be? 
Throw a meeting using Open Space Technology with the entire company or team. It’s a format that’s designed to surface all the best ideas, most pertinent frustrations and many other things you could not have expected. It’s best to find a trained facilitator, like myself or others, but one could just read the book or study the web sites and do it themselves for free.
In your new book, The Culture Blueprint you differentiate between only satisfying employees versus creating passionate ones. Care to share a few tips?
Satisfaction is an awful metric for both culture and for customers. We are satisfied with a lot of crappy things. But when we’re passionate we become brand ambassadors. But that means making tough decisions most companies won’t even touch – Decisions like losing that person who’s great at their job, but not great for the team. Or slowing down the hiring process when you’re growing fast. I detail these processes in the book.
What are some key things prospective employees should be on the lookout for when applying for a position in a new company?
Pay attention to your feelings. It’s not very business-like to say that, but as Malcolm Gladwell described in Blink, we know things instinctively. If you sense that something is off, keep that in mind. If you get a great feeling, then just go for it, and then be selective only after you have an offer. Too many times I see candidates sweating over a decision they don’t even have. Until you get the offer there’s nothing to debate. Play to win, then decide from there.
Prior to your current success, what was the worst job you ever had?
I got a job at a restaurant in high school. They thought I was smart at the counter so they had me run all the kitchen orders. I had no idea what I was doing so plates were literally falling and breaking in all the chaos. They fired me on the spot. I felt like I never even had a chance.
How are you using stand-up comedy to build skills in your professional life?
People are most open to new ideas and change when they’re having fun, so developing humor is an amazing tool. And the learning is exponential because unlike public speaking, there’s an immediate feedback loop. Either people laugh or they don’t. When I bomb, it’s heartbreaking, but unlike heartbreak it only lasts a few hours. So my ability to deal with rejection is amazing. I don’t feel this need for people to like me.
Do you have a favorite joke? What is it? 
I’ve learned that comedy is totally contextual. It always depends on the audience, the vibe and the flow. That’s why you might see a video of stand-up and the whole audience is laughing but you’re not. It’s because you have to be there. So my favorite joke is always the one I’m telling in the moment when I’m in connection with the audience.
Give us your best plug/brag a little about as to what you’re working on now/next.
I’m very curious about what comes after innovation, and I’m starting to discover it. Innovation is becoming a commodity because the tools and processes are everywhere. And everything moves at internet speed so you can keep changing things.  The bigger question is what do we really need to change and why?  The word that is emerging is  “Relevant.”  With so much distraction and so many options for how we spend our time and money, it won’t be the most innovative companies that win. It will be the most culturally relevant.
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