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SXSW V2V: Warning – You’re Losing Money by Not Being a Cultural Architect

(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)

“The secret to great service brands, like Starbucks, Nordstrom and Nespresso, is that they inspire the customer experience through their teams,” said SGEi president Shane Green. Green, a customer experience consultant, argued that the way to do this was through building a great employee culture.

He presented these ideas at SXSW V2V, a four-day (July 19-22) educational event in Las Vegas, in a presentation titled “Build Your Startup like a Cultural Architect.” He gave reasons you should make this a priority, and a plan for achieving it.

Why Culture? I Sell Apps

Shane Green

Shane Green discussing startup values at SXSW V2V

“When you start up you need to have some values,” Green said. Some companies just adopt a culture statement from another successful company, but that, according to Green, is not a good idea.

He first explained what culture was not. “It’s not parties, ping pong and free coffee. That’s just atmosphere,” he said. “These are not the things that will drive your company’s success or make your people work harder.”

Instead, he said, “It’s mindset and behaviors. These create a reputation. In today’s social media-focused environment your reputation is your brand. How you do things is how people will see you in the marketplace.”

Green said that often new companies get hung up on mission and vision statements, which can be confusing and end up ignored. “Just have values,” he said. “I didn’t know at the time I started how important that was. The values influence how you and your people are going to act.”

Green pointed out that when you are in startup mode, you sometimes make arbitrary decisions which carry the company in the wrong direction. “By establishing values you remove some of that randomness,” he said.

How To Do Values

So, how do you get values in place?

“Focus on the next six months,” Green said. “Ask every employee to give you one or two words that they believe are or should be company values. Put them all in a list and look for the common themes.”

Green suggested using a word cloud to display them graphically.

“Work out the priorities and come up with six to twelve values. Twenty is too much,” he cautioned. “You can add more later, but take the top four and put a definition with each one. Then add no more than three behaviors per value.” He reiterated: “Four values, 12 behaviors. Then share them with someone outside your business. Give them to someone of a different sex, ethnicity, or your lawyer or your grandma. Take the feedback, but don’t take forever. Ninety-nine percent is good enough.”

The next step, according to Green, is for the “architect” to turn the plan over to the “builders.” Everyone in the organization must talk about it. “Put them into action,” he said. “Find a picture. Talk about it every day, even for just five minutes.” Green cited the company Buffer, which has two million customers. Every day, they choose someone to make a peer call and discuss culture.

Next Steps


“Start on your company values now. Write on a napkin if you have to.”

Once you’ve determined your values, you are just beginning, according to Green. You can’t just post them on the bulletin board and think you’re done. “They must play a part in decision making,” he said. “Ask yourself on a regular basis whether your values are driving your decisions.”

Green cited one company that assigns each new hire a mentor who gives the new employee a cultural initiative to complete. “This on-boarding process is still part of hiring,” he explained, “and you can see whether the new person is a cultural fit.”

Green mentioned another company that handed out awards at its monthly meeting to employees who exemplified the culture. “They give out fun awards,” he said, “like the Indiana Jones Award for someone who takes a chance or the Most Interesting Man in the World Award for an unusual contribution. They have taken their values and made them into a fun part of their culture.”

Green concluded that when it comes to values you need to have credibility. If you don’t, your employees and then your customers will know. “When it comes to culture, it’s not just focusing on an environment people want to come to work at, but an environment that inspires them to succeed. If you have values and integrity and get your culture right, that will be the driver for quality and success.”

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