Creating an Intentional Organizational Culture - (Ep 7)

An interview with coach and author Mary Marshall

By David Worley - March 24, 2019

This episode explores how to identify and build an intentional culture which serves your organization's values.


02:30  What is organizational culture and why does it matter?

04:09  Culture is always created, the question is whether it is intentional.

08:08  How to identify your current organizational culture.

09:49  Thinking about alignment between an organization’s values and behaviors.

11:25  Identifying cultural “fits” and “misfits."

15:20  The value of behavior-based interviewing.

17:26  Posing good position interview questions.

18:53  How to root out cultural misfits.

24:15  The value of investigating your organizational values.

25:44  “Hire slowly, fire quickly."

The Great Culture Disconnect: Building a Business Culture that Works (2018) - Mary Marshall — site of Marshall Advisors, LLC
Behavior-Based Interviewing

Show length 27:59

David:  00:00  Hi everybody, this is David Worley. Having a positive and supportive organizational culture is critical for growth and longterm stability in almost any venture. But how does one build an intentional culture? Even more elementary, how does one identify the culture they currently have? We seek answers to this common challenge in this episode of the Groler Podcast.

David:  00:43  On this episode, we welcome Mary Marshall to the show. Mary is a coach for chief executives, an author, and speaker. She runs a consulting practice in Seattle focusing on excellence in leadership and building intentional cultures. Her most recent bestselling book, the Great Culture Disconnect was published in 2018. It is a fantastic resource for leaders seeking to identify and improve their organizational culture. I read the book, enjoyed it, and would highly recommend it to people who want to think practically and clearly about organizational cultures. In the book, Mary deals with questions like how a group selects values, how to identify and deal with cultural misfits, and how to build a culture to support a leader's organizational legacy. So we're very pleased to welcome Mary.

David:  01:33  Mary, thank you for being with us.

Mary:  01:35  My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

David:  01:37  Mary, in your coaching, writing and speaking, what gets you fired up? Put a little differently. Why do you get out of bed every morning to do what you do?

Mary:  01:47  Well, that's an easy question because one of the things that excites me, about businesses is that every one of them is a little bit different. And so every day I get to get up and go to all these different businesses and see how I can help them achieve their dreams. And I love working inside of the businesses and figuring out what's the one little tweak or the one little change that we might need to make that could really accelerate the progress of the business. And so for me, that's fascinating. To me, they're all just like puzzles, and I get to help put the pieces together.

David:  02:20  Having all that difference in businesses, that's got to be stimulating. In your book, you talk about organizational culture. Can you speak to the listeners about what is organizational culture and why does it matter?

Mary:  02:33  Yeah, absolutely. What I have found in different businesses that I've run and then the different businesses that I've been a part of or consulted with or coached for, is that there's one common thread that can be pulled to make the business really hum and that thread is intentional culture. There's culture in every single business that I go into, but one of the things I talk about in the book is intentional culture versus unintentional culture. And the intentional culture is generally, let's say if we're talking about an entrepreneur, they decided that this is what I want my business to be, to feel like, to look like this is how I want people to feel, this is the customer experience that we want to provide. And generally, it's pretty clear from a founder's perspective what that is. What happens is when you bring other people into your organization and perhaps don't have the words to describe that to them, they will create their own. They might guess, and it might be like yours, and it might not be like yours. And after a period of time, if we have a dysfunctional organizational culture or what I call an unintentional culture, things start to go south. Goals start not to be met. People are warring with one another. Customers are unhappy, things start to not work very well and it all sort of goes downhill from there.

David:  04:06  So if I'm hearing you correctly Mary, one of the things you're saying there is that culture is going to be created one way or another. The question is whether it's intentional or random. Is that accurate?

Mary:  04:19  Correct. Correct. If there is always culture in a business, you can feel it when you walk in the door. I use this example in my book, because it's a good one. Is that when you go into organizations, very likely you will see mission, vision, and values. They're sometimes posted, you know, on the walls. Other times you have to look a little harder. But people, for the most part, know that's business lingo and that somewhere somehow they learned that they should probably have those in their business. So I walked into this business one day, and they had their values posted up on the wall, one of which was great customer service. We provide great customer service, and there were a few other phrases. So I walk in the door, and there is no one there, which is kind of common today, that's not an uncommon thing.

Mary:  05:15  However, there were no instructions, and there was no person. I could hear people talking behind the wall, and I had a 10 o'clock appointment with the CEO of the organization. And so I thought, well this is interesting. So I kind of looked around, was there anything that told me what I should do? No. Did anybody come to greet me? No. Even though they could have probably heard the door open. So I sat down, and one of the chairs and then I noticed after about 10 minutes, obviously, I was not paying that close of attention, there was a little note by a phone next to the chair where I was seated, and it said, "dial your extension." Well, I had no idea what this gentleman's extension was. So I thought, okay, well, I'll pick up the phone and I just randomly dialed any extension. Somewhat answered, and I said, "hey, I'm waiting out at the front here, and I'm having a 10 o'clock appointment with so and so. It's now five after 10," and they go, "oh, he's not here."

David:  06:17  Oh Wow.

Mary:  06:18  I'm like, okay. And so I'm having a phone call with the person who I can literally hear behind the wall. So I'm thinking, "oh, this is great customer service." But you know, that's okay. So we had a little brief exchange and he kind of finds out where the CEO is, and he comes back to me, and he says, "oh, you know, he had to leave. He was hoping you could wait. He should be here by 11." I said, "no, I don't think I'm going to wait. That's okay. I'll call and, you know, we can reschedule." I had no intention of calling to reschedule. Because the challenge that the CEO wanted to talk to me about was his terrible employees. He was having really high turnover in his employees were terrible. Now I could just tell by how the office was set up that, culturally, it was not set up to be good for employees. They were not empowered to be helpful. Certainly, the good customer service was not experienced by anybody walking into the organization, and it was no surprise to me that the service that I experienced would be what others would experience, which is why he was probably having very high turnover. So there really wasn't much I could do until the CEO was willing to change that. And by the way, he'd never did call me back, which was not a big surprise to me.

David:  07:40  Sure, sure.

Mary:  07:41  You know, and that's an example of an unintentional culture. Let's put up on the wall what we think everybody wants to hear, what the nice, fresh, flavors of the day are, but we're not going to live it in our business. It doesn't matter, it's just pretty wallpaper at this point.

David:  07:55  That makes a lot of sense. So if I'm a listener Mary, and I've heard you, and I'm like, "Huh, okay, intentional culture. I get the concept, but I'm not sure how to be attuned to my particular culture." What might you instruct us to look at to identify the culture we currently have in our organization?

Mary:  08:15  That's a great question. So first of all, I would look at and be honest with yourself, whether you have five employees or whether you have 500 employees, what's really the satisfaction of my employees? How happy are they? And [a great way] without doing, you know, [a] very expensive 360 survey or you know, some sort of a survey tool that you would give to your employees would be to say, "what's our retention rate?" How many of these people are actually leaving? And if you've got a retention rate somewhere north of 75% maybe 80 or 85%, they are probably pretty satisfied. And that would tell me that there is probably some alignment between who you think you are as an organization culturally and who you really are. For example, if you have a value of fun, you think that you're a very fun organization, you want your employees to have fun, your products are somehow connected to fun. And you know, you consider yourself a fun organization that would mean to me that inside the organization I could find daily examples of where you allow your employees to experience fun, where you talk about it, where people are actually having fun versus an organization who I went into who said one of their values was fun. And I said, "great, how do you show that? How do you guys celebrate that?" "We have a picnic once a year." Yeah. I'm pretty sure there's no person on the planet who thinks a picnic once a year is very fun, right?

David:  09:45  That's a heck of a picnic!

Mary:  09:46  Yeah. It's not going to qualify. So what I'm looking for is alignment between who the organization thinks they are or at the core of it, their values and how they behave. I'm looking for congruency between those things. And that's really what intentional culture is. Because there's no good or bad values, there's just your values. We choose to align ourselves with people whose values we share. So if an organization believes in something or does something or the mission is really good, they have certain values, and they actually live those values in the business, I'm going to say, yeah, I can buy into that, and I'm going to be happy there because I share that. But if I don't buy into the values that are on the wall and I get to the organization, and there's a complete disconnect, which is the title of my book, about that then I'm going to be "what's going on here?" And I'm not going to feel comfortable.

David:  10:44  So, Mary, for people who haven't read your book, the way Mary's book is constructed is, it's didactic in a certain way where she's explaining organizational culture and a lot of key points, but woven through the entire book is this ongoing story of, I think, a fictional organization. And there are some humorous characters in that story ranging from folks that you will identify in any organization all the way to what you call a "cultural terrorist." And this person in the story definitely lives up to their moniker. And so Mary, how do you identify who are cultural fits in an organization and who are cultural misfits? And what do you do about it once it's identified?

Mary:  11:36  Okay, where are you can tell that there's a cultural misfit is when someone starts to behave differently than you would expect based on who the organization is. You know, what the culture is of the organization. And you know, by the way, what I probably should have said earlier on, you know, just to clarify. Is that culture is the way an organization believes that they behave and who they are at their core. So as human beings we have values that drive how we behave, and an organization does too. And that's really what creates culture. And why it's one of those things, it's so difficult to measure sometimes or to talk about is that people just assume that it's there and that it's not anything that we necessarily want to talk about because they don't necessarily know how to change it. So when they find a cultural misfit or someone who is behaving against what we would think would be aligned with the values of the organization, you can say, "hmm, I wonder what's going on for that person?"

Mary:  12:46  And sometimes it will just flat out be a mistaken behavior. And okay, we can train that away. Or we can explain it away and set our expectations more clearly. But when someone continues to behave in a way that is essentially at odds with what the organization is, you probably have a cultural misfit. And over time a cultural misfit doesn't want to be unhappy alone. So they're going to go talk to other people to see if they can gather people over to their side. And before long, you have very much of a Lord of the Flies situation where the inmates are truly running the asylum. And eventually, that cultural misfit, who felt uncomfortable because they were different than everybody else, to begin with, has now recruited enough people over to there to their side that they're now a cultural terrorist and they are truly undermining the core purpose of the business on a regular basis.

Mary:  13:43  They may not be doing anything to the product or service of the business, but they are taking the people that provide the product or service of the business, and they are turning them against whatever or whomever created the business. And so before long now you have a ton of discord in the business and things start to go wrong. Deadlines aren't met, goals aren't met, people are relatively unhappy. Your turnover rate goes down to closer to 50% which is very expensive. And suddenly you're like, how did we get here? What's going on? Because nobody was paying attention to the fact that the Titanic got off course and we're headed for an iceberg.

David:  14:25  That's really interesting. This may be somewhat obvious to some listeners based on your very clear description right there, but I want to turn the question around and ask you the other side. How do you know when you have someone who is a uniquely great fit in a culture? So what's the other side?

Mary:  14:45  So trying to create an organization, let's just say you're the founder, you've decided what the organization is, you've identified your values and you've created your mission and vision. And you're gathering people now around who are really excited about what it is you're doing. You are probably either intentionally or accidentally interviewing and hiring people based on their values, and you're hiring them based on that belief. And so a lot of interviewing techniques today when we're hiring people talk about behavioral based interviewing, which I'm a big fan of. And what that means is that you will ask people about what they have done in the past, not what they potentially will do in the future. So for example, if I'm looking for somebody who can work independently, for example. Let's say I've got an independent salesforce and I need them out in the field and you know, I need them to be okay. Not being surrounded by a team of people, but yet using a team of people as their customer service arm.

Mary:  15:53  I'm going to say. "So tell me a little bit about what you have done in the past where you've been all by yourself, and you had to pretty much rely on your own resources to get something done? Tell me how you went about that?" And then I just start delving down into questions. Because people are not usually that quick on their feet that they can actually lie about an example. It's hard for them to make up an example when you're that specific when you're asking. But if you ask them, "how would you be if you were in an independent office?" Well, they're going to tell you what they think you want to hear. Anybody can create that scenario. "Oh, I think I'd be great at that!" Not having ever done it. And you might end up getting somebody who is completely uncomfortable with that type of a situation.

Mary:  16:41  Or for example, if the organization were particularly collaborative and you were one who didn't like to be collaborative. And they would say, "hey, we're a very collaborative organization. How do you feel about collaboration?" No one in an interview is going to say, "oh no, I hate that." Right? They're going to go, "oh, I totally believe in that." You know, and then when you have them in the organization, they act as an individual contributor, and you can't understand, well gosh, they interviewed so well. What happened? Well, you didn't ask the right questions.

David:  17:15  So Mary, using that example. Let's say that you're interviewing somebody, and your instinct is telling you, I don't know that this person is a good collaborator. How might you pose a question in that interview to get at that past based behavior that may expose a real answer from that person?

Mary:  17:36  So the first question I would ask would be, "give me an example of where you've had a really successful collaboration in your past job?" And sometimes they might hesitate, and they might not be able to answer that question. And I'll go, okay, then I'll tell you what, "tell me about an example where you've had an unsuccessful collaboration?" And sometimes that'll prompt him, and there'll be going into it. And all you have to do is listen, and you will hear that they do not value collaboration. Well, so and so did this and I'd really didn't need that person because you know, actually had the answers. And I work much quicker on my own. And I didn't really need to be that person to talk to that person but, of course, I was forced to, which just slowed me down and on and on they go. And so without you saying anything, you will get the answer that you need about this person that, oh, they're probably not going to collaborate. And it's not really something you can teach. If they fundamentally don't value it, they won't do it.

David:  18:33  Interesting. Yeah, that's a good point. Just about their core values really. Yeah.

David:  18:39  So Mary, when you're working with organizations in your consultancy, and you're talking with leaders, and you're helping them see who on their existing team is really aligned with their corporate culture and who isn't. What are some tips you give for them being able to root out those folks who don't fit? Like, what are the specific things that organizations need to do to get rid of or to move on from those folks who are detractors to your culture?

Mary:  19:12  Well, what are the things that you can do? First of all, as a manager, as a leader, as the owner of the organization, any of those, leadership roles, you need to be looking all the time. Think of it as driving in the car, and we're always aware of our surroundings. It's, it's the same in a business. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all time. Who's doing what and how are they doing it? And it's not micromanagement. Don't pull up the flowers just to look at the roots. That's not a good way to go. But you want to be observing behaviors. And when you see behaviors that are incongruent with what the organization is, or when you're getting consistent pushback from someone about something that you keep trying to get them to do, you're going to want to ask some more questions.

Mary:  19:59  Because the way that this works is, and this is a Simon Sinek thing, he says that values drives beliefs, beliefs drives behavior, and behavior drives performance. And so if we're seeing behavior that is inconsistent with who we are, we have to go back and say, what does this person believe? Why are they doing that behavior? And at the core of that belief, what is the value there? And it may or may not be different than one of your values that you have in the organization. Because fundamentally people believe based on the values that they hold, but they rarely talk about them. When I ask somebody in an interview. "So tell me about your values?" The first thing I always hear is, "oh, well, honesty and integrity." And I'm like, that's kind of a throwaway because are they going to tell you they're dishonest? No, of course not.

Mary:  20:45  So I always probe a little bit deeper, you know, ask a few more questions because there are literally hundreds of values. But I had a situation once where I had, and this is where I first got into understanding how powerful values were, and for creating teams that were really cohesive, that that was probably at the core of it, I actually had somebody come into my organization and facilitate an exercise with my sales team. Because I had a couple of people who weren't quite jelling with the organization. And so we started out with a values exercise. So as a sales team, what is it that we believe, who are we? And quite frankly, we didn't have values for the organization at the time. We had a mission and vision, but personally, I didn't think values where that worthwhile. And this was sort of an exercise to bond my sales team.

Mary:  21:29  So this is how naive I was. So we had somebody come in, and they did this values exercise, and we narrowed it down to about ten values that this team of twelve salespeople really agreed with. And we knew we needed to get it down smaller than that. And there was one sticking point, and one of the salespeople would not agree that collaboration was one of our values. Now in the organization that I ran, we had a service team, we had a sales team, we had a customer service team, and we were a distributor. So we had to be collaborative to actually deliver our products, which were data collection products that automated warehouses. So there was a ton of pieces of things and people that had to go together in order to make this thing work for the client. And this one particular salesperson would just flat out not agree that collaboration was a value.

Mary:  22:25  So we, we decided to pass on that one, came up with six others that we believed in and later I had a conversation with her and I said, "so it was interesting to me that, you know, collaboration was so against who you thought this team should be." And she went into a long explanation about why collaboration was stupid and that she didn't need it and you know, she was much smarter, et cetera, et cetera, than everybody else. And look how she was making her numbers every day. And in the reality of it, she was making her numbers, and she was also making the rest of the team quite uncomfortable. So I had to say to her, "you know, I completely agree and you know, you do make your numbers, but I'm not sure you're a fit here. Do you feel uncomfortable in our environment?" She goes, "no, I've never felt like I was a fit here."

Mary:  23:15  I'm like, "okay, well I think we need to talk about that." And we ended up, you know, I said, well, why don't you go think about it over the weekend, come back next week and we'll talk about it and see if there's anything we can do about it. And she said, "you know, you're right. I'm not a good fit." And so, you know, we gave her a package and wished her well, and she went to work for one of our manufacturers where she didn't need to be collaborative. And you know, she was still a partner with us, but the whole team breathed a sigh of relief that she was gone. Not that she was a bad person, but she didn't fundamentally believe in something that we needed for our team to be successful.

David:  23:50  See, that's so interesting, Mary, because I think sometimes you will find organizational leaders who sort of dismiss the process of sitting down and thinking through values and talking amongst the team on what are our shared values. And right there was a beautiful example, where you investing in your team's exploration of values, unearthed someone who wasn't a fit. And I wonder if that would have been identified had you not done that? What do you think?

Mary:  24:23  No, it never would have. I wouldn't have had the language in order to even have that conversation with her. I would have just thought that she was a pain in the, you know what? Which is kind of what I thought of her, to begin with. And so, you know, for me it opened up this huge world, and oh, it was a huge "aha" for me at the time. And then, as I moved through different organizations and coached different organizations and leaders, I was like, okay, let's look here and see why these two people aren't getting along. Oftentimes it's because they don't share values. Now, they may be able to get along and work side by side. They will never like each other. And in some organizations, that's okay in other organizations that just flat out isn't ever going to work. And so, you know, eventually, we've got to get rid of one of them.

Mary:  25:12  But the biggest thing I can say to people when you're trying to create an intentional culture, and you're trying to create a culture around the values of the organization, the benefits to the organization are huge. You will typically grow three times as fast as you would otherwise. And everything seems so much easier because it is. It's like everybody rowing in the same direction instead of people, you know, not sure how to put the paddles in the water. And you know, everybody not moving because they don't know how to paddle in the same direction. I got this piece of advice way back when and it was, you know, hire slowly and fire quickly. And especially when it relates to values, it takes time. It takes time to hire for intentional culture. You're going to be thoughtful. It's better to keep the position not filled than to put a potential misfit or God forbid, a cultural terrorist in that spot.

David:  26:10  Mary, thank you for all of this. You've been a wealth of wisdom in terms of creating intentional culture. It's been amazing and just to remind our listeners, the book is The Great Culture Disconnect, you can get it on Amazon, it was published in 2018, and the author is Mary Marshall.

David:  26:32  Mary, thanks for being with us. We really appreciate it.

Mary:  26:35  My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

David:  26:37  And that concludes our interview with Mary Marshall. Mary, thanks so much for being with us and teaching us so much about creating an intentional culture. If you're new to the podcast, you can find out more about Groler at our website. That's G R O L E R dot com. There you will find show notes for this episode along with a full transcript. You may also find some other related articles and episodes that you may benefit from engaging.

David:  27:04  You may want to consider subscribing to the show. You can do so via the iTunes store or your particular podcast App. And you can always be assured you will never miss a new episode by subscribing to our mailing list on the Groler website. Ultimately, if you liked this episode, please tell others about it. Let's grow the audience. Let's grow a community of leaders who are learning and growing together. Finally, as always, Groler exists to help leaders learn and grow. So keep learning, keep growing, keep leading. Until next time, I'm David Worley.
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