How To Create Culture

How To Create Culture

The PeopleStar Podcast — Season 1: Episode 15 — Posted March 2, 2022

How To Create Culture

How To Create Culture

The PeopleStar Podcast — Season 1: Episode 15 — Posted March 2, 2022

About the Episode

There’s never been a better time to talk about company culture than right now!

Due to the pandemic, the culture of a lot of companies has risen up and changed. Tony Chatman, this episode’s guest, is a fixer of cultures. Through his work, he helps companies take their teams to the next level. As a speaker and leader, he walks teams through tough topics like unconscious bias and change management. He uses his own company as an example as he talks us through the process of changing culture.

Tony’s three big words when building culture are relationships, perspectives, and expectations.

Tune in to this wonderful episode, it will for sure help you reflect on your company culture.

Key Takeaways

1

People are usually uncomfortable when they have to look in the mirror and accept mistakes.

2

Everything starts with a relationship.

3

Engagement is how much somebody cares about something.

4

Everyone else can see our weaknesses and blind spots.

5

Vulnerability often creates a strong relationship between team members.

Additional Resources

If you have any questions or challenges about Leadership and HR and want our opinion, please send it to support@trakstar.com with "Podcast Question" in the subject field.

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Episode Transcript

PeopleStar Podcast_Tony Chatman: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

PeopleStar Podcast_Tony Chatman: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

PeopleStar Podcast Intro:
Welcome to the PeopleStar Podcast. We deliver leadership perspectives from industry experts on their people, architecture, routines, and culture as they solve HRs newest challenges. And now your host, Julie Rieken.

Julie Rieken:
Hello, Julie Rieken, host of the People Start podcast, I'm super excited today to have Tony Chatman with me. Tony is a leader, and he delivers keynote presentations on tough topics like unconscious bias, change management, and leadership. And he helps organizations build foundations for true leadership, and his audiences always leave motivated to turn individual differences into business advantages, and Tony has recently completed his first book, The Force Multiplier: How to Lead Teams Where Everyone Wins, and I think we all want to have teams where everyone wins. And Tony, you are busy thinking about how to create your own culture and how companies fix their culture, so I am super excited to talk to you today about some of your learnings. Welcome!

Tony Chatman:
Welcome. Thanks, Julie, I appreciate it. I am super excited to be here. This is going to be a blast.

Julie Rieken:
I think so, too. So before we got started, Tony and I kind of connected on some of the things that are going on with him and the things that he delivers. We found we had a lot of commonalities, so I think this conversation is going to be really meaningful for our listeners. And one of the reasons that I felt it was so timely is we're in this time in 2021 about culture and engagement and resignation and people being a part of an organization, we're remote and we're hybrid, there's never been a better time to talk about thinking about your organization's culture, and it's hard. There's a lot of reflection that has to happen, Tony's nodding his head. I know you can't see it, but yes, that is what's happening in cultures. So Tony, will you just give us, your background is super interesting, can you tell us how you got into this space? How did you, how did you get to where you are today?

Tony Chatman:
Sure. Let me give you two major steps that occurred. I was a young chemical engineer working, had my dream job, loved everything, I started volunteering for an organization with at-risk youth. Actually, it's the Cabrini-Green youth program. Cabrini-Green at the time was the second-largest housing project in the country, and I just ran into this kid who, you know, the story is I ran into this kid and I, one day I saw him and he just wasn't happy, and I'd never seen this kid not happy. And I found out that his mother was away, she'd binge a lot and she would binge on drugs and would vanish for two or three days at a time, and so the kid was tired. He'd been taking care of his younger brother, and I thought to myself, wait a second, his mom's away, he's taking care of his younger brother, and he's six. That means he can't go to school, he can't all of these other things. And I'm looking at this young child who has so much it factor, and yet, what are the chances of him being successful? And so that, along with some other things, caused me to want to leave my position and just work in nonprofit and save the world. And then later, I realize the problem with nonprofit is it's nonprofit. So the second part of the story is that I was trying to now figure out what to do. And along with some friends, I came to this realization that my gifts were, I'm great with people that I'm quick to connect the dots, I can make very complicated things seem easy and I'm a good communicator, and that led me down the path to where I am today. And so that's kind of my short story, but you know, you can see more about it when my biopic comes out.

Julie Rieken:
I love that. That is so interesting that you are there in this space today, and one of the things that you do in your day-to-day is help companies think about their culture. And this is something that all of our organizations are reflecting on right now. And reflection is hard to think about where we are and what's going on. And so I'm thinking about your journey right now, for, by the way, that's a super interesting story about that young man and how you got to where you are and thinking about how you are today, thinking about creating cultures and fixing cultures. You're creating your own as you think about you doing things like writing books and creating your own organization and in your history, you've used this past to help organizations reflect and think on their own cultures. Let's just start there. I would really like to talk about, can we just back up and say, fixing cultures? You probably learned a lot from that. You probably saw a lot of things, and then that probably influenced what you wanted to do with your own culture. Can you just talk about some of the things that you've seen and how you think organizations can approach this?

Tony Chatman:
Sure. Absolutely. Great question. So often when I am fixing a culture, the first thing is to get a good measure of where it really is. And that's the hard thing because people often don't want to look under the hood, right? They don't want to deal with where they really are, what's really going on, they'd rather hear where it's supposed to be, but as I started working with more and more organizations, I just realized almost innately that when we talk about culture, we're primarily talking about relationships and how people relate to one another now on top of that, we're also talking about expectations and experiences, but really it starts with the relationships. How is a person's relationship with their direct supervisor? How is their relationship with their peer? How is their relationship with, what we used to call, subordinates? And I realized if an organization has strong relationships, they can get past almost everything else, they're far more resilient, they're far more profitable and productive. They're, they're engaged. And in fact, when I talk about engagement, people say, What's? What's engagement? That's kind of this, this nebulous word. Engagement only means how much somebody cares if a person cares and they're willing to do something because of that, they're engaged. But that's a function of relationships. And so that has always stood out to me. And it's funny because a lot of companies go, wow, that was really good, do you think you ever work for you? Work for us? I'm like, nope, not a chance! I am not.

Julie Rieken:
No way!

Tony Chatman:
No way, right? It's so now, as you kind of foreshadowed, I am building the culture of my own organization. I've tried to remain a one-person shop for years and I just can't do it any longer. And so taking some of the things I just said, I really wanted to make sure that the, this first hire because she's my director of operations, that she understood what I expected, but also that we would just be able to work together. We would like each other, that we could connect not only intellectually and not only in terms of having skills that cover each other's weaknesses, but that we got each other. And I feel like I found someone who gets me and I get her. But then the second thing is I had to also open up the hood on my own self and say, so here's the thing I know my strengths, but let me also share with you some of my weaknesses, some of what I now know are my blind spots, and I don't do these things intentionally, but I know that they're there and I'm telling you so that, number one, you're not surprised, but also so that when they happen, you realize, oh, Tony's not being a jerk, Tony's not intentionally doing anything, this is kind of a package deal, and he prepared me for it. And so now we kind of have our own protocols of how to get through those moments. But I really felt it was important that I didn't just present myself as here's all the great things about me, but instead, here's the real thing, we're going to be talking to each other all of the time, and you need to know I get overwhelmed, I get distracted, it's hard for me to let go because this has been my baby for 15 years. All of those things you have to understand so that we can really work together and create a culture that's going to expand with our client base.

Julie Rieken:
Tony, that's super interesting because that's a pretty vulnerable space to be, which is, hey, here's the things that I'm strong at, and here's the things where maybe I have a gap. And as a leader, that's a really reflective place to be. So I've got actually two follow-ups to this. When you think about you, you were able to reflect on your own space and share that to create a more positive relationship and positive intentions. How did that conversation go? Why did you choose that path instead of, instead of any other path?

Tony Chatman:
Oh, because I've seen so many bad bosses thst messed it up, you know? I mean, it's, the funny thing about our weaknesses in our blind spots is that everyone else sees them. So I had gotten so much feedback over the years that I just knew this was there. And so I thought instead of getting bit by this later or instead of having all of these unspoken things or an elephant in the room, let's start with that. And the conversation went incredibly well. I didn't just share my deepest, darkest secrets or anything, it wasn't that kind of thing. But I think it really helped because now, because I was vulnerable, she's able to be vulnerable. And if things don't go well, if something happens, there's a sense of, hey, look, I messed up, so how do we fix it? Or here's my plan to fix it versus trying to sweep it under the rug. So I felt, I feel like it created a really good precedent for how things are going to go in the future.

Julie Rieken:
You know what makes me think about leadership in general, Tony, and just what a partnership it really is, because oftentimes to your point, you've seen a lot of things, and I do think there is a bit of, people expect leaders to be infallible, they expect that they are perfect and that they can see everything, and they can't, we can't. And so when you opened that up and said, this is a partnership agreement, here's my strengths and here's the things that I'm going to need help with, you've opened up to the idea that leadership is, it can be a team effort and that I think builds a strong relationship in terms of that vulnerability. It sounds like you found that.

Tony Chatman:
No, I completely agree. And, trying to be perfect as a heavy burden to try to care. But really, it's a lot.

Julie Rieken:
It's a really tough burden!

Tony Chatman:
It is because now you're trying to live up to that. And you know, this is why so many people suffer from imposter syndrome is because now they, they think they should be perfect, and yet they see that they're not and they think, well, maybe because no one else is sharing their vulnerabilities, maybe I'm the only one, and that's really where we kind of get messed up. And so for me, I think I've been around the block enough to go, I'm confident in who I am, I'm pretty secure and you're going to find this stuff out anyway. So I'd rather you find it out for me, so that way is done in a more positive way.

Julie Rieken:
I love that. So now I want to go back to something that you said at the beginning because I think these two things are parallel, whether it's you reflecting on the things that are your strengths and the gaps that you, you may perceive that you have, whether or not you actually have them, but you perceive it and you share them, when we think about organizations and the culture, one of the things you mentioned early on is that we, this is true, we want to believe that our cultures are better than they are sometimes. And so, so you talked about going back because we do, because we're optimists and we want to believe that the things that we're doing are perfect and right, and they never are. But let's go back to the idea of how, when you help organizations do that reflection, how do you take stock of where they're at? Do you have, do you have a way? Do you ask questions? Do you do surveys? What do you do to figure that out?

Tony Chatman:
It really varies based on the client. Some clients do some form of culture survey, and that can be really, really helpful as long as the correct questions are being asked. Some organizations do kind of the 360 feedback, which is really good, but sometimes it's just, well, it depends on what the issue is, right? If the issue has to do with diversity/inclusion, let's see the numbers, let's look at the demographics and all the different levels. And what you'll find out is that the numbers that should be easy to get are often very difficult because either they're not being tracked or someone's embarrassed because of where things really are and doesn't want to share them because they feel like it's a reflection on them. That's what makes it really hard. And so asking a lot of questions even before, you know, kind of figuring out the survey or whatever asking all of these questions, you start to kind of get a gauge of who's confident, who's not, who's secure, who's not, who's happy, who's not. And then I know who to ask, what question, and that'll start to give me kind of the I. And then I also want to know who are the problem, people? And I want to talk to some of them because sometimes it's not that they're difficult, it's, you know, maybe they're the ones who are actually saying, here's your blind spot, but we're punishing the messenger, or sometimes they're the ones that have always been the outcast, and they're here because they really believe in the company, like the people, but they're always in the doghouse. Things of that nature are important to find out, and it's always good to have a different set of eyes come in, even if I ask the same questions that the organizations is asking, it's just like, do you have children, Julie?

Julie Rieken:
Three.

Tony Chatman:
I don't know if this ever happens to you, but there are some times where.

Julie Rieken:
Everything has happened to me as a parent.

Tony Chatman:
All right. Did you, everything, every time that my friends will tell my kids something and they're, they're young adults now. So my friend's would say, hey, you should do this, and it's like, oh my goodness, that's amazing! I'm thinking, I know I've said that 30 times, I know I've said it 30 times, this is not new, but become, because it came from another voice, they receive it differently. And so.

Julie Rieken:
Yes.

Tony Chatman:
Those outside perspectives can be very helpful, it can have more resonance, sometimes.

Julie Rieken:
You know, that's a really interesting thing when we're thinking about improving our cultures, whether we do it internally or we have someone externally help us reflect so that we can really see the things that are happening inside our organizations, that I would imagine provides tremendous value for the people that you work with for the organizations that you work with, being able to reflect some of that and being an outside voice, that that's probably provided you with a lot of insight.

Tony Chatman:
Oh, one hundred percent. It allows me to do all of those things. And yet I also let people know, I am partnered with the organization. So number one, I'm a safe person, you can come and talk to me, but in the end, we both have the same goal, which is to make the organization better. And I think that there is a confidence that comes from that, people don't just view me as a vendor, but then they know, OK, look, I can tell you, it'll be anonymous, it'll get to the right person so that they can hear it, but there's no repercussions on me, and that allows people to really be more vulnerable to talk. And that's a huge benefit to the decision-makers, because they're going to hear the things that their direct reports won't tell them. And that's often what their biggest blind spot, right? Because their direct reports know how to talk to them and make things look good. But they need to also hear here's what's really going on that's never making it up the chain of command and up that chain of communication, but you have to hear this because it's what's really going on.

Julie Rieken:
That's a big deal. That's a big deal. So, OK, I love this, and now I want to just go into this thread about you building because you've seen these things because you've seen some of these gaps and you've asked these questions. Tony, you gave me three things that you're thinking about in building your culture. There were three things you're thinking about, and they are, I'm going to, spoiler alert, relationships, perspectives, and expectations. Can you talk to us about why are those your three words as you build a culture? Why?

Tony Chatman:
Sure. So it's, I believe that our relationships mean everything. They really mean everything, in the workplace especially, we spend more time at work than we do anywhere else. So if you're not happy at work, you're probably not happy, right? It's just that's the way it is. But I also know, if I have healthy relationships with everyone who's in my organization, number one, they'll tell me what I need to know. Number two, they'll cover me when I am not, you know, the right person or have the right voice or the right perspective. There are times where your strengths are just way better than mine, and they'll jump in even before I ask, knowing that I'm not offended or threatened by that, I want them to do that because that's part of the relationship. Those things are really important because, you know, people do business with people they know, like and trust, right? So if you know, like and trust each other, that's a big deal. So I actually, I know I said perspectives earlier, but it's almost, it's expectations and experiences I think as I'm thinking about it a little bit more. Expectations is really, here's what's either been promised or told to me at the organization, here's what I expect, here's what I expect to contribute, here's what I expect to receive, here's the culture that I expect, here's what I expect to have happen if I make a mistake, here's what I expect to have happen if I do well. When people have a clear expectations, that makes the work a lot easier. A lot of that's a function of communication, but those expectations, so I'm thinking a lot about expectations now as I'm bringing on now more trainers, I've got, spoiler alert, I've got a new COO coming on who just happens to be my wife, you know, and so I'm thinking about that. That's going to be a lot of fun too, right? So I'm thinking for everybody, what are your expectations coming into the organization? And then third is experiences. So what really happens, what really happens, what's work like for people? And here's something that I wasn't thinking about until just a moment ago. Think about this great resignation that's happening, so I go back to the first organization that I worked for, and I loved it, I was a chemical engineer, company treated me well, I liked a lot of my coworkers and I was supposed to go into a very technical sales position. But as I traveled the country meeting with the different salesmen, what I started to see was that the vast majority of them, because of a lot of times they would take out clients and entertain them, a lot of them struggled with alcoholism or some type of drug abuse, and they had a significantly higher divorce rate than the rest of society. And as I looked at that, I kept thinking, OK, they make a lot of money, but this is a package deal. If I take on this position, that's probably where I'm going, so that was my experience, and that's the part of culture we don't think about. We don't think so, how does what happens at work bleed into life? Because people look for those types of patterns. And I think that's part of what's going on with this great resignation as well is OK, it's not just about money, it's not just about culture, but how does work bleed into life, and life bleed into work? And I've got to figure out that because what I don't want to do is attain financial success, but lose something that's important to me in the process. And that's kind of what I was looking at. And so that was part of my experience, it wasn't just my experience with the clients, it was experience with the people who are in the position that I knew I was heading towards. And I had to say, do I want that? And at that point, it was a resounding no.

Julie Rieken:
Yeah. And what did you want to build for people that were in your organization? When I think about these three things, relationships, expectations, and experiences, we've had our ups and downs here, which I think is pretty normal with organizations, but there were some times when we had one, when one of those is out of balance, it's it's a challenge. It's a challenge like I think, I can think back to a time when we had really strong relationships and expectations, I think, but the experiences weren't the things that dumb that we wanted, and when you get those three things in alignment, it is pretty magical. It is, if you get those three things into alignment, and that's, but it's a, it's a constant battle, it's a constant thing because needs and organizations and times change. And so this is something to be vigilant about I think, in organizations always.

Tony Chatman:
100 percent and it's not something that you achieve and then let go of either because you're constantly maintaining it because you have new people coming in, you have changes in the marketplace, this last two years tells us how much the world can change in the blink of an eye. And so you're always working on improving these things. And, you know, like you said, if you're not on top of it, if, if one of them gets out of whack, it can really mess things up. And here's a great example, so I'm dealing with a client right now who's expanded a lot over the past three years, but in doing so, they've absorbed, I think, if I remember correctly, seven other companies in the last three years.

Julie Rieken:
I have no idea what you're talking about.

Tony Chatman:
Yeah, no clue, no, no, no one's ever experienced this stuff.

Julie Rieken:
Please go on.

Tony Chatman:
Yeah. So now what they're realizing is it's like nuclear fusion. You're trying to fuse seven or eight, actually technically eight different cultures together, eight different sets of relationships, eight different sets of expectations, and eight different sets of experiences. All of those are trying to come together, and that is very challenging because, you know, this is, that's the real work. When you when you bring in another company, now you're trying to figure out how do I, how do I either get this company to assimilate to the new culture? How do we assimilate to their culture? Or how do we create a culture that makes sense for both sides of it? And that's really where the work takes place, and that's why these three things are important, because if you think about these three things, it doesn't look as gigantic. It's how are the relationships, how are the expectations, how are the experiences? If you could figure that out, you'll be able to recreate that culture.

Julie Rieken:
You know what? I think that is a fantastic wrap. It's just a great, a great set of thoughts for us to think about and advice for us to go forward with, relationships, expectations and experiences in terms of creating a positive culture. So this has been phenomenal. I have super enjoyed visiting with you.

Tony Chatman:
I have too! Maybe we'll get to do this again. I mean, not, even without a microphone, just a conversation.

Julie Rieken:
Me too, me too. Cool. Well, Tony, thank you for all the listeners, we're going to put Tony's information in our show notes and the transcripts. Tony, thank you for being a guest and I hope you have a terrific holiday season.

Tony Chatman:
Julie, thanks so much for bringing me on. I appreciate it. Hope you have an incredible holiday season as well.

Julie Rieken:
Thank you.

PeopleStar Podcast Outro:
Thanks for listening to the PeopleStar Podcast. For the show notes, transcript, resources, and more ways to get a seat at the table, visit us at TrakStar.com/Podcast.

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