When Nobody is Watching.

What if there were no bosses? If there were no office hours, no vacation policy, how would the people make decisions? If there were no one watching, what would lead them to make good decisions that cared for the business and your customers? What if the ultimate responsibility were theirs?

This may sound Utopian – or foolish, depending on your perspective. But it’s increasingly the reality of business. In our industry, it’s here.

We’re asking for your support for the family of our great friend and digital advertising pioneer Joe Gallagher, who we lost tragically and unexpectedly this summer. We’ve set up a GoFundMe page to raise scholarship funds for Joe’s kids. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated and 100% will go to the Gallagher family. Thank you for your generosity.

The combination of big territories, big employee-to-manager ratios, distributed locations and the raw speed of business means that employees are making their own decisions much of the time. Your policies and caps and meetings and policy reviews simply can’t keep up with the pace of business. Control-based top-down rules and approvals end up looking foolish and bureaucratic.

So, what then?

This is not to say that policies and rules are obsolete (a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, for example, is an excellent one). But regardless of how much you elaborate on the rules, you need your employees to make judgments… sound, moral, positive judgments. And the only way to get there is to establish a culture of values. Here are the four values that I recommend to my customers; each is personally controllable by the individual and helps him/her make better decisions both internally (with team members) and externally with clients. Share them, talk about them.

Be Curious. Healthy, appropriate curiosity leads one to ask more and better questions of customers and coworkers. It generates true empathy. It builds trust and connection. Curious people want to know how things work, more about the customer’s business…more about their co-worker’s role and queue.

Be Generous. Those who are generous don’t keep score. They continue to treat customers like customers even when there’s no big jackpot in front of them. They give coworkers the benefit of the doubt. They don’t infer motives that are not there. They help others.  They focus on making a difference while also making a profit.

Be Tenacious. Tenacious employees go the extra mile for customers and coworkers. They don’t accept the easy, obvious answer.  They stay with the conversation, the project or the problem – that much longer. They take the time to examine the situation fully.

Be Worthy. Worthiness is about the journey, not the destination; about the quality and excellence of work and effort, not just about the score. It’s not about getting… it’s about deserving. Deserving the customer’s trust, deserving the best efforts of your coworkers, deserving the job you have and the success you crave. As John Adams said, We cannot assure success. We can only deserve it.

If you want your team to thrive, let them make the decisions within a culture where values are the dominant drivers. Then get out of the way.

Blame It on Culture.

Blame it on CultureWe tend to think of business and sales cultures for how they enable, elevate and extend our work. A strong culture gives our people clarity on the mission, helps them make appropriate decisions and level sets the expectations around behavior and tone. Good culture provides a platform on which a lot good things can be built.

But culture can – and our fast-growing digital marketing world, often does – fulfill a darker purpose. If left undeveloped, company culture can be the low ceiling that shackles your people, stymies your growth and assures that the potential of your people and technology will remain unfulfilled.

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Over the past two decades I’ve had the chance to work with hundreds of digital media and technology companies, big and small, and have been exposed to hundreds more. Patterns repeat and familiar scenarios play out in a continuous loop. Well-meaning CEOs and compliant leadership teams fail to recognize the warning signs that their “culture” has become little more than a license to perpetuate bad behavior and poor decisions. Here are a few of the more toxic cultural models and how they could be holding your business or sales team down.

Flat and Leaky. Having started the company with an idea, three other guys and a dog, the CEO wants to stay accessible to everyone – despite the fact that the company may now have scores or hundreds of employees. The illusion of an “open culture” obscures the fact that he’s undermining all of his managers and department heads and sowing confusion and generally gumming up the works.

“Watch How Cool and Busy We Are!” You just think you’re a culture of multitaskers equipped with all the latest digital tools. You are actually a culture of clueless tools incapable of providing full attention and respect to people and ideas. Perpetually late for meetings, constantly doing email at the expense of those in the room. If you don’t start calling out and ostracizing this boorish behavior it will kill your company.

“Bro!” A closet full of hoodies and Adidas shower shoes does not make you Mark Zuckerberg. But beyond the stunted sartorial choices, “Bro-Culture” can cause some serious problems. Ask the women in your organization how welcome and empowered they feel in the office every day? And when you invariably hire the inevitable second wave of experienced sales and tech pros, watch how the bros close ranks.

“We Got This!” The one quality most likely to cripple a company culture? Self-congratulation. It’s great to have confidence in your technology, but craving the certainty that we have “the right answer” can easily bleed into “we’re right about everything.” To succeed, you need a company of seekers; an openness to well-meaning dissent. Hire the curious and weed out the absolutists.

Peter Drucker famously said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”   Ask what your culture is swallowing that might better be used to nourish your team.