Part II in the video series:
More from this series: Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 1
John Assaraf sat down with Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons.com, to discuss what it means to create and maintain a thriving corporate culture. In this interview, Cox defines corporate culture, outlines steps entrepreneurs can take to define their company’s culture and shows how a strong culture can translate into other great gains for any organization.
Assaraf: So let me ask you a question. When you talk about values that “I” have or values that “we” have, as the CEO of a one person company or five or ten, and I know you started off small, bootstrapping your business and I want to talk about that as well today, this is a great entrepreneur to listen to, when you talk about your values, you’re really not talking about what you think your client’s values are or what kind of values you should have in order to appeal to people. You’re really talking about what do you believe at the core of your being. Is that accurate?
Cox: Absolutely. So many people, I’ve talked to other entrepreneurs and they think, well, I’ve got to design my company based on what values my customer has. We actually take the opposite approach to that. The values that you have as a person, they’re you. That’s who you are; they’re the core. Those values should be authentic, absolutely authentic to who you are and they should be what drives the company. What’s right in my company may not be what’s right in your company. What’s most important is that there is no one right culture. We’ll get into that a little bit more. But the whole idea is that culture is about authenticity. Some people value “the customer is always right”, and if you honestly believe that, you have got to live that day in and day out. One of our values is Constant and Never-ending Improvement and we’ll walk through examples of some of these from our own corporate culture and how we came up with these. That simply means for us, in all situations, where we are today cannot be where we are tomorrow. It’s a personal belief that I’ve held since listening to Brian Tracey when I was 18 growing up, driving in my little Mazda, but those sorts of things are what really carry us. It’s the things that do not change. There are so many things that happen in business, so many ups, so many downs, so many pitfalls, and you have to have a belief system and a value system so no matter what happens, even if it’s to the detriment of the company, you will not change. One of the questions that we ask in an interview, for anyone in the company, is what are values within the company that if the company does not exemplify them, you would not want to be a part of it? That gives a really good insight. We were interviewing a candidate yesterday for a VP position and he said they have to have absolute respect, up and down, for all people within the organization. That was critical to him. Knowing those values for yourself allows you to see if that person is vibing with you and would vibe within the organization, and if you’re seeking a job it allows you to know if that company would vibe with you as well.
A: So this is the core. Who are you? What do you stand for? What don’t you stand for or won’t stand for? That’s really how you develop the nucleus of what you stand for in yourself and that’s how you build from you to the next employee to the next employee to the next employee.
C: Something that I say, and this goes back to being authentic, I’m sure we’ve all heard of Lady Gaga and Adele. They have two very different types of modes of communication. Which one is right? The answer is both. And they’re right because they’re being authentic to who they are. It’s the same thing in culture. As long as you’re authentic, you will go farther than anything made up based on what the customer wants to hear or based on what you think is hot in the industry. So many people, especially back in the internet days, they made those mistakes and they tried to build companies based on a fleeting level of success. They tried to base companies on what could be done to gain funding, kind of massage these sites, with no true basis for why they want to be in business. I think that was to the detriment of a lot of companies back then.
A: I would agree with you. And you know what’s interesting? Adele just won a whole slew of awards recently at the Grammys. Her career is taking off and she stayed true to her culture and if you don’t know Lady Gaga, she’s making $30 million a year just off of her Twitter account. I think last year she made upwards of $80 million in revenue. That’s a perfect example of individuals who are true to their values that are making a ton of impact and making a ton of money as well.
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