In 2001, a new recruit was drafted to the West Coast Eagles football club. He was a mature age recruit who’d played a lot of football in country WA and was seen as a bit of an unknown in AFL circles. At a pre-season meeting that year, the new players were introducing themselves and had to describe their likes and dislikes. The recruit announced to the assembled players and coaches that he loved 3 things: football, V8’s and walking around with his shirt off. He was immediately embraced by the club and its supporters and became the leading goal kicker in his debut season. If asked the same question, in the same situation, I would have answered that I love: federal election night, New York jazz clubs and tales of redemption. Alas, acceptance at the West Coast Eagles may have been more problematic for me!
I’m not an AFL footballer but rather the CEO of a small company and really, I have two jobs: setting the company strategy, and creating the company culture. If I do those jobs well, then the remainder of the CEO role, such as reporting to the Board and other governance activities, will take care of themselves. I have worked as a strategist over many roles, both as a consultant and as an executive, but I have grown to accept that culture eats strategy for breakfast. However, I don’t like to refer to culture anymore as that term invites a fair bit of eye rolling from my colleagues and even more intrusion from the HR department. I’m going to deal with strategy in another article, but for now I’m going to focus on the actions and attitudes that I value and that get rewarded in our company. Instead of culture I focus on these things: the things I value.
There is little chance of a startup company like ours, or indeed any company, succeeding without shared vision and passion for that vision. In my current company, whose digital assets include www.personalandpolitical.org and www.chiefexecutivestory.com, I value those who share our vision; who genuinely get a buzz from connecting politicians and business leaders directly to their communities and stakeholder groups. Startup companies can occasionally be ambiguous places and I value those who have the courage to stick with the task through to the end. The best way to do that is to bring excitement each day alongside an infectious energy that drives the team. Our business lines are light on physical assets and rich on insights. We seek out, and value, people who can create trusted connections and draw insights from conversation and who continually and strongly distinguish our offer in the market. But above all, I value creativity and curiosity; to be visually, verbally and commercially creative. As knowledge workers, that’s the only game we play.
When I bring people together and form them into teams, those teams are intended to be dynamic; constantly reshaped, coached and changed in the service of creating value for our customers. Feedback is provided on a frequent basis so I value those who seek it and use it to develop professionally. The important thing that our staff value is that their colleagues are all A-graders; as people and particularly in their areas of expertise. The guy or girl sitting next to you will easily outperform the person in the office down the street, and they will do it in support of our vision. I value that!
Another thing that I value in society, and in my company, is freedom. On the issue of policies, I operate a ‘loose/tight’ approach. I encourage freedom of thought and behaviour and recruit people with good judgement. People with good judgement can work out the right thing to do in most situations, even without a stated policy. However, freedom doesn’t mean a free pass. I am vigilant about the behaviour of our team when it comes to building our brands and about protecting the highly valuable brands of our stakeholders. I obviously don’t tolerate any type of criminal, nasty or even mischievous behaviour and don’t care much for office politics either. Anything of this nature will be met with a quick cleaning of the desk and farewell from our company.
As CEO, the team that you put in place to support your vision and help to build your company is one of the only things that you really have control over. If you choose them well, coach them and create the right environment then they will shine, but the right environment means they know what is valued, not just how things are done around here but what we value around here.