[Podcast] Acing Your Culture with Blake Garrett

It’s impossible not to have a culture.

There’s a natural tension that exists in your culture as you try to create beautiful products and services.  Bringing a group of people together results in a dynamic that can drive your company to the next level or make the entire process unnecessarily difficult.

In the most recent episode of the What Culture Could Be podcast,  I chatted with Blake Garrett, Founder and CEO at Aceable Inc., about existing in the arena of high stakes education and what it takes to maintain a productive culture amidst a time of rapid growth, fund raising, and business acquisition.

Create The Culture You Want

In the end, as the executive either you define the culture or it is defined for you.  Ignoring it is not an option. And if you would take a look at the downstream metrics that show what an impact maximum engagement brings, you’d be wondering why you haven’t taken a more serious and proactive look at your company’s cultural development.

“You can make it engaging, entertaining, and more effective at creating outcomes.” – Blake Garrett

Blake admits that thinking about how to best utilize his people keeps him up at nights.  Appreciating the impact of his team – which he considers his most valuable resource – causes him to look not just at what the team is doing, but also what he can do as the head person to inspire empathy and trust within the company.

He recalls of 5 Dysfunctions of a Team where mistrust is the base of the pyramid of dysfunction.  If you’ve ever been part of a mistrustful team it’s easy to see how that dynamic can gradually erode the trust that helps your team add value to customers.

Conversely, creating an atmosphere where you and your team love to work goes a long way towards retention and productivity, which results in success.  And that is something that will definitely help you sleep better!

The Ebb And Flow Of Great Culture

“Things change,” Blake reminds us, “We’re not the same company we were years ago when we were only fifteen people.”  As a company evolves, jobs and roles change. There’s a natural friction that happens as people try to do their jobs well.

But this doesn’t happen well without conflict management.  It’s not that you or your employees should relish conflict; you should be able to have it productively, respectfully, and empathetically.  It seems as though, left to their own devices, people shy away from conflict (even when resolution is needed) and passive aggressiveness ensues.

Blake reminds us that “A huge part of culture is what’s not said,” and what’s passive can be quickly overlooked.  Culture isn’t something you can just wind up, let go, and hope for the best. It’s as dynamic as the people of which it is comprised.  And any space you’re not filling will be filled with something else.

“Tensions are normal, but if tensions are executed in an effective way they can quickly lead to the degradation of a culture.” – Blake Garrett

Invest in your team.  It’s more cost effective to retain the employees you have than to hire new people.  And without the proper environment, you might only be tossing another employee into the proverbial meat grinder.  It throws you into a seemingly endless loop, while serving to simultaneous stalemate your company’s growth.

You’ve gone to great lengths to seek out and hire the right people.  Keep them.

Creating a great culture – complete with the reality that it should be flexible enough to accommodate for growth – is the best way to circumvent major mistakes on the front end.

Blake recommends a people leader or team that whose focus is maximum employee engagement.  We’re not just talking about “happier and healthier” employees, which is also good, but about driving the efficiency of the team.

Properly positioning this person (or team) in your company structure will allow them to drive engagement and produce down-the-line results.

Clinging To Your Values

It’s easy to begin cutting programs, leading from the podium, and pulling away from engagement when things are rough.

However, adversity will reveal whether or not the values you’ve established are truly part of your culture.

People behave differently when they’re stressed.  At Aceable, Blake and his team use the DiSC Survey, which sheds some light on the variance of an individual with regards to how they behave when their stressed versus when they are relaxed.

Do employees have a sense of solidarity in their environment – something to cling to when things are going wrong?

“It’s impossible not to have a culture.” – Blake Garrett

Your core values define your company.  And nowhere will it be more obvious than to the people who work there.  It’s one thing to say that your most valuable asset is your people; it’s an entirely different thing to stay that course when the situation is dire.

“Looking back at the moments you’ve survived,” Blake says, “strengthens your team and creates a stronger culture.”  Not all businesses survive, but it’s a safe bet to think that the ones who stuck to great value are the ones who stayed the course.

The values you decide upon as a leader – not just the ones you proclaim on a mission statement, but the deeply abiding truths about your character and the quality of your company – will be integrated into your company culture.

Look at leaders like Blake and the team he’s put in place to bring success in a difficult market as an example of where great culture breeds business success.