February 24, 2023

Cultivating Culture: Lessons from Top CEO's

Every company has a culture that will be formed with or without your input as a leader. A brand strategy can help you shape the culture of your company, providing people with guidelines on what to expect and what behaviors are appropriate within the organization.

The third question from the Dreamforce CEO panel is a critical one for companies, large and small. You will be surprised by the CEOs' answers and the correlation to what a brand strategy can do for a company.

"Find a different path for those who do not care or enjoy leading"
Anjali Sud - Vimeo CEO

How do you lead people differently with culture?

Lynn Martin, NYSE CEO, provided an unexpected and candid response: 'Through trial and error...figuring it out.' This tells me that she may not have all the answers, but is not afraid to experiment until she finds a method that works for the NYSE. She currently employs the cliché 'open door policy,' which may sound like lip service, but she could be genuine. She also mentioned a 'no hierarchy' policy that complements the 'open door policy.'

How can these two concepts work together? It seems that if employees are able to walk into any leader or executive's office at any time to speak their minds without making an appointment, it should create a culture of trust.

Lynn Martin also stated that she leads the NYSE with 'an open mind, empathy, and not the bottom line.' I believe that prioritizing empathy over the bottom line is an effective method for long-term culture growth, as it shows that the organization is not solely focused on financial gain, even when it comes to the NYSE, which is known for its profitability."

Anjali appears to be a great CEO who is not afraid to take a humanistic approach with Vimeo. Her answers align perfectly with her previous responses. Anjali’s response is refreshingly simple, “actually care”. “To feel a human connection with leaders and managers,” said Anjali, which supports her previous answer about remote work. During COVID, her executive team flew around the country to the hometown of each of Vimeo’s leadership team for meetings. This created a deeper human connection by meeting people in their homes with family, pets, and friends. I believe this built a culture similar to lifelong friends rather than co-workers. What she said next was also a simple idea which may shock leaders in other companies because of the common sense of it all. “Find a different path for those who do not care…who do not enjoy leading,” said Anjali. I know from my own experiences I came across too many leaders who should not lead because they did not care, wanted to power trip over people, or were promoted because of nepotism. I wish more CEOs would take Anjali’s approach.

"Sit down and get a coach if you don’t have one."
Brent Hyder - Salesforce CPO / Moderator

What does this mean for a brand strategist?

To me, it means that a CEO must have the skills to identify who is and is not a leader within their company. Using a value system as a criterion can help identify the characteristics in employees who embody the desired traits of a leader. A value system can also be used as a filter for existing leadership to hold them accountable to the desired culture.

  • [ ]  Use a value system as a criterion to identify leaders within the company
  • [ ]  Use a value system as a filter for existing leadership to hold them accountable to the desired culture

"Tope Awotona, Calendly CEO

Tope's answer showed the most growth among the CEOs. His response was to hire a coaching firm for his entire executive team. He understood that his team needed an external perspective to create the culture he envisions for Calendly. There is no shame in seeking guidance from others, even as a CEO of a company. People look to you for answers, so when you don't have them, you find them any way you can.

One of the skills that the coaching firm taught Calendly's executive team was to 'increase connection through empathy.' If my memory serves me correctly, Tope mentioned an exercise called 'Heard, Seen, Respected (HSR),' which I learned about in Liberating Structures. HSR is a workshop designed to improve listening and empathy skills without giving advice or solutions to a problem."

  • [ ]  Hire a coaching firm for the entire executive team
  • [ ]  Learn about the 'Heard, Seen, Respected (HSR)' exercise

Brent Hyder - Salesforce CPO / Moderator

In response to Tope’s answer to hiring a coaching firm for Calendly’s leadership team Brent’s eyes lit up with excitement.  Brent added to the coaching conversation about his own experience on how he also hired a coach to help him transform into a better leader. Brent said, “Sit down and get a coach if you don’t have one.” He went on to explain how a coach helped him see with new perspectives, become a better person, and it was a valuable experience. Brent also added, “You must be honorable to be a great executive.” To me i believe a coach helped him become more honorable by teaching him what true integrity means to himself and those he leads.

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