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Do you dread going to work? Does it impact your productivity? How can companies improve their culture? It’s not about putting ping pong tables, napping pods, and laundry services in the workplace.
Today’s guest is Wayne Mullins, founder of Ugly Mug Marketing. Wayne has consulted on some of the world’s biggest brands. He has gone from being a culture skeptic to a firm believer in the power of creating self-accountable cultures to help companies achieve their full potential and productivity. Wayne provides a rational and practical way to think about company culture.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
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Ben: Hi there. Welcome to the Actionable Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Ben Sailer, the Inbound Marketing Director here at CoSchedule. On this week’s show, we have Wayne Mullins from Ugly Mug Marketing to talk about how you can improve your company’s culture. Now, Wayne has consulted on some of the world’s biggest brands. Over the course of his career, he’s gone from being a culture skeptic to a firm believer in the power of creating self-accountable cultures that help companies achieve their full potential.
Now, if you think that culture means putting ping pong tables and nap pods in the office, what Wayne has to say is probably going to feel like a breath of fresh air. He provides a very rational and practical way of thinking about culture that cannot only help companies improve how people feel about coming into work, but also produce better work while they’re there, too. It’s a great episode and it’s one that I hope you’ll enjoy.
Hi Wayne, welcome to the show.
Wayne: Thank you so much, Ben. I appreciate the opportunity, looking forward to our conversation.
Ben: Absolutely. So before we get too deep, would you mind introducing yourself and explaining what you do with Ugly Mug Marketing?
Wayne: Absolutely. I’m Wayne, I’m the founder of Ugly Mug Marketing. We’re actually just celebrating our 11th year in business. We are really a results-focused marketing company. What that means is so often in our culture, in the entrepreneurial small business world, people get distracted by checklists and magic bullets. In other words, they’re pursuing the latest and greatest thing that come along. We’re kind of old school in the sense that we try to get our clients to go back to the very fundamentals, the very basics of marketing. That’s our approach, that’s what we do.
Ben: Very cool. Something that I know that you’re very passionate about and have spoken about before (I believe) is the concept of a self-accountable culture. Could you describe what you mean by that term?
Wayne: Sure. Again, I don’t claim to have the right or the perfect definition to that, but what I would say or how I would define self-accountable culture is this. One is that it’s a culture that doesn’t confuse activity with accomplishment. Those are two different things and so often, particularly in a role of a job, when you come to work every day and you’re doing certain tasks, certain things, it’s very easy to begin blurring the lines between activity and accomplishment.
One is the focus on actually accomplishing, it’s actually on delivering results. The next part of that for a self-accountable company or organization would be that the accountability doesn’t flow from the top-down. Instead, the accountability flows from within, in other words, I personally hold myself accountable and my peers help hold me accountable. So it’s no longer a top-down approach. Instead, it’s a horizontal approach and from within.
The final component that is so important for a self-accountable company is each individual’s ability to quickly and easily assess where they are in relation to the goals that they are pursuing. Those are the three ways that I would use to define or describe a self-accountable company or organization.
Ben: Got it. In general, how do you feel that improving company culture and in any way (really) can help improve marketing results?
Wayne: I think the most significant impact of building a high-performance culture, a self-accountable culture, is that the team no longer judges themselves, their effectiveness based on checking things off a to-do list. All too often in the business world or in the marketing world, specifically, it’s very easy to get sidetracked or distracted by these checklists. In other words, we tell a client we’re going to create 15 posts for social media every single month, we’re going to run five campaigns for social media every month, or whatever this checklist may be. At the end of the day, the client doesn’t really necessarily care about whether we are running 15 posts, we are doing four campaigns or whatever the numbers are. What they care about are the results from those campaigns.
Now, here’s the interesting thing about that. We still have to constantly communicate to our clients that it’s not a matter of quantity, it’s a matter of quality. In other words, for you as a business owner, it would be far better for us to run one campaign that delivers significant results than to run 15 that deliver mediocre results. That is how (from a marketing perspective) I think having a self-accountable culture makes the biggest impact because it shifts the focus from, “I delivered the clients 15 ads or graphics or whatever it was,” to instead, “I’m focused on why does that matter. What is the end result that we’re actually after?”
Ben: I love that and that’s going to be a hard agree from myself over here. How can marketing managers accurately assess potential hires for culture fit? I imagine that if you really want to build a high-performing culture, you have to make sure that you’re bringing people on who can fit that culture. Would you say that’s correct?
Wayne: Absolutely. I really believe there are two core components. There’s probably a lot of other opinions and advice out there on how to hire for culture fit, but from my perspective there’s really two core components. Number one would be aptitude, so that’s the ability, the skills to actually do the job. The second component would be attitude. When I say attitude, I don’t just mean are they a positive, upbeat person attitude, I mean aligned with core values. In other words, does their attitude match the core values that we have in our organization?
I really believe that one of the biggest mistakes that we make when we hire is that we have these biases that often we’re not even aware that are taking place. So when we go through the interview process with someone, we (as the person doing the hiring) are influenced by all these biases.
One of the biggest biases that I see is this bias for comparison. We have an applicant come and sit […]. Internally, our nature is we begin comparing that person to: (a) someone who’s currently on our team, or (b) someone who may have been on our team, who wasn’t a good fit. We’re trying to draw these comparisons to help us make it sound a logical decision.
The former, his official title was an HR manager. It was a fancier, cooler title. I googled, he wrote a book called, Work Rules. In that book, he talked about how Google initially went through all their hiring. He talked about how the most accurate predictor of success on a job was actually some form of aptitude test, in other words, a real-world example test.
An easy example would be if you’re hiring a graphic designer and you’re interviewing multiple people, you give them a specific project. Design this poster, here’s the scope of the poster that we want designed. You give them the actual project, you give them a time constraint to do that project. Here’s where I think most people make a mistake. Most people who are doing the hiring, they take that (and let’s say you have three candidates, all who designed a poster). Each of us have certain biases towards design, for example. We have different styles that we like. What happens is we begin putting our personal preferences for design over the actual work that’s there.
So, one of the things that we recommend is that you (as a hiring manager) bring someone in, an outsider who’s unbiased, has no skin in the game (so to speak) for that person, and you have them judge, you have them critique the assignment. If you give them little context, in other words, “We’re interviewing three people. Here’s the assignment we gave them. Here’s the description of the assignment. Here are the results. Evaluate them. Tell us which is the best,” we found that works really, really well.
The last thing that really helps remove some of our internal biases when hiring is we’ve recently been using the Kolbe RightFit profile. What that is, is it basically you as the hiring manager or the department manager go in and you complete a profile on what the perfect candidate for this job would look like. In other words, how they work. Would they be a fast implementer? Would they be detail-oriented? You answer all these questions. As you’ve narrowed down your hiring pool to the few that you’re considering, you have them go complete the assessment. What they do is they judge those in terms of fit for that specific role.
We’ve only been using this for about six months or so now, but it’s been remarkable how accurate those results are. So when we follow what they say, and we look at what they’ve said, the results have been phenomenal.
Ben: Very cool. Glad to hear you’ve been successful with that. Do you ever encounter skepticism from business leaders, with clients around whether culture matters? And if so, how do you counter those arguments?
Wayne: If I’m being completely honest here, for the longest time, I was a huge skeptic of culture. I just didn’t “buy into it.” I think for a long time, I looked at culture and I’m kind of mystifying culture as what we originally saw back in the early days of Google, when they won the best place to work and all that. You have to have the ping-pong tables, you have to have the napping pods, you have to have the restaurants, the laundry services and all that. I was a big skeptic because I thought I’m a self-funded, bootstrap startup. I don’t have the millions and millions of dollars in VC coming in, so culture is not for a small business. Over time what I discovered is I was completely and totally wrong. That culture is the thing in this new “economy” that we’re living in and that differentiates one business, one competitor from the other.
The way that I would counter someone’s argument against culture is simply this: I would simply say, are you happy with the amount of management that you’re having to do with your team? Are you happy with the way that you’re having to lead your team? Are you constantly feeling like you’re having to jump in, micromanage, constantly having to correct issues and mistakes that everyone’s making? If that describes you as a leader, whether that’s company leader, department leader, team leader, whatever it may be, then what I would say is you probably have a culture issue and that is simply that your culture isn’t focused on self-accountability and high performance. My counter is, I would simply ask them, “How is it working for you?”
Ben: Now, I love what Wayne has to say about the actual purpose of having office amenities like ping-pong tables and so forth. When it comes to growing company culture, it’s very important to remember that these things are not the end result of culture, but rather a means to the end of fostering an environment that helps employees work at their highest level. This is something that I think is often missed, and it’s also probably why folks who are skeptical about workplace culture initiatives just don’t see the value in investing in culture because it becomes very easy to view it as a frivolous play time kind of thing, when there’s no real sight of the actual end goal in place. Now, back to the show.
Ben: What do you think that some of the biggest misconceptions are around culture? I asked that because, especially in startup, technology, and marketing context, when we hear culture, we think of the ping-pong tables, the nap pods, and things that really don’t have anything to do with culture at all. What do you think that some of those misconceptions come from and how do we get in front of actually communicating to people what culture is actually about?
Wayne: Now you’re absolutely right. I really believe that culture (in and of itself) is misunderstood and what I mean by that is when we see the nap pods, the ping-pong tables, the restaurants, and all these wonderful benefits, we look at that and we say Google, for a long time, I think it was five, maybe six years in a row, won the best place to work in America.
What’s interesting about that is during that same period of time, I read somewhere that on average, the workers at Google are working 65 hours per week. What’s interesting is when you dive into the culture that they created, the ping-pong tables, the restaurants, and all these fancy things, weren’t the end result that they were after with culture. The end result that they were after with culture was high, high performance. So, all of these pieces and components that we see, the ping-pong tables, et cetera, those pieces and components were put in place to enable people to work longer, to stay on the job longer periods of time, and to take breaks from their long extended period time that they work.
What I think the mistake is that we assume that culture is this “in” thing that we pursue. In reality, culture is a by-product. It’s a by-product of all of these other components that we have in our business. Number one is the challenges. We misunderstand it. We misunderstand what culture is, and we believe it’s the ping-pong tables and all those things. In reality, those things are not the end that we are pursuing.
The second mistake is the foundational piece of any high-performance culture, any self-accountable culture is trust. That is the foundation. Without trust, you cannot, absolutely cannot have a high-performance team if you can’t trust people to do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it. I think it’s an important conversation to have and it’s a regular conversation to have is the conversation around trust versus suspicion.
If I were to tell you that I’m going to do something, I’m going to show up for this podcast interview at 10:00 o’clock and then I don’t show up, you’re going to begin filling that gap. In other words, from what I said. I said I would be here for the podcast interview, but I didn’t show up. You’ve now filled that gap. Instead of filling with trust, you’ve now filled it with suspicion. Will Wayne actually keep his word? You’re gracious and you say, “You know what? We’re going to reschedule. I understand things come up.” So we schedule again, I don’t show up the second time. What happens? The suspicion has been further validated.
So, we have to understand that every time we give our word, whether it’s explicit, in other words, I open my mouth and I say I’m going to show up at 10:00 o’clock, or it’s implied. There are implicit ways that we give our word. An implicit way that we give our word is if our company is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and we applied for a job that’s an “8-5” job, and then we start showing up at 8:15 AM, 8:20 AM, 8:30 AM, we’ve implicitly agreed to this 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM role. We haven’t verbalized it, we didn’t necessarily say “Yes, I’m going to be there from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM,” but it’s implicit.
Anytime we give our word, whether implicit or explicit, we have the ability to feel that gap with you to trust or suspicion, and that is the foundation conversation. So that challenge, the challenge of having that conversation around trust and suspicion is specifically having a conversation with ourselves as leaders, as entrepreneurs, as team managers. The conversation with ourselves is, am I building trust through my actions, through what I say versus my actions, or am I building suspicion? It’s our job to lead the company in the way that we want the company to go, our team to go. If we aren’t leading by example, then we’re not leading at all.
Ben: That is so true. So, what are some of the biggest challenges pertaining to culture change that you commonly see in the businesses that you work with? Let’s say that they are bought into the concept of improving their culture. What are the things that stop companies from achieving success with it?
Wayne: I think one thing that would prevent them from achieving success is not buying into the fact that culture matters. If you’re unintentional about building a self-accountable high-performance culture, then you’re intentional about building a low-performance, non-accountable culture. It’s about intentionality. It’s not easy, it requires work.
If you look at the actual root word—I think it’s in Latin, I may be completely wrong on that—of culture, it comes from the same word that means to cultivate, which is to work the land. It’s actually used in the farming sense, when you farm. When you think about cultivating the land, it’s about a lot more than just planting the things in the ground—the vegetables, the fruit, or the trees, whatever it is in the ground. It’s all of the work that takes place before you actually plant the stuff on the ground, way before you reap the fruit of all that labor. It’s about cultivating.
That is the best definition of culture. It is something that has to be constantly cultivated. It’s not a “said it and forget it” thing that you do. You can’t just say we’re going to go to this […], we’re going to go to this workshop, or we’re going to do this thing, and we’re going to have our culture fixed. It’s a constant, continual effort.
The way that I would summarize it as you specifically think about culture is this: the right thing and the difficult thing are often the same thing. Yes, it’s far more difficult to be intentional about our culture, it’s far more difficult to put the pieces and the components in place that we need to put in place to build a high-performance team, but it’s the right thing to do if we are committed to building a high-performance, self-accountable culture.
Ben: Got it. The last question I’ve got for you before we go, if I’m a marketing manager or an executive listening to this show, where would you recommend that I start with implementing a self-accountable culture with my team?
Wayne: I think there’s really three steps that I would say are important to go through. The first one is the one that’s probably the most important but is also the one that’s the most easily bypassed, the one that we look over and say, “Yeah, I’ll come back to that, let me focus on the team.” The very first one is self-evaluation. As a leader, are you demonstrating the right kind of self-accountable, high-performer culture that you expect from others?
I see this all the time specifically in entrepreneurs, business owners themselves. They believe that they themselves as the founder, as the company CEO leader, that they somehow have different standards than everyone who works for them. An example that would be, if you expect your team to show up on time every morning, whatever time that is to be at work, shouldn’t you as the leader, as the owner, show up on time, whatever time that is every single day?
Another one would be, if you expect your team members (for example) to respond to email within a certain period of time, let’s just say it’s four hours, we expect our team members to respond to emails that come into their inbox within four hours, what happens when your team member emails you and because you’re “busy” doing high-priority, high leverage things, you don’t respond for two days? What are you communicating?
Step one is self-evaluation. To be really radically honest with yourself. Am I tolerating or making exceptions for myself that I would no longer tolerate or accept from anybody else on my team? That would be step one.
Step two is I believe it’s very important that each team member has their own scoreboard. Again, I’ve briefly mentioned this earlier, but a scoreboard simply demonstrates or shows their goals on a single sheet of paper or one sheet on a computer. It shows the goals that they specifically are working towards. It’s important that they understand how those goals tie into their team goals, their company goals, whatever it may be. They have to understand how their goals tie into the bigger picture goals.
But the scoreboard, one requirement is that they individually must be able to get the data needed to update their scoreboard on a regular basis. In other words, I can’t expect the team member to update their scoreboard if they have to go through accounting every single day to get the data that they need to update their scoreboard. To build that self-accountable culture, it’s important, it’s imperative that each person has the ability to quickly and easily self-evaluate every single day and make adjustments based on that. The method we use is what’s called a scoreboard and that’s how we go about implementing that.
The final thing in building this culture out would be to create rhythms of accountability. Kind of a fancy term or simply this: the way we do that is we have a weekly team meeting and in that weekly team meeting each person presents their scoreboard. What happens is, the beauty of that is, their peers hold them accountable. Their peers question them, their peers challenge them on their scoreboard. In other words, if they see someone that’s lagging on a goal, they’re behind where they should be, the peers’ question, “What is the most important action that you can take to get you back on track?”
The next thing we do is we do weekly one-on-one. That’s where each person sits down with their manager, and they review the scoreboard directly. They’re able to bring up directly to their manager challenges, issues, obstacles, celebrate wins, celebrate victories, things along the way.
The last two would be a quarterly team meeting. In that quarterly team meeting (for us personally, the way we do this) is we set everyone’s goals on a quarterly basis, so basically a 12-week period of time. Every single quarter, we’re reviewing, did we hit our objectives and goals for the last quarter? Each person presents whether they hit their goal’s objectives for the last quarter or not. We then look forward, what are we going to accomplish in the next 12 weeks? That’s what we do at our quarterly team meeting.
The last bit of that would be the quarterly performance review. This is where we sit down and we analyze performance. It’s based on two core areas. That’s (again) aptitude, how are you actually doing the job that you were hired to do? And then the other component to that is attitude, are they living out our core values? Are they showing up with a good attitude, et cetera.
What I would say to summarize all of that into one succinct thing is this. When it comes to building a culture of high-performance, consistency creates miracles. The more consistent we are at working and cultivating our culture, the higher performance team we will build, the more self-accountable team we will build.
Ben: Very cool. Well, this is great stuff Wayne, I really appreciate your taking the time to share your insights on culture with our audience. I’m sure this is all the stuff that people are going to be very interested to hear.
Wayne: Thank you so much. I definitely enjoyed the conversation and […] about it.
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