Sep 302016

“What is your culture and how is it working for you in your business organization?” This is the question I throw to my clients very often when they want to acquire my training services.

Business owners invest in new machineries, new office spaces and facilities, new processes, marketing campaigns and a lot of other things, but one of the most neglected areas is the lack of investment in their company culture.

The number one challenge for every business organization whether small, medium or large is alignment. And a lack of culture or even worst, a bad company culture, can destroy the business.

Futurist Peter Diamandis interviewed Jeff Holden, the current chief product officer of Uber. Holden has held leadership roles at three hyper-growing companies in the past –, Groupon and his current company Uber.

Holden gave some very practical principles on the importance of creating culture and learning as worthy investments.

1. You have to continually invest in culture

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Jeff Bezos has a relentless obsession with culture and customer-centricity at Amazon. He explained, “Bezos was a fantastic leader and he invested in making the company durable. He was continuously investing in the culture.”

“I worked at customer service one Christmas, and I remember this woman who was traveling to Russia for the holidays. She ordered all of these Christmas presents, and they weren’t going to make it there on time. She called customer service, worried sick.”

Receiving that concern, the Amazon team, without hesitation, did all they could do to fix it.

“We spent probably $500 or $600 to overnight her $1,000 worth of gifts, and she was so completely blown away that she couldn’t stop saying, ‘Oh my god, you saved my Christmas!’”

“It was the Amazon way. It was so core to the culture. There was this energy and passion to just win for the customer and to do something no one’s ever done before.”

2. Be crystal clear about your mission

Clearly defining the company’s mission is one of the most important aspects in the process of establishing a culture.

Jeff goes on, “You have to be very clear about your mission. At Amazon, we knew the top three things customers cared about were: Price, selection, and convenience.”

As such, they were able to define their culture around how best to provide the lowest prices, the most number of selections, and the most convenient service for their customers.

3. You MUST build an experimental engine from Day 1

“The only constant is change, and the rate of change is increasing.”

The only way to strive is to be constantly experimenting and innovating. Hyper-growth and experimentation are closely linked.

Bezos likes to say, “Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day…”

Jeff Holden, who has built experimental engines at Amazon, Groupon and Uber, agrees: “The philosophy is you have to build your company to be a big experimental engine and it has to start right at the beginning.”

Uber runs thousands of experiments per month to test different features. They A/B test key features that are core to the business and choose the one that performs best.

For those of you that DON’T have an experimental culture in your business, Jeff advises:

• “Build a team inside your organization that has an experimental ethos, and make sure the experiment, value proposition and hypothesis are really thought through before you invest the time and energy to actually do them.”

“In general, only hire people who are familiar with the experimentation/data-informed mindset.”

4. Get comfortable with being misunderstood

Part of having a strong culture around experimentation is that you are going to be misunderstood by outsiders.

The critics may laugh at you, your board may resist you, and of course, legal authorities will give you all the problems you will encounter.

But innovative companies just need to be very comfortable being misunderstood.

Jeff’s advice is this. “You want to look inside and be inside out about the way you think about your company.” 

In other words, ignore the noise and keep building.

I have heard Peter Diamandis in New York and he is right in the thick of innovations. You might want to go to and look into his insights on creativity and innovation.

So, let me go back to the two basic questions. I ask clients: “What is your culture and how is it working for you in your business organization?”

You need to invest in it and just one more thing; correctly done culture training is an investment and never an expense.

(Experience two inspiring days with Francis Kong’s learning leadership skills in this year’s last run of Level Up Leadership happening on Nov. 23-24 at the New World Hotel, Makati Avenue, Makati City. For further inquiries contact Inspire at +63 9158055910 or call Trisha at +63 9285591798)

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