The Culture Piggyback

Last week I had the good fortune to participate in a video conference call on the topic of how to build, sustain and nurture a thriving corporate culture. The real time “fishbowl” was led by Art Saxby and Tom McCrary, CEO and Managing Partner respectively of Chief Outsiders. Chief Outsiders offers seasoned Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) to growth-oriented CEOs on a part time basis. Art and Tom are part of the Small Giants Community — organizations who are small in size yet giant in purpose — which hosted the gathering.

Chief Outsiders has built a great culture consisting of passionate, committed team members despite some daunting challenges, including:

1) A workforce distributed across the US, whose members mostly work out of a home office and / or at a client site;
2) High achieving, hard charging team members with strong domain and subject matter expertise;
3) Anticipated first year earnings that are at a fraction of what the CMOs were earning at prior companies; and
4) Business owners who had never built a company like this before

So how did Art and Tom do it?

By intentionally establishing a culture that perpetually lives its core values, day in and day out.

A key concept that Art and Tom introduce to their team members early on is the concept of a “Culture Piggybank”. Simple yet extraordinarily powerful, the “Culture Piggybank” establishes the expectation that each team member will be constantly making “small deposits” of company-enhancing good deeds in line with the company’s core values into a virtual receptacle. Deposits could be helping a colleague on a difficult client assignment, interviewing new part time CMOs, or participating in practice development calls to grow the overall business.

In return, these team members will have the opportunity to make “withdrawals” from the Piggybank when needed at a later date.

This “social contract” among a “tribe” of people at Chief Outsiders sets a strong behavioral expectation of all its members. People who don’t act according to these cultural norms stand out immediately. It is then only a matter of time before those individuals self select out of the company or are asked to leave the organization.

Art and Tom are passionate about perpetually measuring how Chief Outsiders' culture is performing. One way they do so is by soliciting Net Promoter Scores (NPS) from their clients on a regular basis, and then benchmarking those score by period and by consultant. Additionally, Art travels to each region on a frequent basis, to make sure that he is having face to face meetings with all consultants as often as possible.  There is also an annual company-wide meeting, where tribe members gather to share successes, explore ways to get better, and generally enjoy being together.  A seminal event at this meeting is a dinner at Art's home - further reinforcing the family atmosphere at the company.  

The key point is that the annual meeting is a culmination of the day to day cultural investment each professional makes - which is precisely why it works so well. 

Do you have a great culture at your workplace? How is that culture built / sustained? What did you pick up from this post that you would like to bring to your company?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!