Lorenzo Agnes: Presentation “Culture as a person”

Lorenzo Agnes: Presentation “Culture as a person”

Lorenzo Agnes is a global organizational culturist, founder and director of the LiveUniq company, which helps dozens of organizations around the world in building a stable work culture and functional teams. He is Italian by origin and has also worked on several different continents, but currently lives in the United States. Lorenzo has been to Bulgaria several times, so he knows the Bulgarian mentality and work culture very well. 

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to hear Lorenzo’s unique approach to work culture “Culture is a person” in the Leanplum office. Here you can hear his presentation from the event: 

0:00 – 0:50

Misho: So good to see everybody! Thank you so much! Several people ask me am I excited, I said “Last night I felt so tired that I sort of could not really be excited”. But I felt tonight like a family friendship reunion type of, you know, everybody is coming so we’re going to have a good time and we’re gonna relax and have fun. So thank you so much for showing up. I really appreciate that! In the rain… thank you all that came by your boats, and thank you, everybody, that swаm here! So it’s such a glorious thing! I’m not gonna waste too much time. The man that sits over there I met for the first time when I was 16!

0:50 – 0:52

Lorenzo: You must be old!

0:56 – 2:55

Misho: It was during a leadership conference for young leaders… and me. It was a very interesting conference because they said, “Send your fee for the conference by mail”. And I put my money in an envelope and I send them by mail. And when I went there it turned out that my money never arrived for that conference. So I had an option – I had money enough to pay for my accommodation or to pay for my food. So I was like, “A 16-year-old can sleep anywhere, you know, but you need to eat”. So I paid for my food and I slept in a van for 7 days to listen to this guy speak. He had no idea who I am back then. He claims that he saw me first but that’s not… Well, Lorenzo is being such a big part of my life ever since. And he is a man of many talents – he is an artist, a musician. And he will introduce more of the professional aspect of that. But he is one of the most decent human beings that I’ve ever encountered. He’s gonna talk about culture and as you know this is why we’re here – culture is such a big word and unfortunately, oftentimes it’s a blurry notion, you know, for many of us, and I include myself. We think about culture but sometimes it feels like it’s so big and so complex that you can never comprehend it in its fullness. So I’m not sure that Lorenzo will be able to save us from our confusion. So I don’t promise that. But I promise that he has a very very interesting ideas about culture that he has implemented in several big companies in the States. So try and you know, steal whatever you can from this man, and then let’s talk… Lorenzo, my friend, so good to have you! Please!

2:55 – 4:07

Lorenzo: So of course it is nothing but a great privilege to be here today. I have been in Bulgaria, this is my 23rd time. And I have a saying – I’m that person that will be remembered when I die for my corny sayings more than for the real value that I added to change people’s lives and I don’t care about that as long as I’m remembered. And one of them is – if I’m having like today the finest sugar-free gelato I ever remember having by the way truly, I say cause it’s a compliment, I say, “If this ice cream was a woman I would have married her children and had children. And for me, if Bulgaria was a woman I would have married her and had children. I love Bulgaria! Misho was lying to you – the first time we met and he was 16 – I was trying to calculate what that would make me, anyway I was younger – and you know sometimes you meet somebody and at that moment in that instant you know nothing about them but in your heart of hearts you know that there’s somebody special and you just want to be around them. And Misho is one of those people, truly!

4:08 – 7:08

So it’s correct what Misho said – culture is not only a huge subject it’s a difficult subject. It is a complicated and multilayered and a complex subject. And because I love people so I live for people, thank God most of my life, though I’ve been in four completely different and really unrelated industries, but the one common denominator has always been that I’m about people. My motivation, my instinct in life is to help people to unlock their truth. I believe that every single human being is truly unique. Sounds obvious but we live, especially those of us in the business world and especially the more machine-oriented business world and so much of the language we hear today, people are looked at more as machines or objects or even products. So my philosophy of life is that the true job of any leader and particularly if you’re HR is to unlock the unique individual truth in everybody that works in the company whatever level they’re at. Then to take those uniqueness, put them in a pot and stir them together and create a company that is truly unique, that has never existed before. So if you think about the fact that out of 8 billion people is nobody else like you. Literally when you die your uniqueness is gone. There might be 1000 people on Earth that are similar to you but nobody is exactly like you. And I believe that companies are exactly the same, I think that… I don’t think, I’m certain in my experience of the fact that companies are like people, like unique people. And the true job of a culturalist, like myself – this is my full-time job, or somebody who runs HR in whatever size company or whatever kind of company is to discover and understand that uniqueness because that’s your real value at. Now, do you remember a few years ago maybe 8-10 years ago when the thing was in Silicon Valley and then companies around the world copied that was pink-pong tables and free lunches and etc., etc. So there’s a snooker table here… Those are good things but they’re surface things. They aren’t the things that really make up a culture that is gonna be transformative. And so I wanna talk to us today about culture being a person.

7:08 – 11:47

So I wanna go back to the very first question that we should ask is “What is culture?”. I was born in London to Italian parents, sono veramente italiano. So I lived in England, then Italy, then South Africa where I met my lovely wife, our kids were born and then 26 years ago we moved to the States. I’ve worked in several different industries. I’ve traveled a lot and I just found myself being so fascinated with this question “What is culture?”. And so I came up with this understanding that like a person your culture is about what you believe; what you believe shapes how you behave; and ultimately with enough time passing how you behave informs what you’ve become. And the become, the thing you become that’s the thing that people interact with. You know, when somebody walks into your company and they meet you, they may see your product, they may not see your product, they can walk out an hour later and do this… I’m sure you’ve done this, if you’re gonna be honest with yourself and us here tonight, “What was this guy’s name?”, “What does that woman do again? Did you get a business card?”, “What do they sell again?”. And you go, “I don’t remember any of that but man wasn’t that a great place? Didn’t you see there was something there?”. That’s culture. It’s invisible, it’s tangible, it’s practical, it’s doable, it’s felt, etc., etc. And in the most simple explanation, you can say culture is something that people think and feel and then act upon. Now typically we would think of culture… in my experience when I’ve asked the question what is culture typically people talk about fashion or they talk about food or maybe their language, but I would call that general culture. Cause if you look in this room tonight and you know we’re all dressed very differently, some of us better than others, sorry, Misho, but we’re all dressed very differently, etc., etc. You know we’re gonna go home and eat different foods. So let’s say if I come to one person’s house and they offer me Tarator and I say, “No, that should be banned, I will not…”. No, not Tarator, Boza – which is a treat to international security, as far as I’m concerned and I wish I was joking. And you say “No, this is our culture”. “Why do you say that?” “Well …. away back in our history”, etc., etc. After two meals I’d be confused. I’d be going home and what do I tell people in America Bulgarian culture is? So again these are more general, surfacy… not surfacy but more general expression. They are pieces of something much deeper. Now remember that in the same way that every country on earth for example has some kind of noodles – China has noodles, Italy has spaghetti which was copied from China but is better. No, it isn’t really… Of course, it is what am I saying, I can’t lie to you 5 minutes into the presentation. So even the things that are similar in multiple cultures there’s still a little piece of uniqueness, there’s a little piece of difference. You can even take, in every company they are gonna be certain things that all of you employ that are similar. You’ll have a conversation and say, “Oh yeah, we also do that in our company”. But still, there’s gonna be something about the way you do it that is different enough from the way that I do it and that’s what I’m talking about. Those are the magic pieces you wanna try and understand. And so when I think of culture as an expression of your unique truth, like each person is unique, right, I ask these two questions, “Who are you?”, not who you think you are. You going the journey of discovery to understand who are you and what is it that you do. It’s “the who and the do” if you wanna take a quick note, right. That’s the journey of discovery. 

11:47 – 16:59

Because here’s the magic –  once you understand your identity, once you understand your uniqueness and you understand your true uniqueness, not what you imagine it to be or other people tell you it is or should be, you’re free, you’re free. You don’t have to copy anybody else, nobody can copy you, you don’t have to try and be like somebody else and you know, “What is Apple doing now? What is Tesla doing now? What is Bob Smith’s cookies doing now?”, whatever it is. Because you know what – you will never be them. I’m sure you’ve all heard stories, maybe many of you have worked in companies that get “Inked magazine” and “Forbes” and whatever business magazine you read. And you read the book of the day and you come back and go, “You know if we do these things we’ll be Apple”. Well obviously that’s not gonna happen or if it is happening please tell me cause I wanna invest in your stock. So although we have many similarities we are not exact copies and I’m laying the foundation here to help us appreciate that these values in your culture… if you are being unique, man you’ve got the gold and the silver and the diamonds. Your job is not to go and get gold, your job is to reveal the gold so that people can see what you already have. OK! So culture is a person came out of me in my travels asking this question and I’ve worked in advertising and design and manufacturing with not full profits in several parts of the world. And then in conversations after dinner usually late at night; in Bulgaria very late at night, same as in Italy, till two in the morning. “How are you doing?”. “I’m fine. How are you?”. No, always fascinating… And eventually, the conversation would come down to “I hate my job”. Right? Some form of it – “I wish my CEO would…” or “Our HR manager is a banana, you know. I wish you could fire her, fire him, get somebody else”. And I realized the one common thread always was culture. It wasn’t the individual person, it was the bigger atmosphere, it was a larger picture. So this all started with me just privately, because I love people and I want people to be happy and I believe in your uniqueness, just starting on the flight home to take notes. You know, “What about if we ask this question?, What about…”. And so what happened was I realized that I had to come up with a metaphor for culture that would be applicable in any situation anywhere in the world. And… Sorry. I’m nearly finished my book “The power of the shower”. My wife and I’ve been married 36 years I’ve been with Apple 37, but 36… thank you for laughing. She still doesn’t think it’s funny but she’s not here, hallelu… And usually I … it’s a true story, I’m not making any of this up – I get revelations in the shower. Guess what… Do you have that too? Thank you! We will be friends for life. Guess what, Google it, there was a study done in England three years ago with about 4-5000 people. Guess what – revelations come in the shower. I thought there’d be way more excitement than that. If you have a bath… Anyway and this thought came to me in the shower, “Well, what is the one thing that every person on Eart can relate to – people, obviously. And so I really began to dig deep into this and this is where this idea came from. And tying the idea that as every single person is unique, oh you know what, every culture must therefore be unique, too. The goal is not to come up with a plan of action that introduces a set of rules people have to follow or even behavior shift. The goal is to raise a healthy person. Because when somebody is healthy they can do almost everything and anything. So when we speak about culture tonight that’s what I’m thinking of I’m looking at businesses as people. So I would say to you tonight, for everyone in your business… Let’s do this quickly – if your business was a person, just a couple of quick answers, what is this person like? It’s a bit unfair because I usually do this at the end of the evening but we’re in Bulgaria you’re very clever people and I feel inspired. Somebody… yeah, tell me. 

17:15 – 17:57

OK! So 5-year-old, running around, with lots of distractions. Good luck! They have lots of open positions… No, I’m kidding. Alright, thank you. Somebody else. Listen, by the way, I learned this saying in America years ago, I heard somebody say “You know, there’s no wrong or right”. And the South African English, Italian in me went “What are you talking about? If you go down that side of the road a truck will hit you and you will die. That is wrong. But when it comes to culture there is no right or wrong. Today I would say there is healthy or unhealthy. They might be good or bad. So let me hear a couple more. Tell me… 

18:02 – 18:04

“Honest, empathetic, kind, carrying.”

18:04 – 18:05

What kind of business do you have?

18:12 – 18:13

OK, but what does your company do?

18:20 – 18:21

Patient insurance.

18:21 – 18:28

Wow, that culture’s correct for what you do, right? I’m not joking. If I came to… You do life insurance? 

18:33 – 18:47

I would want you to be… Yeah, if you are talking about insurance I would want you to be caring. I wouldn’t want to come to you and you’re like “Don’t worry about that, just do this”. I’d want somebody who’s gonna listen and pay attention. So that’s interesting. OK!

18:48 – 23:31

So let’s call our culture person Bobby. Because it could be male or female, right? And as people are different and as companies are different you will find that your company probably if you went and asked your people “Hey everybody”, especially your leadership team… Nothing against leadership teams but it is true that everything rises or falls on leadership, that is just a truism in life. And probably you think that your culture is something like “this” and then if you went and asked your team and your employees probably they would say it’s something like “this”, you know. I’ve yet… and maybe tonight will be the first time so…  but I’ve yet to meet…  to be going to work with a company where everybody agreed on the same image, you know. Hey, you know what, that’s normal. Do you know how long it takes… Who of your are parents, let me ask? OK, a bunch of us. How much work does it take to raise a kid in a healthy way that by the time they get to teenagerhood you don’t want to strangle them, although you would give your life for them and they don’t want to strangle you in your sleep, right. It takes energy and effort and money.Those of you who are in a meaningful relationship – how much work does it take constantly and energy and money and time and emotion and thoughts and intentionality to make sure that you have a healthy happy relationship? So here’s my question, as obvious as that is “Why is it then as companies that we sometimes don’t even have a budget item for culture, right?”. Or otherwise especially if you’re a start-up, there’s always something else that requires those limited finances. I would argue this – the first thing on your item after salaries and (pay you people generously, please, treat them with respect and etc., etc.) put money to culture. Because by the way, if you’re a startup you have the advantage of being able to create your Bobby that I’m certain; I’ve had the privilege of doing this in six companies now, I promise you if you focus on your culture and if you raise your Bobby properly and your Bobby is healthy everything else falls into place. How many of us know, probably some of you I would say a fair percentage tonight, are in a company with a great product and you probably even have really good processes, right. And you’re proud of what you produce and you produce it well and you’re reliable and dependable and you deliver on time, etc., etc. But in your driving to work your stomach is already in a knot because that banana boss of yours is gonna be waiting for you or that banana employee that you do actually want to strangle but you can’t because you’ll go to jail is waiting for you and you can’t fire them because they’re a friend of whoever, one of the S-suit, right I mean this is all common stuff, that happens. Don’t think that your company is that much different from most other workplaces. And probably like for most of my work life most of us here tonight are not in a situation where if you’re really unhappy with someone you can just go, you know… “I could…”, bang “I’m out of here! You’re an idiot! I hope I never see” and you just woke out, right. Probably many of us are not in that role. And if you have done that and you survived doesn’t it feel good? Anyway, we don’t wanna do that. We want the opposite to be true “Hey boss, I’ve been really dissatisfied, I’ve been really unhappy, I’ve dragged myself to work. I helped you start this company, thank you so much for introducing a real shift in changing our culture because you know what, I was depressed I was on the verge of leaving but because of the changes you’ve made not only am I staying, how can I help? That any new hire that comes in from today I want to be part of building this healthy culture.”

23:31 – 26:25

So what I’m going to show you now in the next few minutes I’ve done in the manufacturing company and an IT company which is the one we’ll talk about tonight. I’ve done it in the not-for-profits that does orphan and widow care. I’ve done it in a company in Denver also similar manufacturing but they produce very specialized vessels. I did it in a food company, that was fascinating. Oh, my word that was fascinating! And then I’ve even done it in a church which was very interesting, too. And because of the different industries after several years I was like “Yes!” This philosophy, this practice if you do it properly it can work anyway. So I want to give you a bit of hope tonight especially if you find yourself in a situation, you know, where honestly your culture sucks. I wanna say… I wanna reiterate what Misho said this is not like a fix-all because the truth is to fix culture especially broken or unhealthy culture is a lot of very intentional work. But it is worth it! You know when you meet somebody who comes from a broken relationship maybe they come out of a very difficult home like I did. My secret is marrying… We have a saying in America “I’m married up,” I married a wonderful woman, truly. When I say “You know I’m married up” to our kids who are adults now and both my daughter and my son go “Yes, you did!”. And I used to say “Should I have married down?”. Now they’re both old enough to go “Dad that is so childish. Like just accept what …”. So for me, my secret was marrying somebody better than me, who came from a very healthy family. And the beginning years were a little bit bumpy but over time Delray was able to help me to become not only healthy, but to unlock my own unique truth. I’ve done the same for her. Misho will tell you there are too many times when I actually may have regretted when I’ve done silly things cause I think I’m very funny so I think life’s too short, you gotta try different things, whatever. But the point is that when you take something broken and it gets fixed this sense of meaning that it gives your life, right? I love to say what I’m gonna say now because I mean it all my heart – the most important people in a company are not the CTO and definitely not the CFO and not even the CIO or the COO – they are in terms of process and product. But the most important people by far in the whole company are who?  

26:25 – 28:30

The employees! Oh who said that? Get a free drink! God bless you! I’m not even joking! And who… I just got shives… And who along with the employees in terms of the leadership team is the next most important person? Listen I’m 60 I don’t have to say this to win friends, I’m being frank- it’s HR. I would argue that if you have a really bad HR department it almost doesn’t matter what you do as a company something’s gonna break somewhere. The opposite is true you might be a company that’s struggling for money, you’re struggling to get your product out to market, all that good stuff but man if you have a great HR leader and a great HR team and people feel cared for, people feel noticed and you’re intentionally building teams and building community, etc., etc., etc., they will put up with so much struggle and difficulty and you will succeed in the end. You know what the difference is – everybody will celebrate your victory instead of just the sales team or the design team or the whatever, you know. Cause most companies have a team that are kind of the heroes. You gonna see tonight, I’ll show you a culture magic like a killer app that’s gonna completely break that theory down. OK! So like every person has two sides to them internal and external, literally. As you’re sitting there as I’m standing here tonight we have an inside it’s invisible it’s what I would call our personhood, it’s our inner truth and that comes from our values. At the end of the day, there are things in your life that are fundamental motivators. By the way, if you’ve lived long enough you’ve been taught values by your parents or whoever your caretakers but as you grow and become an adult take responsibility for your life in the 20s and 30s, eventually you grow to a place where you have your own values.

28:30 – 30:40

They’re invisible, you don’t write them on a wall, you just live them. Everything that you think and feel and do passes through the filter of your values. When it comes to building your culture person this is the center of everything. Show me a company that doesn’t have true values. I don’t mean “Speed, efficiency, delivery”, those are action words. Forgive me if those are your values, that’s not personal. I’m just telling you please go to work Monday tear them off every wall. Those are not values. Like if that’s your internal… if that’s the thing that drives you… I’ll pray for you, God bless you, cause you have a very difficult road ahead of you. I’m not joking, right? Now along with values, another V is your VIGOR. These are the two pieces that every human being is made up of. Your personhood, your inner truth, your value system, and then your personality, which is your vigor, which is your outward expression. Guess what? Too many of us, I include myself years ago, focus more on this. “Our brand should be awesome!”. I’m a graphic designer I think people who design bad logos should actually go to prison. Just overnight but just to teach them that you have assaulted thousands of people visually and you should be in a corner looking at a brick wall because you should reap what you’ve sowed. Anyway, I feel really passionate about that. There’s no excuse for bad design today. I’m not talking about those external things. Because guess what – as you know even the most successful companies update their brands. You have to, to stay modern. I mean you can’t have the same app design today that you had seven years ago, obviously for all sorts of obvious reasons. You can’t have the same values. 

30:40 – 33:13

A company that changes its values regularly… you know what I call that? It’s a really nice word – schizophrenic.  It’s somebody who’s hot and cold and up and down and left and right. And they went to another conference and somebody else talked about their values and they came and said “That’s gonna be our values”, and threw the company into turmoil and suddenly we don’t use that word anymore, you can’t wear that T-shirt that’s got the old … you gotta wear this T-shirt, you know. It’s nuts, it’s schizo. Some of you have probably been married to somebody like that, it wasn’t that fun. Or you work with somebody like that, right? So your personality as you grow as a person right… Four phases of life up until you finish your schooling it’s just your growth stage. Then you enter the next season of your life you start working you start choosing where to be employed maybe you get married whatever it is, maybe you start a company whatever you start… It’s survival. Gotta pay my rent. Am I right? Come on folks, laugh with me, cry with me if you have to, maybe this is delivering some of you tonight. So survival and then after survival – yeah you’ve got the wife or the husband, you’ve got the pets, you’ve got the hobbies, whatever it is accumulation. Then you get to your mid-50s and your parents like mine and older people and people you care for and heroes whose example you follow, these books you’ve read, start dying. And for the first time, you realize “Oh I don’t take any of this with me”. And some of you might be thinking “I have to leave this to my ungrateful kids”. You don’t have to. I can give you some orphan/widow organizations you can leave the money to if you don’t want to. But you realize that the last phase, the phase I’m in, is only about distribution. Give it away! So like the four seasons companies do the same thing – starts, grow a little bit especially if you’re a start-up, survival capital S, “Oh we’re making it! We’ve got a few of our first customers. We’re beginning to save a bit of money, we can actually get furniture or we can actually have food to eat, isn’t that interesting? Don’t have to bring food from my mom’s house and bring it to the office on Monday and I’m 43. We don’t have to do that etc., etc.” 

33:13 – 35:14

But the truth is that this cycle is happening all the time. So with personality, my point is that as you grow you are the same person at 40 that you were at 18 in the core of yourself. But you don’t behave the same way, you don’t think the same way, you’ve grown you’ve more mature, etc., etc., etc. So it goes with culture. So values and vigor, person or personality together amounts to Bobby, to your Bobby, to this culture person. Don’t you think that’s a cute name, by the way? I agonized for weeks what should I call it? And I think it was my son or something like… “Just go with Bobby”. I was like “I can’t. You know how obvious that is. Oh my word… I’m an originalist. I’m a designer. People would laugh out loud at me. I can’t use Bobby.” And the next morning I was like “Flip and heck, that’s awesome! OK! Let’s use Bobby”. But like every person… and now we’re getting into some of the meat of culture creation. Every person is for key parts, right? We are all made up of these essentially four elements and this is where the rubber hits the road in terms of culture. Heart, mind, soul, and strength. Or emotion, intellect, intuition, ability. Your company has this. Your company has this. You all know about emotional EQ. I would say that there’s intuition EQ. You know sometimes you walk into a company and you sense… “ I know… I can’t put my finger on it, but something doesn’t feel right”. I worked for a fund in Denver, I could tell you the name but they no longer exist, and the CEO is a world-class conman. No no, long-term con. I worked with them for nearly three years. 

35:14 – 37:01

They implemented what I’m showing you tonight into the company I’m gonna show you tonight, which I’ve done on purpose. It worked like magic and right towards the end of it when we all found out at the same time that he was about to do a huge steal, thank God, like we… Whatever I’ll tell you about it, later on, it’s a great story. I’m not hurt, I’m not bitter and twisted about it. No, I’m not any of that. You know what – I’m grateful because what it taught me is that healthy culture even survives con people. If it’s done right and if it’s true and it’s authentic and it’s unique… And I can now say at 60 I’m a survivor of like these guys you see on TV, you know on documentaries who make friends with people and it takes them three or four years and they take them for everything. Like I wanted to print the T-shirts “I survived John” and then my wife was like “Dude you’re a culturalist, you literally would be such a hypocrite going against… And you love people, haven’t you forgiven him?” I’m like “I have…”. No, no I did, I did actually. We’re not friends I wouldn’t… He could say to me tonight “Oh look, that’s a wall and that couch is yellow” and I’ll go “No, you lying”, you know. And wherever it comes from in his life my point simply is the truth is that he did some really great work, he’s the one who hired me, he saw the potential of this, he had me implemented in the company so I’m really not angry with him. The miracle is that the story… the magic is that the culture even survives his nefarious intentions. Sounds like a movie… 

37:02 – 38:55

OK! So let’s move on back to what I was saying earlier – you can measure your culture by how your people think, feel and act. Alright, so remember we talked earlier about healthy culture and that’s what you’re aiming for. So I don’t use the language good culture or even effective culture because like a person culture has good days and bad days. You can have good seasons and difficult seasons cause things happen in a person’s life, things happen in the company’s life but what a healthy person does is attract respect. What respect does is it gives you permission. I believe that the world today from the millennials and the generation coming after them and maybe for six to seven years just before them pre-millennials they have grown up in a world of permission. “Would you mind…?”, “Can we…?” “What do you think…?”. If you’ve grown up in the era before that from World War Two to probably about 6-7 years ago and depending which part of the world you live in whether the culture even globally was authority… “You will because I said so.”, “We started 9:00 o’clock I don’t care how sick your cat was, getting your…”, you know. And today whatever company you’re in especially if you hiring younger people you’ve probably come across this if you’re still living from a position of authority you know what authority does – the opposite. People disrespect you when you just bark out orders and tell them to do stuff because they have to. So what healthy personhood or healthy culture does attract respect. 

38:55 – 41:20

And you know, when you have permission when you have enough permission you are able to make real change very quickly, and then what happens is that you find a momentum building that everybody is a part of and then you can make deep change very quickly and everybody feels like they’re a part of it. And healthy personality or vigor inspires affection. What do you do with people that you like or you love? You buy them ice cream. Why? You love them but you trust them. Who do you share your secrets with? I hope people that you trust, right? But you have to respect them. You know the saying “Respect is earned”. If you can move your culture to a place that has respect and affection and you’ve got permission and trust from your people and you can I will show you tonight I promise you… Oh my word, you will be able to accomplish so much and this is not American Lorenzo speaking, this is semi-sarcastic Italian Lorenzo speaking. By the way, Misho said I should tell you this – because of my upbringing I would say that my soul is European so my appreciation, my heart for love, food, fashion whatever comes from a European heritage. But I would say that my heart is African. I learned from the Africans in South Africa through all sorts of incredible experiences what true community is. And by the way, Africa and Europe have a community that America still has not yet discovered. That is my one sadness about America. They don’t really know how to do community. Anyway, my American friends who are watching I love you, we’re a young country we’ll get there at 300 years, just hang in there. But my spirit is American. Five days after landing in Boston I said to my wife “I think I was born to be a Yank all my life”, not knowing that that word insults half of America in America. 

41:20 – 44:35

Anyway long story… but I found the possibility in America of uniqueness and of true freedom of expression. And here’s my point every one of you in this room tonight is a mix of several things. So is your company but every one of us and your business needs respect and affection permission and trust. OK! So here’s the good news and now we’re gonna go into… I’ll show you an example of how we implemented this. You can design your culture Bobby. I promise you, you do not… I need to stop saying “I promise you”, that’s so ridiculous… I guarantee you if you’re willing to put in the time…. it’s a truer word. OK! If you’re willing to put in the time and the energy and the resources you can design your own unique culture person. So we’ve talked about this… By the way these notes will be available afterward and Misho can e-mail them to you. So let’s look at a case study. This is an IT company – they’re actually a reseller of parts that IT company use in their products like our biggest customer was Cisco. We also did quite a lot of work for the Defense Department. And so I was brought in to help them because they’ve been around for 19 years there was stuck in a rut and they just did not know how to get out of it. This is one of those countries that just walking through the doors and walking around meeting people immediately… The building was pea green, earth brown and gray, you know, the wallpaper and everything. The carpet was like this really ugly dark gray and defended every Italian sensibility in me but you know what? Guess what? The décor reflected the culture that was in the people. I would have said their Bobby was an older white boring guy, which is exactly what it was. OK! I mean they didn’t know, that’s why they brought me in. So think about this even the name Global Technology Resources Inc, which the two founders took the globe from clip-art in Microsoft, which is literally a sin, number one. Sorry if you do that! Come on people, apple… Anyway so and they used this name and what I found was that they had all the signs of a really poor culture – no sense of corporate identity, no real values poor morale. Their values were “Speed, excellence” and I don’t remember the third one. This day that I started… which they had written on a wall with a marker pen on the main entrance, can you believe it? So the very first day I took a pen of a different colour cause I had the authority and I just crossed it out. You know who noticed? Nobody! Because they didn’t care. 

44:35 – 46:47

Culture was not a thing. Lots of fighting infighting, lots of politics, lots between the different teams. Terrible communication so this is not… I love them, I’m very close personal friends with several of them still to this day, we still talk. So this is not a this… This is just what I found. So the challenge was to create a brand new identity and to begin to help people to actually talk to one another and to make sure that our customers knew who we were, knew what we do. Oh, my word, the customer acquisition process and then the customer service after sales… I hope you guys don’t do that. Anyway, it is really not great. So what I did was for about 2 ad a half months knowing that I was gonna be hired in January of 2019 or 18, what I did was for three months before then I used to leave my other job a bit early twice a week and coming for the last hour of the day and just quietly go and sit with people in the company. Then weekly I was meeting with the C-Suite with the executive team and slowly as I was doing discovery and found out what the real issues were from the people in the desks… And what I would do was report back every Friday to the C-Suite to the executive team and recommend to them “This is what I propose… This is what I…”. And eventually, they said to me “Won’t you just leave the job where you’re at and just come work for us full time. You know we need somebody who’s in place to make this work properly.” And so what I discovered was very quickly that’s when you do this process as a culturalist, they literally hired me for that title. Imagine this is an IT company in Denver never had anybody do this before. My first job was to work with the senior leadership team and help them understand what “culture is a person” is and how it works and what it means. 

46:47 – 49:41

My next job was to then meet with second-level managers and communicate the same stuff with them but in a different language because they were not the authority brokers in the company. My real job was to get amongst the employees and listen, listen, listen, listen. What I discovered very quickly is that the feeling in the company was there’s lack of ownership from the leadership team and dreadful communication. They would say things like, we were talking about this earlier, “They treat me like a machine. They bark out an order and then expect me to just obey, you know”, etc., etc. So because I knew that and I began to implement what I called “The culture creation matrix”, the first thing I did was personally connect with four culture collaborators. I found four people I intentionally found people who were male and female, old, young, black, and white. Not because it’s America but because that was what the company was made up of. But all the decisions were being made by 6 white guys, right, who lived in their own little bubble.  Not bad people, not bad truly… especially the co-founders – lovely people but had no idea for example that there were four employees who were musicians… “I just started a band”. And I’ve had full authority, by the way so the way it works is if as a company, this is the ideal practice, you decide that you need help with your culture, you find a culturalist, you give them at least two years to have all the space that they need and you give them a proper budget, not leftover money, and you let them pick their culture team. They need to go and find the… I know who I’m looking for in the company, right? The reason I’m there is that the leadership doesn’t. And what we do is we intentionally start connecting without any trumpets, there’s no “Hey everybody, we gonna change the culture”. It’s like raising a kid or in a relationship you just do it cause it’s normal. You start communicating, you said it earlier on you start caring, etc., etc. You do creative things you connect everybody together at a basic level and then those culture collaborators you spend time with all the time… lunch every week, walks every week, even after hours, I don’t know if you do that in Bulgaria you probably do and you start sharing stories, you start tackling problems together. 

49:41 – 51:44

And so what we did was we introduced brand new values, we introduced a new brand, we started having regular what we call “communication spotlights” and you’ll see why. So that at least every two weeks the whole company for the first time in 19 years actually knew what the heck was going on. Cause guess what, if you wanna kill a rumor – be transparent if you wanna make sure that people don’t gossip more than they usually do – well tell them what’s going on. Because if you don’t… let me tell you this – if you are not intentional about creating your culture somebody else will. There is always a Bobby. Bobby might be psycho because there’s no plan or intentionality but trust me Bobby lives in your company, it’s just the way it works. So we went from this to this. We wanted a name that sounded… because Denver is becoming so mixed, that could sound Hispanic or possibly even Asian. The guy who was the head of marketing Shawn worked together with me in one day based on what I had discovered from the employees and the goals that the C-Suite had told me they wanted to accomplish, we came up with this name Zivaro. The name… Now imagine an American saying Zivaro. They’ll be like “Zivaro”, I’ll be like “Zivaro”. Zivaro, Zivaro… It’s just really funny. And because I’m older and I have a South African accent I could get away with stuff that an American never would. You know the very first day I started work I came in a few minutes early… so just lots of cubicles the pea-green-soup and the gray and the brown and I just walked in, I just did this “Yo, what’s up IT gangsters”. Big smile like this and literally, I love telling this story, three heads looked up behind their boots, you know. “What, what?”. 

51:44 – 53:34

And I’ve met all these people, I said “Who’s got chocolate? And not Hershey’s! Hershey’s is of the devil, it’s not real chocolate! I mean real chocolate!”. One of them laughed and said “I don’t have chocolate but I have candy” and I was very intentional about this, went over took the candy, I couldn’t do this today but I gave him a kiss on the cheek and I said, “We’ll be friends forever… I’m happily married but I have to do this…”. Gave him a kiss on the cheek, I’m kind of known for that… Ate the candy, said talking with them. And the next morning I come into the office I sware to you… cause it sounds ridiculous – the head of the splunk team, you know, they’re like the double Ph.D., super super clever people, comes to me, his name is Robby, says “Did you call my team IT gangsters yesterday?” with like a little smile. I said, “Yeah, it’s cool, isn’t it?”. He puts his arm around my shoulder he says “That’s the nicest thing anybody has ever said to us”. So listen to this those of, you if you are engineer, software engineers… and you know IT people are the funniest people in the world with the most ridiculous sense of humor, but they tend to be introverts. Not really though because when the four of them or five of them were in the officer alone they wouldn’t shut up. So they used to make T-shirts just for their team and then I asked one guy I said, “Rob, I wanna get one of your T-shirts, please”. And the T-shirt said, “Log, I am your father”. I mean how brilliant is that, right? Star Wars fans, come on that’s so clever! I wore the T-shirt for two days, I washed it, wore it the next morning. For one week I just wore that T-shirt. 

53:34 – 55:39

Folks within five days I have the love and respect and affection of some of the most influential people in the company. It wasn’t the trick. My fear was that they would find out how stupid I am and ignorant of anything techy compared to them and Rob said to me “Lorenzo you don’t have to know anything about coding to build culture with my team. You just need to know that like everybody else we are people who want to be acknowledged for the work that we do”. So that was one example. So “Ziva” in Hebrew means light or illumination and this is how I love this branding so much. And so we use the O as a complete circle because we wanted to communicate daily visually that we are aiming for wholeness and for completeness to our customers and internally. And then to tie to the words “Ziva”… I love it if you can break down your mission statement or you’re offering to one word I think that’s ideal. No more than three words, like no more than four values. So what we did was we came up with four values and the values are in the name – virtue, appreciation, respect, ownership, are the “VARO” part of the name “ZIVARO”. Come on, how brilliant is that? And it just happened, like literally in 24 hours. You were looking at the board like “Dude…”. So and the four biggest issues that we had in the company, I mean this truly is spectacular – the four biggest issues were that people weren’t being honest, they weren’t taking ownership, there wasn’t respect across the teams and people just were never saying thank you to each other. It’s so happened, it’s one of those magical things…  I do wanna write a book this one day, cause it’s such a great story with the values happen to fit and to fight against the four things that we really needed to work on for our culture Bobby.

55:39 – 58:07

Then in terms of our vigor and you know there were lots of conversations and lots of discussions and backward and forwards when I asked them “OK, this is a person’s heart, mind, soul and strength, the emotion is empathetic. And this was easy because we just had so many clever people. The fact was that many people in the company were very playful and our strength was that one thing the company got right is that we were reliable. If people… you know if we had a contract we finished stuff mostly on time but you got the stuff that you engaged us for. So our Bobby taking the values and the virtues and the vigor together – our Bobby is an honest, grateful, respectful, accountable, carrying, clever, funny, and dependable person. That’s who our Bobby was. Then what we did was, once we established that this was the process I’ll just scroll through this very quickly that I first took the leadership through, and then we took the second level of leadership and then eventually all the employees. We went and we took our values and we found four other words for each value. And then we use that language in emails, in product brochures, in sales kickoff events, etc., etc., until people got so used to them. And then what we did was we decided that we’ll have those things I showed you a couple of slides back – the connection, community, etc. We superimpose that on top of our values and then in a very organic holistic way slowly, slowly just day by day like it is growing a child into an adult we just kept repeating and building and building and building until eventually like true healthy culture does, it just becomes you and you become it. I imagine that some of you if not all of you are sitting there thinking this “Well this seems like that was a really pleasant and fairly easy thing. If he only knew my company”. Trust me like raising a child or like building a deep relationship there’s no easy culture building but it is possible. But you have to commit, you have to hire the right person, you have to give them resources, you have to give them enough time and you have to stick to the plan because like a person that’s gonna do this – like I said you have good days and bad days. 

58:07 – 1:00:24

And so then what we did was we spent what I would call “our visual vigor”, our personality. We had to put our money where our mouth is and we changed everything. Basically, if it couldn’t move we painted it.  Like the army does. And so when you came… I remember the first day that one of our biggest defense customers came up the elevator into what had been a really ugly hallway, it was embarrassing honestly and he walked in… We built this the big “O” so you walk into the “O” of completeness, it’s right over you it’s a gold, it’s a beautiful gold, you see the sign. So right from the very get-oo people were like “Whoa something has changed”, you know. What we first did for 14 months before this was make sure that enough of the culture was established in the people so that when people walked in… because we knew that people would walk in and go “Oh that’s beautiful” but it’s pointless if they walk in and they meet people in the company who don’t greet them and it’s sucky there’s a disconnect and subconsciously they walk out going “This is dishonest! Something’s wrong here!”. OK! So we installed a whole lot of TVs and we just repeated the messaging. Repeated the messaging! I did most of the graphics which I’m very proud of. This was very new for them and one of the things that I told the marketing team is “Anything that we do starting with the website has to be good enough that we can we can submit it for design awards every year. Like the Adobe design awards, the whole story. Because either we believe in this stuff or we don’t. This is something we had built which was… it’s a really big thing, which was for us to do internal communications standups so there was never, I mean you know all this stuff. OK! So there was never a time when you weren’t communicating Bobby to the people. Now believe it or not – please use this at work, I was in the shower and this thought came to me, you know “Guess who belongs to the shoe?”. And the next morning I went to work and I just walked up to whoever and said “Can I take a picture of your feet”. “Yes, what for?”. 

1:00:24 – 1:02:47

I said “It doesn’t matter” and I sent out an e-mail. It was for some reason the most responded to e-mail internally in the company’s history right and then the person… if somebody got all the shoes right they won a free lunch. “Nobody got all the shoes right”. One lady got nearly all of them. Here’s my point – remember how I told you that our Bobby; one of the things that Bobby is, is playful. So we did that on purpose. And then what I did was I arranged for the band – just guys that I got to know, these are all engineers, super clever people, dorky, nerdy as heck. This guy looked and sounded like Bob Dylan – Ph.D. and he also had a degree in maths – Zachariah (what a name!), wonderful guy, find out that his real dream in life is to actually be in a band. That’s the thing he really wants to do. I met this crazy dude from New Jersey, says automatically just nuts. And I just one day casually organize the coffee, got them together… Guess what? They formed a band, they are still a band today. Three of them no longer work at this company and they are still a band and he got his dream of actually being in a band and it happened at work. Because our culture gave me the permission to give them the permission to do the thing that they really wanted to do. And this is the picture that I’m proudest of because this picture speaks of true uniqueness which was unlocked within the context of new company culture. There are people in your companies… I found out that a dear friend, a guy I just met tonight… Where are you? He does carp fishing. Carp fishing? Where is he? Sell your fish, bro. Like, forget the… I would literally… Why would I go to the butcher? You do carp fishing if I was the culturalist… Oh, catch and release. How very un-American of you. Alright, so I will close with this. 

1:02:47 – 1:04:29

This was the culture killer app that came to me in the shower that I’ve used in every company. I’ve done this in four other companies, including the one that I’m in right now. In fact, it’s literally happening as we speak. So we took the values and we decided to give people awards, team members, and the company awards, based on the values. Because guess what? The sales team used to win every year, there were about 12 of them and five or six of the top salespeople who were supported by almost everybody else in the company they won the free holiday right to the Caribbean, where they just got drunk for four days and didn’t say very inappropriate things but at least it was in the Caribbean. There was an undercurrent of anger towards not even them but that setup “We all it’s so hard and only they can win”. So one day I was like “OK! Our values are established and I went to the team and remember I had a lot of… I was free to… They gave me two years “We won’t interfere with you” and I said “We’re gonna introduce the Varo awards. And what the Varo awards is, based on the values, is that we created this gorgeous campaign. You can’t see the tickets but there are ones and zeros under the words. One of the engineers when he saw the design came to me and said “I can give you the code that spells out that word, can we use that on the ticket?”. And I was like “Yeah that’s not a bad idea” in my office I was like “Yes!”. I’ve never had an engineer suggest anything for a design. 

1:04:29 – 1:06:56

Man, what a world we live in! And then made a hero of him. So send out this letter and what it is, is that the leadership team were each given these four value tickets… oh you can you can see it better there, which they could hand out to anybody in the company not just in their team. But they had to explain in a paragraph which everybody was going to see afterwards why they gave that person that ticket. So we avoided people having their favorites win because what they won was $1000, we did this twice a year. And then if you won all four wards over two years you got $10,000 and an extra week of leave. What it did was forced the leaders to pay attention to their people in a way that they hadn’t been before. Because here’s the magic trick – they would send me the names that they chosen, right so they’d recommend people, they’d send me the paragraph, they’d get this package and a gold envelope and all this good stuff. So they send the people. This guy basically did janitorial work and mailing, you know. Like if there was a hierarchy in the company he was at the very bottom. He was our first winner! Because guess what? He touched everybody in the company – patient, kind, generous, all the things you heard earlier on. So anyway what we did was I would take those, take the recommendations and then send out a company wide e-mail and then everybody in the company would vote on the… ended up being 16 names that were being put forward. Company of about 250 people. Then we took the winners and we just blasted them everywhere – social media, on the TV screens, there was basically no escape. What I also did was on the survey sheet that went out to the all the employees and I told the leadership “When the results come back we are gonna make it publicly available. So there can be no version at all”. Because remember one of our values is virtue, it’s honesty, we have to be transparent because if they once think that we are lying we’re gonna lose everything. Anyway I mean people absolutely loved it and they had lunch with the CEO, they got their 1000 bucks.

1:06:56 – 1:08:16

So in closing these were the main results of the many results and this is the one I’m happiest about by the way – employee engagement shot up through the roof. When they had company barbecues we used to get about 20% of people free food. Finish earlier on Friday we do it like 3 times a year or maybe once a quarter, four times a year. And so few people would come. After this had been going for about a year we didn’t have enough food at the first two cause we thought we planned like you know “Whatever 25 people are gonna come”. So many people came, brought their families saying engagement this is super cool. We found that when we interviewed for new hires right that the millennials so early-stage millennials a few years ago who’ve gone on to these popular hiring sites and saw the ratings and read the reviews and then called us. When I walked them around the company to see you know “If you’re gonna work here this would be the team you’d work with”. People then are like “Yo what’s up? You want some candy? What’s going about you?”, some blink, give them a cap, whatever. But they felt the culture. They enjoyed Bobby. So we ended up hiring younger and younger and younger people. 

1:08:16 – 1:10:51

Our productivity increased by 36%. And now look for some of you this metric might be the more important one… They still are doing the best they’ve ever done. Between you and me and the rest of the world that was the number that least mattered to me, which tells you I’m not a CFO. Because I’m about people and if you’re in HR… forget HR, if you run a company you should be about people. So in closing – why did this work? I spent about six weeks on this. You know what it was? It’s that everybody was included for the first time. Because everybody could live the values. Not everybody could do the job that the sales team was doing to get the free holiday but everybody could live and become the values. The Varo awards expressed our personhood and our personality in tangible ways and you could measure it. Everybody could belong. The result was… you know in the room when we first gave that $1000 to Brandon, people went nuts. Because you know if you will pass Brandon… I mean he kinda walks a little bit with his shoulders… whatever. You know, you would just not be impressed with him. Even the CEO said to me afterwards “I didn’t even think Brandon would be recommended, let alone that he would be our first winner”. And that’s what healthy culture does – it gives everybody an equal chance. It elevates everybody to a level playing field and everybody feels like they are adding to the company. And so you can design your Bobby. You’ve just gotta have design commitments, you’ve gotta understand your uniqueness that’s the first foundation. Then you gotta commit to building it, get that leader… By the way, if you can’t afford to hire a culturalist you can get together two or three key people in your company who care about this stuff. The key, in that case, is that you’ve got to give them resources and freedom and time to come up with a plan and strategy and let them implement it. And then you could bring a culturalist in who could help guide those people. So in closing thank you very much for your time! If you would like to learn a little more you can I’ll leave it up there you can just scan that. That’ll take you to my website that’s basically it.

1:10:51 – 1:10:53

Misho: Thank you my friend!