Interview Transcript

You’ve been involved in business success stories in organisations that have grown exponentially — how do you maintain culture in a fast-growing organisation?

Every day. Culture has to be managed. You can’t just let it happen because otherwise, at critical mass, if you keep hiring more people, they’ll naturally build a culture, which might not be the one you want in your organisation.

I would say, Amazon is the only company I’ve worked for that has actively managed that culture. My very first week at Amazon, based out in Munich, I get into the lift with Ralph, the MD of the Amazon business in Germany, wonderful guy. I get in the lift with a very experienced leader, and we’d just done our metrics review, this 120-page document, all the metrics. As a typical numbers guy, I’m super-excited, and Ralph asked me, “How did you find that meeting?”

It was my first week. This was my opportunity to give a balanced view but also try and get some airtime. This is my elevator pitch, quite literally. I go through diligently how the metrics could be better, how they could be linked. How I thought the team were on top of certain parts but other parts, I didn’t think they were. I thought, “I’ve just given this perfect answer.” So proud of myself.

And Ralph said, “Yeah, you’ve just completely missed the point of what that meeting’s about.” That was the fall-to-earth moment. I was like, “Oh, what just happened?” He said, “The reason for that meeting, it’s audit. It’s to make sure people keep their noses in the details of their business. Stay connected to the details because that’s where you really find out what’s going on.”

So, it’s a forcing function to stay connected, and the second thing is to teach culture. It’s about behaviour. What is it like to work here? It’s a teaching moment, a reinforcement of culture. That meeting happened in every single country, every single week, for an hour. Going through those metrics, but it’s not a metrics review. It’s a behavioural setting of how the organisation works.

If you take a massive step back, in the life of an organisation, that one week of metrics in itself isn’t going to change the organisation’s success. It’s like Liverpool losing the game last week; that one week doesn’t change it. But that moment to teach culture reinforces — or can destroy — an organisation. That repetitiveness of teaching culture is huge.

It’s every meeting you’re in, how you behave in that meeting, the language you’re using. It’s the one constant in an organisation; what is the culture you’re building? Reinforcing the behaviours. It’s hard to do, but if you do it, it just becomes the thing you do.

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