When interviewing with Toco Warranty, they asked: “as the first person hired in the Denver office, how are you going to create a culture where people enjoy coming to work?” I knew that for some small companies the culture reflects the values of the CEO and it’s Reagan economics trickle-down theory from there. Now, a year later, I have some thoughts about influencing culture from the ground floor. The secret is mindfulness.
When building a new office, there is entropy, opportunities, growing pains – and the pace is fast. In the beginning, our three-person Talent Development team’s priorities included: hiring a sales floor, standardizing the two-week sales foundation program, developing the leadership program and establishing the Ethos Council, a committee to ensure the office lives our core values. This required lots of hard and rewarding work. In the first eight months, I admit that at times I was stressed. My manager saw my stress and shared, “As a leader, people look to us for emotional cues. If you’re stressed, it signals to others that it’s okay to freak out. Thus, the key is to be steady and calm.”
Triggering my memory, I realized I’ve seen this role-modeled before. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal published an exposé, Gender Bias Alleged at UCLA’s Anderson Business School. Shortly after the article was published, I met with Dean Judy Olian to understand what was happening and she was as calm as savasana. She shared the work she was doing, which included being part of The White House Summit on Working Families and implementing an implicit bias program, similar to the one Lazlo Bock implemented at Google. In essence, because she was calm and grounded, it allowed her to catalyze change that UCLA Anderson and other business schools across the country desperately needed.
This is the secret sauce in influencing culture. Once a company has decided on the culture it wants and the whole executive team is bought in, they share “the why.” Then, all leaders model the culture. However, there is a missing piece. When starting a new venture, in the midst of chaos, sometimes people believe in the culture, but the stress or being caught up in a current roadblock prevent them from modeling the culture. This is where mindfulness is key.
Mindfulness is when “we become aware that we’re aware.”* To become aware, I began meditating daily and improving my mental performance by practicing yoga regularly and getting a full eight hours of sleep. Practicing mindfulness has allowed me to be aware of my thoughts, choose my perspective and thus, choose my actions. For example, it’s the difference between “I have to organize a recruiting event, how will I find the time to do this?” versus “I get to organize a recruiting event – how cool, I’ve never done this before!” By being gracious of the opportunity, the energy transfers, creating a positive feedback cycle among others in the office.
There are many benefits of mindfulness in the workforce. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend reading Arianna Huffington’s work, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success.
Image by @lastnightoutfit
*Arianna Huffington, Thrive (New York: Harmony Books, 2014), 184.
Posted by Stephanie Lang, ATD RMC VP of Communications