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How to Build an Innovative High Performing Culture - Start with First Principle Thinking

lightbulb & gears & innovation

I am listening to a number of podcasts lately. Some are by entrepreneurs I know personally like Brad Post with Create the Movement, Belinda Brown with Planting the Seeds of Change and Royce Gomez who has a Blog radio show called Thrive: A Woman's Journey. These relatively young entrepreneurial shows have great insight to share as much as the well-known hosts and shows. Check them out and share your thoughts with me or with these hosts.

Other podcasts are well known, like TedTalks, who doesn’t love TedTalks right? One of my favorite podcasts is by Entrepreneur magazine and called Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman as the host. I highly recommend this podcast. Inspiring, informative, educational, entertaining and has dynamic guests that are amazing. My two favorites so far are Mark Zuckerberg (Episode 4, Imperfect is Perfect) his mantra is “Move fast and break things.” The second fav is Reed Hastings, CEO of NetFlix (Episode 8, Culture Shock) and high performing culture with “First Principle Thinking.”

These two concepts of ‘Move fast and break things’ and First Principle Thinking,’ I believe are key to creating a high performing culture that yields extraordinary results. As an organizational consultant to entrepreneurial businesses, I see areas where businesses leaders can ‘pivot’ their mindset and obtain totally different results that can change ROI, employee engagement, commitment and performance. It starts with the leaders. This is obviously much easier to do with smaller organizations. However, it is more so about the leader’s willingness to embrace making mistakes and failing and being open with their customers. It is about innovating fast. The problem with innovation is that it can happen fast; however more often it happens slowly.

So the way to build a high performing culture are:

quote-reid hoffman

  1. You're human, get over yourself. We all know that what can make or break a company is speed to get a minimum viable product out to market. If you know your personality type, strengths, challenges and willingness to be exposed you - you can see extraordinary results. Remember, when you were a kid (and I mean a young child), you didn’t care who was watching you. Kind of like when you fall down and don’t cry until you see the reaction of the adult. If they didn’t make a big deal out of the fall then everything seemed to be okay Same mindset when running your company. We are human, we make mistakes, and when we own up to making a mistake it takes huge pressure off and can move into bringing a solution.

  2. Embrace 360 feedback. We need feedback loops with both external and internal customers that are using the system to find out how to improve. Listen, and I mean listen to people inside as well as outside your organization. You have heard the saying, there are two ears and 1 mouth right? Well, enough said!

Release, observe, react. Release imperfect products prior to bringing to full market to get feedback that makes the product easier to iterate. The consumer's words and actions do not match so really listen and observe to bring change quickly into the culture process.

  1. Redefine mistakes. Lead your external and internal stakeholders by embracing a different definition of the word mistake. When you rethink the word and give it a new definition that is framed around creative, problem-solving then step out of the way. S**t happens that is awesome. Innovative problem-solving, team communication, and testing, observing and reacting, as humans, we should lean into everything. Life is about change, and it moves at warp speed with technology as the driving force.

  2. First Principle Thinking. According to Reid Hoffman, this expression is used in Silicon Valley is the idea that everything you do is underpinned by foundational belief. Instead of blindly following directions or sticking to a process a first principle thinker will constantly ask what is best for the company and couldn’t we do it this other way instead. Use a culture deck or mico on-boarding site to sift the wheat from the chaff when seeking candidates for your business.

Find Your Match. Who you let in the door really matters. Not everyone is a match in your company. Again, we are human are subject to unconscious biases that run in the back of our brains. Unconsciously, we look for people that look, think and create like us. What you really want to do is find people that are first principle thinkers. They bring innovative thinking as the best asset in a business (regardless if profit or nonprofit). I look for entrepreneurial types, that are not afraid to communicate honestly, creative problem-solvers, and are not afraid to manage up (meaning at times you have to lead the leader).

  1. Good, Great, Extraordinary. How many times have you worked with people that are comfortable with the status quo? Those people that punch in and punch out, don’t speak up yet they are dependable. There are great people that speak up, show up, and contribute for the right reasons. Then there are those that are extraordinary. The first principle thinkers that treat the customer and business with value, look for ways to take things off the shoulder and make it better. They stand out in every way.

  2. Team dynamics, Go Team Go! Remember, this is a business. This isn’t a family environment which is about unconditional love. It is about business, we want to make money (profit and nonprofit) because that is how we find purpose, make things better, and employ people. We expect high performance like players on a team. Team sports are about winning. The team will succeed when everyone gives honest feedback and open in communication. Show you value the people on your team creates a culture that spreads value outside the company and the customer experience.

  3. Excellence first, then speed. How hard would you fight to keep me? If this question is used when interviewing and as part of the culture, then everyone knows there are no surprises. They can chose to strive for excellence in their performance and contributions. When I speak with interns and new staff, I stress I want them to focus on mastering the skill first. Pay attention to details. Speed comes once they have learned how to ensure quality is first because they trained themselves to focus on details first. Those are the people that are memorable and a leader wants to fight and keep on their team.

  4. ‘We’ not ‘me’ people. ‘We’ culture is about self and others. We is about serving and investing in the people to ensure they are great culture fits from the beginning. ‘We’ thinkers remember it is not all about me. While it is human to think “What is in it for me?,” when we put ourselves in the shoes of our customers, staff and vendors then we really are about bringing change into the equation. Realize you need diversity in staff, thinking, background, and experience to drive a culture of innovation.

Remember, the key to a winning company culture is when every employee feels they own the company. They are grounded in the shared mission, the shared goal of getting a deliverable shipped on time (which can mean a day ahead of schedule -- not the exact day). Leaders make sure they get this message across daily to everyone across the organization (from bottom to top) and embrace the values daily.

Contact Isabella at Pivot Business Consulting to develop your own First Principle Thinking Culture, Team and Leaders for your business.

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