How To Establishing a Culture of Optimization
We talked about the architecture of a modern growth team, really the goal of breaking down a lot of silos, that exist, especially in legacy organizations. And we're going to pick that up again in a little bit, when we get into Part Four. In the previous section we talked about the growth acceleration process, so, what should this team be doing on a regular basis? Now we're going to dive even further in the weeds in Part Three and talk about how to establish a culture of optimization. We're going to get into meeting schedules, planning, those kind of fun things; it should get very, very specific. So if you have an ultra-specific question, especially, feel free, you know, ask it in the chat, and we would love, love, love to address it and discuss it here. So, to get things started, let's talk about establishing, like I said, that culture of optimization. And this is a very generic statement, but I think it's true: optimization is everyone's job. And the reason that I say this, is because...
it used to be very common to have optimization departments within a company. I don't like that. Now, if you work within an optimization department, I'm not suggesting that you go and like, resign. Or if you have an optimization department that you necessarily like, blow it up, right? Again, we all have like, legacy things, but what I don't like about it is, it's almost like, optimization, that's their job over there; I don't have to worry about that. When literally everyone should be looking around at every given moment, thinking, "How can I make this better?" Whose job is it not, to optimize? Like, who doesn't have to worry about that? Who shouldn't be thinking about that? So, I think making that clear, right, I think making that clear, and the way that we do this is, it should be baked into your core values. Alright, optimization should absolutely be baked into your core values. So I'm going to get a little bit, you know, specific here and talk about, you know, Digital Marketer, which is one of the companies that's in our portfolio, the one that I actively run. I want to walk through our core values, and let's look at the ones that have something to do with optimization. Okay, now these are not necessarily proprietary, so if you want to incorporate some of these into your own values, I think that's critical. And getting back to this whole idea of values, I'm talking less to the larger companies, and even to a lot of the funded startups, because they kind of get the idea of this, that it needs to be there. I really want to speak to those of you out there watching, where you're thinking, but I'm a solo. You know, I'm just getting started in this. What do values have to do with anything? I just need, my value is I'm going to go sell some stuff and make some money, and eat some food and pay my rent. Like, that's my value. And let me tell you, I get that. I get that, as someone who's bootstrapped multiple companies, I get that. But I will tell you, if you do not articulate and codify your values, you are going to find that scale is nearly impossible. If you don't take the time to say, this is who we are and this is what we believe, you're going to find that scale is impossible, you're going to find that it's going to be difficult to attract and retain good people, and you're going to find that it's going to be nearly impossible to build a culture. Because as we talked about, culture is not, you know, snack bars and Nerf gun fights; culture is a set of shared values. So what is that for you? So for us, at Digital Marketer first and foremost love, protect, and respect our customers. Love, protect and respect our customers; the customer can be wrong but we won't be jerks to them. Even when they deserve it. Never let your team down. I've said before, you can be late, but you can't let your team down. If people know you're late, we're not going to bug you; we're not a clock in, clock out kind of place. But if you let your team down, and it keeps happening, we're going to have a problem. Nurture a positive, supportive, and collaborative team environment. So if you're rude, if you're a jerk, if you continually bring your outside issues into the office eventually like, hey I get it, everybody's got problems, take a freaking day off; I don't care. But you can't bring it here, because you're not nurturing a positive, supportive, and collaborative team environment. Again, I just want to pause here. I know this isn't specifically, we're getting into kind of broader management kind of things, I know this isn't specifically about, you know, a growth team, but when you state your values, it becomes much easier to train. It becomes much easier to have the difficult conversations with folks. Because now you're not speaking to that specific thing they did and throwing up a bunch of straw men. It's like oh, well the reason I was late is because ... Look, it doesn't matter, like, all that stuff. You're letting your team down. Oh you know, yeah I know, I'm having a bad day, you know, my boyfriend and I, you know, we got in a fight; hey I get it. I get it, you can be upset, you can have a bad day. You've just got to make sure you're nurturing a positive, supportive, and collaborative team environment. We will absolutely fire people for gossip. Because they're not nurturing a positive, supportive, and collaborative team environment, right? I don't have to say, don't gossip, right, don't backstab. You're not nurturing a positive, supportive, and collaborative team environment. So those are just kind of broad based things; they don't necessarily have anything to do with growth. Now let's get into the ones that do. Know the why; know the why. We we say know the why, we are giving our people permission to make mistakes as long as they know why they did it. Now let's go back to the previous segment. Do you remember when we said every single test needs to start with ... What does every single test need to start with? What did we say?
Hypothesis, exactly. Know the why, why did you do it? Why did you do it; why still allows you to be wrong. But it suggests that there was some intent. There was some forethought; you were doing your best. Know the why, that's how we bake, that's the first way that we bake a culture of optimization into our organization. Know the why. You know, we want to hypothesize on it. I don't want to give you a hypothesis, you've got to know the why. You want to do something, you don't know why. Make decisions and own the result. Make a decision, make a call, and own the result. People don't get in trouble for screwing things up, they get in trouble and we call them out when they refuse to accept responsibility. Because as long as you know the why, and you make a decision and you own the result, hey maybe it didn't work out, but if there was a major flop, and you knew the why you made the decision and you really own up to it, if it was a major flop and it hurt us that badly, then guess what, that was my fault for putting you in a position to screw something up that badly. You know, you don't give the keys to a Ferrari to a 15-year-old, right? And if you do, as an adult, you don't get mad at the 15-year-old that they wrecked your Ferrari. Why did you give them the keys, okay? So as a manager, as a growth leader, make sure that you're not putting your people in a position where they can like, bring down the whole company. Oh yeah, sure, here's access to all the server files, do whatever you need to do. Hey if you need to optimize go at. No, that's dumb, don't do that; they'll break your whole system, right? So have appropriate constraints in there so that you can say look, as long as you know the why you make a decision, you own the result, you're not going to get fired here. That's not what's going to get you in trouble. All this is balanced by pursue growth and learning every day. People don't get fired at Digital Marketer for making a mistake. You will eventually get fired if you make the same mistake again and again and again. And by the way I know this sounds harsh. Like, getting fired. But this is a reality of business, right? It's a reality; sometimes people just don't work out. Sometimes you've got the wrong people. Sometimes you've got the right people in the wrong role. Sometimes it's just, things aren't working out, but you've got to make a change for the benefit of the company. This gives you a framework for being able to decide whether or not this person's going to be a fit or not. So, if you know the why you make a decision and own the result, but you keep screwing up, you're like yeah but here's why I did it ... But hey I tried my best and I'm owning up to it, but you keep screwing up again and again and again, that's really nice but you're violating our core value by not pursuing growth and learning every day. You're clearly not learning from your mistake, and that's why you keep making it. That's a problem, okay? Pursue growth and learning every day; learn from these things. And then again, document and share your knowledge. Document and share your knowledge. We talked about the importance of reporting. You get a great result; I figured something cool out. One of the quickest ways to have me like personally fire you and like drag you out by your ear, is to come up with something really great and to say, oh I don't want to share that; that's my thing, that's my idea. You know, what did you do? I don't really talk about it; it's kind of my thing. Uh-uh, that doesn't exist here homie. Alright, you've got to get out. Because we have a core value that says you document and you share your knowledge. We do this as a company; we document and we share. Be a bigger fish in a bigger pond. I think this is important for a lot of companies because as you grow, as you scale, if you do your job right as a growth team, you're going to grow. Now, that sounds obvious, but there's a lot of people who work within an organization that are going to pine, they are going to miss the good old days, when it was just 10 of you sitting around a table, right? But if the growth team does its job and grows, you're going to need more people to support that mission. So this idea of be a bigger fish in a bigger pond, is how we speak to the fact that look, we're going to grow, and things are going to change. And that's okay, and if you complain about it you're not living out our value of being willing to be a bigger fish in a bigger pond. If you want to be the same-sized fish in the same-sized pond go work somewhere else, okay? This is all about establishing a culture of optimization. You got me? A culture of growth. Of growth. Each one builds upon the next and then finally, celebrate the wins. Celebrate the wins. When we win, we celebrate, and we celebrate together. What isn't up there, and this is a very specific thing, for us, is celebrate the losses. At Digital Marketer, we expect to win, and so when we won, we wouldn't really celebrate; it'd be like alright cool, good job everybody, get back to work. When we've lost we make a really big deal about it. Because it didn't happen often; we'd learn a lot, we would ... I mean we really did, we made a big production and we got in the habit of celebrating losses. Now the team came to us, came to management and said, that's cool, I get that, but it's kind of a buzz kill. Like, we should celebrate when we win from time to time. So here's the thing about values. They're a check not just on from the top down, they're a check, bottom up. So anybody at Digital Marketer can call anybody out based on one of these values. If we're not living it, if I'm not living it, the reason that celebrate the wins is there and it doesn't say celebrate the losses, is because we need to put in check. We're going to still celebrate the losses; that doesn't need to be a value, we come about that naturally. That's baked into our DNA, right? So you see here, love, protect, and respect our customers, that's the overarching thing that says we're a customer-centric company. Never let your team down, we're going to honor and respect the team along with nurture a positive, supportive, and collaborative team environment. Every other, the rest of them, the bottom six, all relate to building a culture of growth and optimization. So I would invite you to look at your own core values. How many of those values speak to this idea of growth? How many of them are just things that you've seen other really big companies put and you're like, ooh I like that, I'm going to add that one in too. You need to be very intentional about your values; they need to reinforce where you're going. They need to reinforce where you're going. Now I want to tell you how we use these. So number one, anytime somebody's going through the hiring process, I go through, or whoever the hiring manager is, goes through that exact same explanation that I just went through with you there. Here's this value, here's why we have it. Here's this value, here's why we have it; here's this one, here's why we have it, we go through all, and at the hiring process, during the hiring stage we say, okay these are rules, these are the non-negotiables. These are the Nine Commandments. Okay, you don't get to say after the fact, I don't think I like that one. This is a speak now or forever hold your peace. You ever been to a wedding, it's like if anybody doesn't believe this two should be wed, speak now or forever hold their peace? Right, you've got you one shot. That's what we do during the hiring process. So we hire based on values. We hire based on values, so from the moment even before somebody becomes a team member at our company, we are already beginning to instill a culture of growth and optimization. They're accepting it ahead of time. The moment of hiring, just before. It's the last question we ask them, you got any problem with these, before an offer letter's sent out. Okay, great. We also train based on these. So twice a year we do evaluations. People get evaluated on basic job performance, but then they also do a self-evaluation and their manager evaluates them based on each one of these core values, on a scale of one to four. A scale of one to four. So they'll say, on a scale of one to four, how am I at love, protecting, and respecting our customers? And it's essentially, one is rarely; two is sometimes; three is often; and four is, you are the model of this, we should be upholding you. Okay, you are the standard. It's really interesting, and the reason that I suggest that you have your team members, again, whatever your values are, whatever you wind up doing, I do recommend that you do that. Have them do the self evaluation and then you do the evaluation, because where there's a big gap, boy there's some miscommunication issues. Okay, there's some big, big, big miscommunication issues. Now, we require all the managers to turn these in. And so when a manager turns these in, if they're going to put a one on there, the question I'm going to have is, please tell me you had a conversation with this person prior to that. You cannot be going into an evaluation giving somebody a one, and not having already talked to them about it, and if you have already talked to them about it, then at the evaluation, you should probably be letting them know that they're no longer going to be working for this company. We're going to do everything we can to soften the landing, but it just isn't working out. Okay, it just isn't working out. So they go through, and it's a good opportunity to reaffirm these ideals. Even if you get everybody to memorize them, they're still going to forget how it works, but if we're constantly going back, and they're measuring themselves, the management measuring them, you're having a conversation, then it's good. If somebody gets a four, then we do actually hold them up in the all-hands company meeting that we do once a week. You know, after that, and it's like, this person is clearly a model of this, and we're going to look for them to continue leading us in this regard, and everybody agrees with that. Generally, people are getting threes. If they're performing well, they're getting a three. If it's a two, then they're probably having a discussion; if it's a one, it's a this needs to turn around real quick fast and in a hurry, or you gotta go. And it's not mean, right? It isn't mean, it's, we have this objective standard, right? If you want to work here, you agreed to these. You're out of line with them, so let's talk about how we can get you back in line. The way that we generally approach, by the way, kind of the disciplinary process for lack of a better term, if when somebody's going through, if we approach them, we say hey, we're just not seeing it right now, if I were to score you on this, you'd be at like a one or a two; I'm not feeling it. We've got to work on this. If you've got to go back to them again, then the conversation is, hey, it still isn't getting better; we're going to put you like on a 30, 60 day program, where it's going to improve, or I need you to come to me. It just isn't working out; if you come to me, then we can have a conversation about transitioning you maybe into another role, I can make some recommendations. If I've got to go to you then unfortunately, that's going to be it, that'll be the last conversation. It is very rare that we have to fire people. Generally people come to us and they say it's not working out. And we have an opportunity to shift them over to a new role, or exit them gracefully from the company. They resign, you know, they're able to get a severance and it works, right? And the reason it works is because we all agree ahead of time, this is the standard. Now I know there's a lot of kind of broad based, like, Management 101 kind of stuff in that, but the big point that I want you to keep in mind, if you want to establish a culture of optimization, it starts with your values. And if you have no values, if you have no core values written out, then I will tell you, it's going to be impossible to establish any culture whatsoever. If you have your values, and you don't have at least a few of them that speak to growth and optimization, you're not holding your people accountable to any form of growth and optimization, there's no way that you can expect to establish a culture of growth of optimization. So it all begins here, it all begins here with your core values. And if you would like to rip off any of ours, feel free. This is not copyright protected, all right? I think even if I wanted to copyright "nuture "a positive, supportive & collaborative team environment," I wouldn't be able to, and for very good reason. No, these are all here, if you want to leverage any of them, by all means feel free; I invite you to do it. They have served us well; we have not had to go back, we established these about four years ago, and we haven't had to go back and change them. I think that speaks to the efficacy of the document.