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Jul 13, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Culture is the glue of a company, and glue wears off.” — Ali Manouchehri, CEO and founder of Zoomph

Ali Manouchehri’s observation mirrors the findings of an Inc. magazine survey of CEOs of fast-growing companies. Their No. 1 concern was how to keep their vibrant culture alive as they scale.

How can leaders keep their resilient, Can-do, “we’re all in this together” culture that typifies the small, startup company, growing as their company grows?

How can they keep the core values that make them unique and attractive to talent?

One way is to look for teachable moments that reinforce, “this is who we are and this is what we value.”

Teachable moments

Here’s an example of how it’s done.

Marissa Ferraraccio, the marketing manager at Zoomph, tells the story of a fail she had during her first month at Zoomph, a real-time Social Media engagement & analytics platform. She created a marketing campaign that, based on her research, looked like it would be a winner.

It wasn’t.

“I watched it fail right before my eyes and I’m thinking ‘Here I am only a month into this job…and I know I’m good at what I do…but this thing is blowing up in my face.’ 

A day after she realized the campaign was failing, Ali Manouchehri stopped by her desk, and asked her how things were going.

She told him her campaign wasn’t working. The incoming data revealed it wasn’t the correct approach; it had been a mistake.

His response: “OK…what do we need to fix it?

Marissa shared her thought about a Plan B and proceeded to implement.

Positive and efficient feedback

Version 2.0 totally nailed the SEO, resulting in the company’s highest ranking page at that point in their history.

A week later, in her meeting with Ali, Marissa updated him.

His response: “You know what…I appreciate the fact that you recognized it wasn’t working, you were honest that it wasn’t working, and you figured out a way to make it work.”

Notice the Zen-like economy and effectiveness of Manouchehri’s feedback.

In a single sentence, he communicated:

  1. Being observant, adaptable, accountable, and honest were important cultural values at Zoomph.
  2. What these important values look and sound like in real life in a company like Zoomph.
  3. Engaging in high value behaviors isn’t taken for granted; doing so is noticed and appreciated.

Leaders are wise to remember: “What gets noticed gets reinforced.”

Reinforcing the right behaviors

If you want employees to embody your critical cultural values, notice them in action and then let that employee know you noticed — but don’t stop there.

Then turn these teachable moments into teaching stories.

To borrow from Made to Stick authors’ Chip and Dan Heath, “stories provide both inspiration and simulation.”

Stories can provide inspiration when they describe people acting in ways that we aspire to, whether it’s people demonstrating courage, compassion, or resilience. Teaching stories that demonstrate employees embodying your culture’s core values provides inspiration and feeds aspiration.

They show excellence-in-action. They communicate, “This is what it means to rock it here.

Sharing these stories also provide simulation in the sense of providing “theater of the mind” training videos. When told well, stories of employee demonstrating your core values in action, stories of employees being excellent, helps all employees get a clear picture of what your cultural values look and sound like in real life.

How to benefit from this idea

  • If you haven’t already done so, get clear on your company’s core values.
  • For each core value, ask “What does this value look and sound like on the job? What behaviors reflect this value in action? What’s an example of this value being demonstrated?
  • Ask employees for more examples of each core value in action.
  • Archive these stories.
  • Tell these stories in new hire orientation, employee meetings, and in whatever communication channels you use to stay connected with employees.
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.