Employee Culture: Mirror to your Humanity – Stan Slap [Interview]
About Stan Slap
Stan Slap is the CEO at Slap Company. He is a frequent keynote speaker and the author of The New York Times bestseller ‘Bury my heart at Conference Room B’. His main interests include Goal implementation, branding, and a lot more with the spark for making this world a better place. We’re happy and honored to have someone of his experience in our interview series.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Stan Slap to our interview series. I’m Vanessa Rose from the peopleHum team before we begin just a quick introduction of peopleHum; peopleHum is an end to end one view integrated Human Capital Management Automation Platform. The winner of the 2019 Global Codie Award for its HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors yearly and publishes around two interviews with well-known names globally every month.
Welcome, Stan. We are thrilled to have you!
Thank you, I’m honored to be here.
The first question I wanted to ask you was, you had quite a journey, Could you little bit tell us about the Slap Company?
Sure, first of all, we’ve been in business for 24 years and the entire focus of our company is maximizing the commitment of the three groups that decide the success of your company, which is, we would identify as your manager culture, your employee culture, and your customer culture.
“Three groups that decide the success of your company, your manager culture, your employee culture, and your customer culture.”
And we’re not talking about a bunch of managers, employees, and customers. When those groups form relationships with your company, they become cultures and they become self-protective belief systems. So what we know how to do is we know how those cultures really work and how to get them to really work for you. That’s what we do.
The reason that we do it is that culture is where humans gather in business.
“Culture is where humans gather in business.”
And when we can reposition these three cultures back to a company as newly precious workable assets. Because a company will protect anything that’s an asset, especially if they learned how to get something more out of that asset. You can’t protect these three assets without protecting the humanity that they represent and without discovering or rediscovering your own humanity as an enterprise as well.
So, we’re in business to make the business case for humanity. If we lose humanity in business, especially now, we’re doomed. If we save it company by company, manager by manager, we’ve saved ourselves. So we create legendary performance impacts for many of the world’s most successful companies all over the world. But we do it for this reason.
“If we lose humanity in business, especially now, we’re doomed. If we save it company by company, manager by manager, we’ve saved ourselves.”
You’ve spoken so much about culture and you specialize in this. Why do you think it’s difficult for organizations and what are the key tenents you follow in advising organizations wanting to break a winning culture?
Well, I think we could talk about that at any point, but now we should talk about what you can do now. First of all, culture is the most overused yet commonly least understood concept in business. Anyway, actually culture was Merriam Webster’s word of the year in 2014. So what that means is according to the most popular dictionary in the entire English language, culture was the most searched word in the entire English language.
Now, in my company, because culture is all we built, we like to say if banana had made the word of the year instead, by now companies would understand what a banana is and recognize it’s not gonna peel itself just to feed you. You actually have to know how to work the fruit, which doesn’t sound right. But you know what I’m talking about.
So culture has always been the true power. There’s nothing you’re gonna ever be able to get done in an organization without these three groups, your managers, employees, customer culture. They are deciding the success of your company while you are listening to me say this sentence.
A culture will give you whatever you want. You just have to give it what it wants first and respecting what it wants is the difference between its defiance and its compliance.
“A culture will give you whatever you want. You just have to give it what it wants first and respecting what it wants is the difference between its defiance and its compliance.”
Before I answer your specific question tactically, the big epiphany here is it is not the responsibility of your culture to understand the business logic. It is the responsibility of your business to understand the culture’s logic.
And if you do that, you’re unbeatable in any market, you choose. If you don’t, good luck with that. Cling to that anyway, that you could be successful anyway because a rich fantasy life is important overall mental health. But you’re not really going to get anywhere. So the question is, what do you do now with this belief system?
The culture comes into existence when a group of people share the same basic living circumstances and band together to share beliefs about the rules of survival and emotional prosperity. How do I survive in this jungle, in this tribe with this chief, and knowing that I’m gonna be okay, how do I get rewarded emotionally and avoid punishment?
So your employee culture is an independent organism living right inside your company with its own purpose and has all the power to make or break any management plan in any manager. Its purpose is to protect itself, not you, not your strategy. And even though it’s obsessed with its own survival, that’s why it comes into existence.
It’s not gonna make the connection between protecting your plan or your revenue goal and its own survival. Unless there’s a reliable through-line between what happens to the company, what happens to culture.
Chances are there’s dirt in that machine so it’s not enough to say we’re the company. Come here and do it. The key to a culture’s commitment is aligning its sense of protecting itself with protecting you as a company. And so you’ve got to go to the culture.
“The key to a culture’s commitment is aligning its sense of protecting itself with protecting you as a company. And so you’ve got to go to the culture.”
So having said that, what do you do now? What do you do when you go to bed with one world and you wake up with another? What do you do? I would say immediately, there are two platform things that need to be done.
- The first is you have to aim to pass the right test, and the test is not how do we survive and how do we succeed? How do we actually have our best years ever? How do we emerge stronger and faster and wiser than we have ever been? If you set the bench there and work backward, that’s very different from a hunker down, limited, risk-averse diverse culture. So that’s key.
- The second is you’ve got to create a culture of accountability. There’s no question that this pandemic and all the impact that it’s had, this happened to you, it happened to your company. But once it’s happened to you, what happens next is up to you. You’ve been served.
And so if you allow your culture to start claiming external circumstances as an excuse for internal performance, you guys will give it up now because that creates a culture of apathy and victimization and non-accountability.
“If you allow your culture to start claiming external circumstances as an excuse for internal performance, you guys will give it up now because that creates a culture of apathy and victimization and non-accountability.”
That’s so insidious that rooting it out is extremely difficult. It’s gonna haunt you long after this crisis passes.
Now, the very best companies having the very best cultures hold themselves accountable for their successes as well as their vulnerabilities. They practice what we call an equation of accountability. We don’t want to hear all these elegant, well-crafted excuses, why whatever has gone wrong is not our fault. All we want to hear is this is what we did or didn’t do equals this is what happened. That we can learn from.
And so your culture has got to turn these circumstances into ferocious energy and a sense of accomplishment and fierce determination that really says this is who we are. This is how we take our sense of self.
A couple of things about that. As I mentioned before, the only reliable prediction anybody is safe and giving is that any prediction stands a good chance of making you look like a complete moron because we don’t really know what’s gonna happen, except this. We know that the biggest enemy that companies are gonna have to face is weariness, absolute emotional exhaustion as this just progresses.
“Any prediction stands a good chance of making you look like a complete moron because we don’t really know what’s gonna happen, except that the biggest enemy that companies are gonna have to face is weariness and absolute emotional exhaustion as this progresses.”
My wife told me the other day, we’re doing great as a family, we’re getting along, our sons in school and we’re doing mealtimes, and I said, “Week 7 of 97 weeks, okay, let’s see what we’re doing at week 37 when cannibalism is on the table as an option.” Okay, what’s gonna happen is that people are going to get exhausted at a deep spiritual level, and that’s gonna manifest as resignation, depression, and detachment. We don’t know what’s gonna happen as we go up and down. We’re just not used to this.
And so what has to happen is you have to give people the back energy. Energy is the antidote to weariness. You can’t be both weary and energized at the same time, it’s not possible. So if your culture feels everything is out of our control now, you have to give it something to control. Even if it’s a little thing, a little project, a little goal, if they said we can’t impact anything that is happening to us, you have to make that go measurable.
Look, you went from here to here, and this is what happened. If we can’t take care of the people that are important to us, you have to give the ability to give to others. ‘Here’s what we’re going to do for our customers. Here’s what we’re gonna do for our community. Here’s what we’re gonna do for ourselves.’ You have to do that.
So, let me just stop there. These are the two things I would say we have to start. That’s where you start.
That was the very deep and a very insightful answer.
So what are your thoughts on building a perspective employee brand for an emerging organization?
Well, I would say again, if we make this relevant to what’s happening now, this is what we stand for. When you’re talking about culture, context is everything for culture, because what a culture cares about most is its survival.
“When you’re talking about culture, context is everything, because what a culture cares about most is its survival.”
So what it prizes it the surety of its environment. Management is focused on success. It’s always looking forward to seeing what could be sold next. Culture is focused on its survival. It’s always looking backward to see what happened.
And so key to everything to building that brand that you talk about is context. You may be doing a lot of good things as a company, your humanity may be shining, you’re just instinctive, some of your systems may really be coming into play, people may be dropping the ridiculousness and just focusing on what’s important. That may actually not get you much from your culture. Even if you’re culture recognizes that these are all good things because there’s no context.
So starting with a brand, I could tell you that half of our work as a company is helping companies get true brand status, over $15 billion of impact and what we would tell any company on the brand side and external brand is a ‘brand is a tribute, not a verb.’ You can’t brand something. You can’t call yourself a brand. It has to be given to you. A brand promise is a company saying, ‘you will know us by our intention.’ That’s what it means to be a brand.
“A brand is a tribute. You can’t brand something. You can’t call yourself a brand. It has to be given to you. A brand promise is a company saying, ‘You will know us by our intention.’ That’s what it means to be a brand.”
That intention has got to be supported by both your employee and customer cultures. And so it’s not even a matter of gaining trust. Because there’s no real way to tell if the cultures can trust you when you say you’ll take care of them, they have to give you the deepest level of trust possible. They have to give you faith, and faith is, ‘I believe, but I don’t know.’ Now that kind of unfounded trust is the rarest gift ever from a culture because it puts it at maximum risk.
I say all this because you asked a question about an employee brand. What’s most important is you start with an emphatic, dramatic declaration of intention to set the context for what you do. This is what we believe in as a company. Revenue is important. Market shares of all those metrics are important. But underlying all of these things is our character as a company. And I don’t mean some carefully worded mission statement. I mean, a ferocious, unapologetic, ‘don’t make eye contact with us about that. We’re reasonable about many things, not this thing.’ This is who we are. This is our dream in the end, and dreams don’t come true by themselves. This is who we are. Come and join us.
If that emphatic, dramatic declaration intention does not exist with a culture amongst all the noise has heard this, then whatever you do has no linkage. And so the culture can’t say, management said this and did that.
So what I would say to you is the very first thing, is set context before you do anything else. The same way to create a brand externally, you would have to set that intention first. And for God’s sake, recognize that what you’re asking for is faith. The biggest thing a culture can give you puts it at maximum risk. Do not ask for this and then default on it. Hell hath no fury like a culture scorned.
“Recognize that what you’re asking for is faith. The biggest thing a culture can give you puts it at maximum risk. Do not ask for this and then default on it. Hell hath no fury like a culture scorned”
So if you’re going to do this, do it with the executive team about their personal passions, things that they will naturally say, this is what’s right with the world that must be protected, this is what’s wrong with the world that must be corrected. All know when the parameter is being breached here.
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I care about this. If you don’t drive it from their individual passions, it’s just another exercise you’re going to roll out with the culture to set the context and not protect it. And that’s a problem.
So start with contacts, emphatic, dramatic decoration of intention that is linked to the personal passions of the executive team, so it will be protected and promoted and then do things to support that character and purpose, that underlies with it. So the culture can believe that whatever we do, the more successful we are, the better it is for the world.
Yes, so intention with action.
Yes yes, action by itself, even this great action won’t get you linkage for the culture, which won’t get you trust, which won’t get your commitment.
Yeah, so what do you think about employee engagement? What do you think what qualities are you know should create employee engagement?
Well, I think there are two things that really come into play right now, again making this as relevant as possible to anybody listening.
One is belonging, and identity. Now, companies are using the corporate trappings of the organization to create a sense of belonging. Especially, let’s say you work for a big company and you come in every day and you entered the big lobby, and the big ceiling and the big sign that says this is the company and you have your badge and you walk by the security desk and they just let you in and you’re in the escalators and elevators and conference rooms and hallways with a bunch of people, and maybe you have a company cafeteria. You are in the bosom of the mother company, and the company is saying you’re in our house now.
Well, now people are not in your house, they are actually in their house with their real family. We’ve talked to a lot of companies that said, ‘Ya, we took care of this right away. We got everybody laptops, we’ve got them wired.’ That’s not belonging. You missed actually moving the office to the home office.
“We’ve talked to a lot of companies that said, ‘Ya, we took care of this right away. We got everybody laptops, we’ve got them wired.’ That’s not belonging. You missed actually moving the office to the home office.”
And there is not the sense that I actually still belong to the company the way I used to. Now like you, like anybody on this call. We’ve all had the chance now to see people’s home environments when they get on the phone.
And I mean, I look at those and sometimes it’s a really impressive, or the view out your window, Wow! Sometimes they’re just charming and funky and good for you. But sometimes I look at it like, God! What in the world is on the wall behind you? Is that some psychiatric hospital painting you are allowed to take home? Is that a 2003 calendar? Is that a blood splatter? Is that your cat? What it is on the wall behind you.
And people have not been able to convert that sense of belonging to the company. So as an example, if you did declare your intention and created a firing manifesto, really just poetry about what you stand for, no apologies, have it printed as a poster, let people be looking at that all day.
Anybody who got kids, now we have to find the answer to the uncomfortable question. What in the world do you do all day? Why is that so important that you’re so worked up? Help your people do that. Give the information as an explanation for your family about what you do. Don’t just put that on your people to do. What I’m saying is to take that entire sense of belonging and put it right into their home environment because you may not even realize that you don’t have those tools anymore. When people are not coming to work and they’re not together.
The second thing I would say is a community, and as human beings, we’re hardwired at the factory to be affiliative. We were pack animals. We believe safety is in the herd. And now we went to sleep in one world, we woke up in another. You actually protect people now by staying away from them, and that is not our natural state.
And that sense of community is so deeply ingrained in human beings. It’s not gonna go away. It’s just going to seek other conduits. And I mean, you can see this just in communities like the fog is lifting from people about how you’re supposed to react. Now neighbors are helping neighbors when they don’t even know the people that live next door in some cases. Junior’s are helping seniors, strangers are reaching out to strangers. The community will find a way.
What you want to avoid is your culture finding its own community without you. Because then it’s going to detach and be distant from you. So this is a matter of the company fostering and hosting community. As an example, one thing we recommend to companies is create your college of cultural knowledge.
So, in other words, everybody in your culture, every individual knows how to do something, not related to work. They know they have a favorite recipe. They know the power chords of a song on the guitar, they’ve been working on their screenplay, they know how to fix the transmission in the new, but they know something. Create a platform that allows everybody to contribute what they know as this college of company knowledge. And it’s just a way of connecting on a human to human basis, and the key is the company hosting it.
“Create a platform that allows everybody to contribute what they know as this college of company knowledge. And it’s just a way of connecting on a human to human basis, and the key is the company hosting it”
And so the company retains that involvement in the community. Since everybody’s on the screen, allow the screen saver to be downloaded that is handled by your culture. Allow them to post playlists or photos or quotes. So again, you’re on a company computer doing company business. But we’ve hosted this community for you.
Your first question to me was before starting the interview was how are you handling the lockdown would have been my first question to you. Well, how are people handling it? How are you handling mealtimes? How are you handling kids in school? If you are locked down without a family, how are you handling reaching out to people? What new rituals are you creating?
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This is the company hosting the community because that desire for community is going to be perhaps stronger than it’s ever been for safety purposes. And if you let the community find its own way without you, it is going to distance itself.
So it’s about sharing, showing empathy, and communicating in the end.
You know, it’s amazing that this would even have to be a thing that you owe. You forgot humanity! It’s essential. I think people have a number of values, there are no right or wrong values. That’s what life has taught you about living that has formed your own values.
But I think no matter which values people pick, there are two, that if you don’t have these, you’re not even qualified to be human and I would say that those values, this is what I’ve taught my son since he was in the womb. You have to have these two things. You have to have accountability and you have to have empathy.
And if you do these things, if you say I’m gonna hold myself accountable for how I impact others in the world around me and I am going to be empathetic and kind and aware of the circumstances of others. If you mix that with accountability, this is being human in the best case of being human.
“You have to have accountability and empathy. And if you say I’m gonna hold myself accountable for how I impact others in the world around me and I am going to be empathetic, kind, and aware of the circumstances of others, this is being human in the best case of being human.”
So, yes, the company needs to extend to its community the way it always should have. People need to be allowed to do this in the name of the company the way they always should have. Managers need to be able to do this with their employee’s culture, companies need to be able to do this to their managers. All I could say is now, more than ever.
It is the strength of a culture, whether it’s a community culture, family culture, a company culture, teen culture, a country culture, that will save us. Without it we are lost and we will never be able to save ourselves.
So yes, the great strength, if we’re talking about India, the great strength of community, spirituality and tradition, every country is rich in their own ways but India is just a model for the world. This is not the time when you want to have abandoned that. This is a time where it’s more relevant than ever before.
Yes, you know, humanity is only unpredictable and inappropriate if you don’t start from humanity in the first place.
“Humanity is only unpredictable and inappropriate if you don’t start from humanity in the first place.”
If you do those things, things generally will work out. So yes, more than ever.
So, do you have any soundbytes you’d like to leave with our audience?
So, I’m gonna address the managers since I assume that a lot of your audience is managers. So no matter where you are in your manager career, whether you’re just starting out, halfway through or approaching the end, I don’t think it’s ever too early to look back on your career as a manager as if it had already concluded because someday it will.
Someday, you will not be a manager anymore. And when that day happens for you, what do you want to have done with this career? I mean, do you want to build a company, do you want to make money? These are very good things. You want to have had a legacy impact on the lives of the human beings who helped you do that. Now that’s a great thing. You don’t have to give up the very good things to get great things, but you have to want the great thing.
“You don’t have to give up the very good things to get great things, but you have to want the great thing.”
Understanding the true motivations of an employee culture is the most critical competency to have for your career and your company as a manager. But this isn’t just about your career and your company.
As a manager, you have a deep, lingering impact on the lives of the members of your employee culture. If they are made to feel small on the job, anxious, uncertain, diminished, well, that’s not going to stay on the job that’s going to jump the fence and follow them home. And these same people are partners and parents and neighbors and voters, the toxic impact of a diminished, uncertain, anxious culture is incalculable, you know.
Culture is a profound search for safety and meaning in an uncertain world. It’s a reminder that we’re all living in this world, we are all searching for the same thing. And treating your employee culture with empathy and grace is not simply a job performance tactic. It’s a mirror that reflects your own true humanity.
So my recommendation for you to wrap this up. The one recommendation I would give for any manager and every manager, For yourself because it’s your life that’s at stake here, the time you’re spending on the job, you’re not getting that time back. Your life is happening to you right now.
For your family, because the health of your family outside the job depends in large part on the health of your family inside the job.
For your employees, because it’s not easy working in environments of constant uncertainty and pressure, with regular reminders of how little control you have over your work-life for someone who you only know as management.
For your customers because people don’t trust companies they trust people.
For the company, you’re not a products company, technology company, services company, you’re a human company selling these things and the pivot point upon which any strategic success rests is a discretionary effort of your human organization.
Finally for the world. Because let’s face it, things are very weird out there right now. And we actually have every indication that they’re going to get a whole lot weirder before they get better. Now, what is it that all the good people tuning into this video today in your respective organizations, what is it that you can do about the conditions that are affecting the world at large? Not much, except to extend your own humanity to the people that you are closest to, including the people you see every day, including your employees and your customers. So for all of those reasons, I urge you to be a human first and a manager second.
Wow, it was really nice.
Honored to be on the call.
Thank you so much for joining the call and it was such a nice conversation. I really had a nice time.
Yes, Me too. It was really good to meet you
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