Gregg Johnson Shares Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture

Gregg Johnson, CEO of Invoca

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Gregg Johnson from Invoca for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.

Invoca’s groundbreaking Signal AI technology was one of six marketing, sales and CRM companies recognized globally on the CB Insights AI 100 list.

Invoca was also recently named to Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces 2018, which is a huge testament to the culture we’ve created.


Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?

Gregg Johnson:

  • Growth mindset — creating an environment where employees want to get better at what they’re doing, day in and day out, for the good of the business and their career.
  • Customer focus — keeping the customer at the center of everything we build and do is critical to building a successful business
  • Respect — treat everyone, from colleagues to customers and partners, with respect in the way that you would want to be treated

Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”

Gregg:

  • Find meaning in work — Millennials are more idealistic than generations past, which means that helping them find meaning in their work is important when it comes to retaining this talent. First, it’s critical to make sure all employees know how their contribution plays into the greater company mission. Second, don’t overestimate the power of initiatives like working groups, volunteering and guest speaker series in helping younger employees stay motivated.
  • Share context — It’s important that employees understand the why behind the how. Without this context, projects will seem more inconsequential and as a result these employees will undervalue their role at the company. Providing context helps employees think bigger, have a sense of purpose, and build confidence.
  • Provide flexibility — With today’s technology, it’s easy to work anywhere. While some companies have embraced a remote workforce model, I think there’s value in collaborating in person and getting pulled into hallway discussions, especially when you’re early in your career and/or in a new role. That said, it’s important not to have hard and fast rules when it comes to how millennials should get their work done. Trust them and give them flexibility to weave the things they enjoy into their workday.

Krish: What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why.

Gregg:

  • A CEO should work for their employees, not the other way around: When I travel to Invoca’s headquarters in Santa Barbara, I usually get to the office early. Since our east coast sales team is already there, I’ve started taking them to get coffee. It’s a great time to hear what’s on their minds, what they’re hearing from prospects, or challenges they might be having. I’ve just started extending these coffee outings to more people at the company, as I’ve found it to be invaluable in receiving real-time feedback about the business. It’s also a great way to connect with employees that I don’t typically work with everyday.
  • Create a blueprint for success and involve the entire team in achieving the company vision: We’ve adopted Salesforce’s V2MOM process for articulating company vision, methods and metrics, and it’s been incredibly successful in getting the whole company aligned around shared goals. We complete the exercise at a company and departmental level so that every single employee knows how they’re contributing to company success.
  • Motivate people to act instead of telling them what to do: Spending most of my career in product management, I learned how to “manage by influence,” working with a diverse group of employees across engineering, marketing and customer success to executive, despite not directly managing them. I wrote more about the impact of this experience here.
  • Open and honest internal communication, embracing whatever channel is popular with employees: I managed the Chatter product during part of my Salesforce tenure, so I’m definitely a firm believer in how technology can transform internal communication. I’ve embraced Slack since starting at Invoca, and I’ve made it a priority to do an update at the end of each week with key learnings, wins, and employee recognition.
  • Demonstrate high integrity and ethical standards: This includes which brands we choose to work with as a business, to our involvement in the community and helping people in need. For example in December and January, Santa Barbara experienced the worst fire and flooding in history. We worked with the Red Cross on immediate relief efforts and then as part of our 2018 company kick off meeting in February, we built bikes for kids that were impacted by the disaster. Read more about it here.

Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?

Gregg: Great company culture doesn’t just “happen.” You have to put explicit time and effort into building the right culture, and make it a priority. At Invoca we’ve been deliberate about creating a culture that’s grounded in continuous learning and growth, customer focus, teamwork and respect.

Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?

Gregg: A big mistake is not being deliberate enough in designing your culture. It’s important to write down the culture you want, share and iterate on it, and work backwards from there. It’s like building a product — you don’t just start building and “end up somewhere.” You start off by outlining what you want to build / think is valuable, test and refine that vision, and then build in alignment with it.

Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?

Gregg: I would recommend creating a variety of opportunities to connect with employees. Don’t expect them to come to you proactively. This can be a regular all-hands, to coffee meetings (like I mentioned above), to making yourself present and available on virtual channels like Slack. Make sure you listen and follow up. I like this tip from Harvard Business Review about asking a younger colleague to mentor you. This not only helps you stay relevant, but makes you accessible to employees that you probably don’t work with on a daily basis.

Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?

Gregg: One common characteristic I noticed in almost every successful Salesforce executive — from Marc Benioff to my old bosses and friends Kendall Collins, Chuck Ganapathi, and Brett Queener — was the ability to move seamlessly between the strategic and tactical levels of the business. In my early days, peers would often joke about “the eye of Sauron” being on your part of the business — meaning that Marc was reviewing marketing, product, or sales to the last level of detail. I was always amazed by how Marc could sit in one meeting discussing technology trends and 3–5 year product strategy, then 30 minutes later question the copy on the website down to specific word choice. I’ve realized that successful CEOs must develop the skill to shift quickly between 30-day execution and three-year vision.

Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?

Gregg: Don’t be afraid to give your boss feedback. Make sure to focus on the behavior and not the person, so that it’s not perceived as a personal attack. And always focus on the hard data, not your interpretation it.

Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?

Gregg: Last year we started doing company-wide retrospectives every six months. This accomplishes two things: (1) We give and get immediate feedback and action items coming out of our company all hands meetings and (2) we train and practice with everyone at the company in “the art of the retrospective” that many of our departmental and cross-company teams have on a regular basis throughout the year.


A note to the readers: Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization. If you learned one thing in this interview, please share this with someone close to you.

A special thanks to Gregg Johnson again!

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