How to create a fantastic work culture: “Make decisions with speed and confidence” with Carlos Castelán and Chaya Weiner
Make decisions with speed and confidence: Decisions become more complicated as they are deferred and delayed. This inaction trickles down to teams which can lead to frustration due to a lack of clarity or momentum. Making decisions with speed and confidence allows team to continue moving forward while avoiding wasted time and effort. As a leader, it’s important to recognize the importance/impact of the various decisions that you face and assign the appropriate weight to them while knowing that most often perfect is the enemy of done. A lack of speedy and confident decision can often be a symptom of structures that value consensus or multiple groups of input which can be useful at times but often impede progress on everyday decisions.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carlos Castelán, the Managing Director of The Navio Group — www.thenaviogroup.com — in Minneapolis, a consulting firm that works with retail leaders who want to transform their business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
During my second year of business school, I picked up consulting projects via a platform called HourlyNerd which today is re-branded Catalant. The consulting work accelerated to the point where it became my primary focus outside of attending classes. Within six months I was running an independent consulting business out of the guest room in our two-bedroom apartment. As graduation neared, I was cajoled by a friend of mine at Hourly Nerd, Ben Zlotoff, to pursue independent consulting full-time. The logic was simple: what did I have to lose? Perhaps naively, and after many discussions with my wife and trusted advisors, I decided to take a shot rather than go work for other consulting firms. It’s been almost four years now since the decision was made to pursue independent consulting and it has evolved over time. Today, we have a small firm that works with retail leaders who want to transform their business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In pursuing this path, I have been most surprised by the generosity that others have shown me over the years and how putting yourself out there is well-received. As a friend and mentor of mine, Daniel Duty, always says, “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.” I believe this to be true and, as an example, I reached out to a person I admire — Ron Johnson, who was the Head of Apple Stores and is now the Founder of Enjoy — to get his advice on some career questions. As someone who has been bold in his career and grew up in the same part of the country as me, I admire Ron and figured I would reach to see if he would have time to answer a few questions. I was surprised to hear back from him and was even more amazed when he made the time to speak with me. Ron is a tremendous leader and a kind person whom I look up to, so it’s been great honor to connect with someone as inspiring as him along this journey.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are currently working with a large retail client on an exciting new offering at the intersection of retail and healthcare for patients with chronic health concerns. The concept recently went public so we’re in the early phases of gathering public reception and customer feedback. We believe this is the first step in helping increase access to health services as well as managing and preventing chronic conditions.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
There are many reasons that explain why there are so many unhappy workers in the United States. From my experience — more in corporate environments — a lack of autonomy and ability to be creative are often factors that can lead to unhappiness. Many people’s work days are filled with meetings or phone calls and there are so many interdependencies in their work. The interdependencies are designed to minimize errors but a negative externality of that system is that it can cause employees to feel a lack of empowerment and meaning in their work. A good deal of a person’s week is spent on the job so it’s natural for them to want to feel like their work matters and speak to their friends and family about it with pride.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
An unhappy workforce affects all three of those factors. We work with retail organizations and there is a distinct connection between successful companies and the happiness of their employees in their stores. Happy employees create better customer experiences which leads to higher satisfaction and, thus, repeat visits — a virtuous cycle. An example of a retail leader that embodies this philosophy is Hubert Joly at Best Buy who has turned around the company by focusing on upskilling employees and bringing energy back into the stores. During his tenure, employee turnover has decreased and the company’s score on Glassdoor has gone up which has resulted in a higher Net Promoter Score (NPS) and, ultimately, tremendous shareholder returns during his tenure.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Hire well: this is the single most important things managers and executives can focus on. An emphasis on sourcing and hiring elite candidates makes it easier for managers do their jobs and succeed. As an example, it’s rare that a company has a distinct advantage in being able to train their employees such that they become elite-level talent. So, where managers and executives should focus is on hiring top-level talent and give them the autonomy to work against a larger goal or objective. Wayfair is a lesser known example of a company that takes this approach and, as a result, is creating a culture whereby more top-level talent are attracted to working there. While Wayfair is relatively new, their practices around recruiting lead us to believe they will continue to outperform competitors. To hire well and attract top-level talent means re-thinking how work gets done, pay structures, and the company’s approach to recruiting. Hiring for top-level talent allows a company to build a better work culture in the pursuit of improved business results.
2. Set clear goals: managers should set clear goals and expectations for their employees from the beginning in terms of both their objectives as well as how progress will be measured via key performance indicators (KPIs). At larger companies, this often takes the form of a canned template however the most impactful way to communicate this is in-person and with ongoing check-ins. Part of the check-ins can also be ways to identify the ways to best support the employees in their pursuit of the goals. Setting clear objectives provides employees with a tangible goal and allows them to operate autonomously in pursuit of their goals. Google is an example of a company that has done this well in large part because they hire elite talent that operates well in this environment. For instance, Google has built small teams to tackle large market opportunities and the teams have one-year to conduct in-depth research and analysis to come up with a business plan to tackle the market opportunity.
3. Deliver reliably: delivering on commitments is an easy way to build a culture of accountability yet, it is quite uncommon. A good framework for this is the “say/do” ratio. As a leader, you want this ratio to always be 1:1 whereby you do all the things you said you’d do. We think about this rule less so in terms of business goals (where setting big goals is a good thing!) and more so delivering requests in a timely fashion or following up with people as promised. As a leader, modeling accountability is a great way to build culture and encourage your employees to hold themselves accountable as well.
4. Make decisions with speed and confidence: Decisions become more complicated as they are deferred and delayed. This inaction trickles down to teams which can lead to frustration due to a lack of clarity or momentum. Making decisions with speed and confidence allows team to continue moving forward while avoiding wasted time and effort. As a leader, it’s important to recognize the importance/impact of the various decisions that you face and assign the appropriate weight to them while knowing that most often perfect is the enemy of done. A lack of speedy and confident decision can often be a symptom of structures that value consensus or multiple groups of input which can be useful at times but often impede progress on everyday decisions.
5. Provide opportunities for growth: As a leader, it’s important to understand what motivates your employees and how to provide them opportunities so that they can continue to feel like they’re growing and happy. Considering what levers are important to employees and how to provide opportunities for them so that they are achieving their personal goals is important. An example of a company that does a good job of this is lululemon where employees are encouraged to discuss their personal goals in relation to their work and career. As a result, the company receives favorable reviews from its employees on Glassdoor as well as from its former employees who tend to recommend the company to others because of its approach of aligning personal growth to work.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
One of the things we can do better as a society — and as managers — is to trust in our employees and team members. In our work, we often see a lack of trust in either every day decision-making or empowering employees to use their best judgment to solve a problem for customers. If you can’t trust your employees, then why hire them and keep them? As leaders, if we more communicate the vision and values with which the company operates and provide some guardrails then it empowers employees to make a difference in their job. Some of the most memorable customer experiences I have had are the ones where employees were given a good deal of latitude to solve a problem or situation. As an example, I can still remember one of the Delta Airlines customer service reps going out of her way to help me rebook several flights during a family emergency at no cost and with no hassle. Trust in employees, whether they are in customer-facing roles or when it comes to flexible work schedules, can shift some of the current paradigm.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I would describe my leadership or management style as being collaborative and hands off. I like to receive feedback, input, and ideas from the team on a regular basis in terms of how we can be more effective in achieving our goals or to meet challenges that may arise. For example, in our work with clients we face changes in direction or how to best frame a difficult message every day. Working with the team to craft the right message or solve the challenge at-hand is incredibly rewarding. This leadership style requires a balance of being collegial but also knowing when to provide more guidance and coaching to the team — something I am working to improve upon. As an example, some employees may need more direction or coaching to be able to operate autonomously. As a leader, it’s my job to equip the team with the tools and coaching to grow and invest time so that they can grow as leaders themselves.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My wife, has been a consistent source of support and inspiration for which I am grateful. She has a much different point of view than me and when it comes to big decisions, or ones that require thoughtful consideration, she provides unique insights because of how well she understands me. She gave me the courage to pursue of a full-time MBA, moved across the country to support us right after we got married, and then encouraged me to pursue independent consulting — where I was not guaranteed a salary and was just betting on myself! She has believed in me more than even myself and has pushed me to take the road less traveled. I am grateful to have her in my life and would not be where I am today without her.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the most impactful statements I heard from one of my professors, Rakesh Khurana, was the description of management as a “higher calling.” While it sounded dramatic at first, he went on to talk about how people spend most of their days at work and so leaders and managers can shape whether someone has a good or bad day or week. Managers have such an outsized influence on the lives of their teams so, for now, I am working on building a workplace that inspires others to enjoy their work and helps them achieve the goals that they have for themselves.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes comes from the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, which roughly translated means: “Wanderer, your footprints are the path, and nothing else; wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking. Walking makes the path, and on glancing back one sees the path that must never be trod again. Wanderer, there is no path — just your wake in the sea.” I appreciate the imagery of the poem because I think it’s a great metaphor for life both looking forward and looking back. The concept of determining my own path via my decisions or steps all the while seeing what’s behind me sticks with me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am a big believer in the power of education and its ability to transform and change lives. With economic disparity in this country continuing to increase, re-imagining education system would go a long way to providing kids the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. I would love to see a combined effort between the public and private sector to re-think our education system and come up with innovative programs that encourage kids to think big and show them what opportunities might exist.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!