Kean Graham Shares Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture
When given the opportunity of more responsibility, most ambitious employees thrive in such a situation
Let your employees become ambassadors of your culture. The two best ways to do this are to: 1. Embody the culture yourself so you and the executive team lead by example. If the leadership in an organization does not uphold the standards that are in place, then the team won’t either. 2. Let go of certain responsibilities and trust your team. As we discuss below, this is especially difficult for first-time founders who have a tough time letting go. Amplify your team members who embody your culture well so new employees can look to them as examples and they too can become more skilled in evaluating future hires.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Kean Graham from MonetizeMore for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.
Kean is the Founder & CEO of MonetizeMore which started in 2010 with the goal to build a bootstrap business that would dramatically increase ad revenues for publishers. Over the years, Kean has perfected the proprietary MonetizeMore ad optimization model and now increases ad revenues for hundreds of publisher networks in over 40 countries. MonetizeMore achieved 8-figure revenues in 2017 and Kean has traveled over 80 countries while growing the company.
Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?
Kean Graham: The three are:
- Reliability: Do what you say you will do. Your word is the most valuable thing that you own and you must recognize this. Promises should be made very carefully and time estimates must be made deliberately.
- Enterprising: You must be a resourceful and creative problem solver. You are considered an intrapreneur and expected to own your responsibilities. Your higher level perspective incites more deliberate behaviour and holistic thinking on behalf of the company.
- Kaizen: This is the ideology coined by Toyota that believes that everything can be improved and deserves to be improved. You must strive to improve yourself and aspects around you at least a little bit every day. You should look at every aspect of the company and have the top of mind question in your head, “How can this be improved?”
Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”
Kean: Over 90% of MonetizeMore is made of millenials. They tend to gravitate towards MonetizeMore because of the two below benefits we offer:
Location Freedom: Each team member can work from anywhere in the world as long as they have access to reliable internet. For some, that means to work and travel around the world at the same time. To others, that allows them to live in the city of their dreams or to simply avoid commutes and raise their children rather than relying on daycare.
Schedule Freedom: Each team member can set their own schedule. We want to give them the autonomy to work during their optimal hours. Some people are morning people and some work better at night. They are the ones that know this the best and we empower them with schedule flexibility so they can best fit their work schedule with their personal schedule.
Millennials thrive in flexible environments more than any other generation. The ability to engineer the ideal work lifestyle is a game changer to most millennials that cannot be captured in a traditional office job. That is why we solely focus on hiring millennials.
Simply put, first-time founders have a tough time letting go
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?
Kean: The first step towards building a strong and healthy company culture is to be purposeful in doing so. Too many companies grow cultures by mistake and end up with less than ideal cultures that the leadership is unaware of. So if the leaders in a company actually were purposeful in building a culture, then they have taken the first most important step.
The next most important step is making sure the leadership is the physical embodiment of the values of the culture. Inconsistencies between company culture values and how the leadership actually acts must be at a minimum. Otherwise, no one else in the company will take the cultural values seriously.
If the company culture values reliability, each person within the company must always stay true to their word. If one of the cultural pillars is professionalism, than it is imperative that the leadership always keeps a cool head in any situation. You can’t have leadership lose their temper when one minute they are preaching professionalism the other minute they are screaming their head off. Leading by example starting from the top is essential to establish a strong and healthy culture. Otherwise, everyone else in the company will see no reason to advocate cultural values that the leadership won’t even follow.
Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?
Kean: Many young start-up founders have trouble delegating important responsibilities. Getting past the hurdle of the founder bottleneck is one of the initial toughest challenges in growing a business. Simply put, first-time founders have a tough time letting go. Part of it tends to be trust issues and the other is not knowing the potential of the people they hired.
When given the opportunity of more responsibility, most ambitious employees thrive in such a situation. They take their skills to the next level. If they are given leadership opportunities, they soon become advocates of the company culture values and further multiply the strong and healthy culture that the young startup founder has worked so hard to spread.
Leading by example starting from the top is essential to establish a strong and healthy culture.
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?
Kean: Something that CEOs could do immediately to improve their company culture today is to start recognizing team members who are good examples of the culture. For example, if a cultural value is thinking outside of the box, recognize a team member for coming up with an unconventional solution that actually solved the issue. The CEO could recognize this team member with a prize or a promotion. The most important part is that the whole company hears about it and knows that the company will put money where its mouth is when it comes to encouraging the company culture.
Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?
Kean: Over the years my greatest influences in leadership strategy have been:
Never Split the Difference: This book has revolutionized my thinking around effective communication. It has improved my active listening, empathetic communication and ability to sympathize with each of our team members to eliminate any blockers and get them to buy into our system and culture.
Four Hour Work Week (FHWW): FHWW was a huge building block towards my acceptance and understanding of decentralized leadership. Without this book, I would have not been enlightened about the power of location independent business models. It also taught that working smart is more important than working hard. We hold this value very high in our company culture.
Travel: Traveling the globe is the ultimate way to stay grounded and to be reminded what is truly important. Being grounded during the journey of growing a successful business to new heights is very important. A grounded founder breeds a grounded team. A grounded team is more malleable, versatile, self-aware and ultimately better communicators that can handle the ups and downs with composure.
Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?
Kean: It really depends on what makes them bad bosses. If they are bad bosses because of a lack of leadership experience but they are willing to learn, than the employees they lead can empower them. If this is the case, I’d recommend arming the boss with empowering books, podcasts, constructive feedback, seminars, conferences and social circles that will improve their leadership abilities. They will be thankful for your effort in the end.
If the bad boss is lacking because of minimal self-awareness and/or bad communication habits then the employee is in a situation that is difficult to remedy. These types of personalities tend to not respond well to feedback or self-development. If they prove to show no interest to improve as leaders, I would recommend bringing up the constructive feedback to the HR department or the boss’s superior. If the problem seems to extend to the company as this type of behaviour is common, I would recommend finding a company that has a better fit culture.
Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?
Kean: We recently had our third company retreat. Since MonetizeMore is a location independent company, team members collaborate remotely. The company retreat is a chance for each team member to meet each other in-person and get to know each other. This is their chance to bond as a team, have non-day-to-day discussions and really enjoy each other’s company.
We have many fun events during the company retreat to accelerate the team bonding experience. We also save several exciting announcements for the company retreat like important product road map plans. Our biggest focus though, is reinforcing important company culture values. We keep these values top-of-mind for each team member and encourage them to think critically of how strong of an example they are of each cultural value.
It is very exciting to hear the conversations that team members have about the cultural values during the company retreat and after. The week long events have been successful to build advocates of the culture and has resulted in policing of the culture as well. There is no greater point of cultural buy-in than the company retreat. You can feel the energy shift during and after the event. I could not think of any better way to enhance the work culture of any company.
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 Kean again!
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