🎧 Listen Now:
In this episode of Future Work, I have the pleasure of speaking with author, consultant, and educator Josh Levine. Josh is a graphic designer turned brand strategist, and in the past years has been on a mission to help organizations design a culture advantage. His book, Great Mondays: How To Design A Company Culture Employees Love, was listed as one of BookAuthority’s best culture books of all time.
Josh and I speak about The Importance of Purpose, the 6 elements of Designing and Managing winning Cultures, and how great cultures allow you to shape an Employee Value Proposition that lets you attract, engage, and retain the best talent.
Here are the lessons to apply today:
1. The Importance of Purpose: Purpose, why you’re in business beyond making money, is even more important now as we don’t see each other as often. Purpose connects us as people and gives us meaning, which is a main motivator for humans.
2. Designing and Managing Culture: In Josh’ book, Great Mondays, he lays out a framework for designing and managing culture. It starts with Purpose (your North Star), Values (what you need to do to move the business forward), Behaviors (help employees make better decisions), Recognition and Rewards (linked to values-driven behavior), Rituals (to strengthen relationships), Cues (reminders.) Following this framework means you can finally manage, measure,, and optimize your culture.
3. Purpose means Business: A purpose statement isn’t just up in the clouds. Josh’s Credit Karma case study shows that aligning on a clear purpose can influence your product and drive business results. Credit Karma wanted their people to be their best financial selves, which meant that a financial dashboard will help their customer, but also provide great business opportunities.
4. Culture and Employee Value Proposition: The best cultures tie directly to Employee Engagement and Employee Value Proposition (EVP.) A great way to attract, engage, and retain employees is with the 5Ps: Package, Potential, People, Purpose, and Pedigree.
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You can find the full episode and transcript here:
Daan van Rossum: Can you describe how you ended up finding Good Mondays?
Josh Levine: Good Mondays were always the case, but now it's Great Mondays.
I was born and raised in the brand strategy world. I actually started as a graphic designer and ended up being a brand strategist for an agency in San Francisco for a long time.
When I left that agency, I realized that the most effective work was the kind of work where we actually got to engage folks on the inside, the employees, because otherwise you are making these brand “promises,” but then the company couldn't deliver on them.
When I left, I realized there was not really anybody doing this kind of work that connected that purpose that work, the story, and the reason for this brand to exist to the inside. They didn't have the ability to act in the right way to make business decisions.
I ran full speed as soon as I had that realization. That's really where I want to put my energy and my focus. It's not just to help a business, but if we can do that, we can get these people engaged, find the right place for them, and give them a way to be more productive and fulfilled in their work. It's really a way of helping both the business and the people inside the business that are making the business go, ultimately creating happier customers.
That's what I eventually learned was called culture. I didn't know what it was at the time. That was it, and the concept of great Mondays, being a brand guy, I was, that's it, that's what it is, and that was 2008. Here we are, 15 plus years later.
Daan van Rossum: Beautiful. I see that you mention purpose a lot in your work. Purpose has always been super important. I know that in brand, it's important, but it's even more important in culture.
How has the role of purpose changed in the last couple of years, especially now that we've switched to more remote and hybrid work models?
Josh Levine: It's really become even more important, and your listeners have probably felt this: if they're in a hybrid, even just a hybrid, or in any remote situation, you don't have as many connections, and you don't feel as closely connected or as strongly connected to the company.
You're just at home. Now, of course, you're seeing your colleagues and all this stuff, but you don't have those physical reminders of what you're doing and for whom you're doing it. It's almost like you've distilled it down to simple tasks. That is the opposite of what we're trying to do here.
We're really trying to get people to understand and be engaged in the work. That's how you find purposeful work. You understand why you're doing the thing.
That has changed because we're not going into the office and we're not seeing our colleagues. Ultimately, purpose is even more important for this reason.
If we define purpose—why you're in business beyond making money—that's why we're doing this day in and day out. Ultimately, it's what connects the tasks to one another and creates an image and meaning in the world.
That's what we need as humans: meaning.
Daan van Rossum: We need something to connect with. You're working with companies to help them find their purpose. What does that look like?
Josh Levine: Yes, that is one of the things. I also wrote a book called Great Mondays. The reason I wrote a book is because I felt there was no framework for understanding how to actually engage, manage, and design culture. It's always been a reaction that we should probably offer some better employee benefits, or maybe we should have a better happy hour, or whatever it is.
In my mind, what I realized in those early days is that you can design it to be something that you're managing. It's a business function. I work with a lot of high-growth, high-tech enterprises as well as some social enterprise organizations to build a culture platform, a way of understanding what the expectations are for employees, what they get, and what they give.
In the book, I've listed six components of culture. The first of those, of course, starts with purpose. Your why—that's your North Star. Purpose in and of itself will give you that energy and that connection, but it's not going to solve everything. So you need to build through that. I'll just quickly rattle off the other ones. The first one is purpose.
Then you go to values. Values are your guardrails, or the three to five most important things that you need to do in order to move the business forward. Make your way towards that purpose.
Behaviors are number three. Behaviors are the reason why culture is important. This is the reason we're talking about this. It is helping employees make better decisions day in and day out.
The first three are all about the design: purpose, values, and behaviors.
The second three are about activation or operationalization. So just because you have a map on the wall and you know where you're headed doesn't mean you're there. You're not right.
Now we have values and a purpose. Now what? We are still dealing with humans that have habits, emotions, and connections; it's all this stuff. So now we have to actually establish a system. We do that through recognition, rituals, and cues. Those are the four, five, and six.
Recognition: we all know about recognition and reward programs. I have a lot of thoughts about that. I won't go into too much detail, but what I will say is that you need to make sure that your rewards and recognition are rewarding and recognizing values-driven behaviors, because otherwise you're just like, what is it that you're trying to reward because you have this opportunity to incentivize people to say, Hey, this is what's important? And most of the time, it's just about making more widgets and making more sales, but culture is about how we do that. So that's recognition.
Rituals are the thing that we're probably going to talk a little bit more about in this conversation because they're about building and strengthening relationships. These are the things that we do to really make sure that we have strong relationships, which are the synapses of culture.
Then finally, cues, which I mentioned up top, we're lacking now because we don't live in the office anymore. Cues are the physical and digital behavioral reminders as to what we're doing and what we're trying to stay connected to, which is what we talked about. The sort of traditional, like the 1992 version of a cue is the mission statement up on the wall of the cafeteria.
But now we don't have that. So you need to establish all sorts of different ways of connecting people to the purpose, the values, and the goals of the group. So there's all sorts of stuff there, and it's a cycle, and then we have to connect it back to the purpose and the values.
To me, that's what we need: a system, a framework, and edges to be able to say, “Oh, we can actually manage for this.” We can actually measure this. This is not just something that we're like, “Oh, we happen to have a good culture.” Things are weird now. What do we do? You can actually manage it.
That's what I'm trying to do: help more businesses understand that it is something that you can do and that you should do; it's a big investment. If you can get it right and are consistent with it, you can really, really make a big difference in your business.
It is more important than ever. Every company has a culture, whether you're paying attention to it or not. So you might as well; otherwise, it could end up that it's okay. But why don't we apply the same kind of rigor and analytics to it? We need to be paying attention to this. That's one.
This goes back to your first question. What we realize now is that there was a lot of work being done on the square footage of these offices. By that, I mean, you're in the same room with people, you're able to have relationships with those people, you were able to see the managers, you're able to have meetings in the room, and you're able to see the company. The office was the personification. “I'm going to work.”
Now, you're not going to do anything. You're just trading your pajama pants for regular pants, if at all. I'm going to take a shower, maybe. If you don't have those things around you, then here we're in this situation where it's all dematerialized. What is the business now? It is about relationships. It's becoming the essence of the work, which is awesome, but it's also really vexing for leaders because you don't have the ability.
Those cubes sitting next to each other were the way that we conceived of work. It's the way that we connected with each other and did the work, but now we don't have that. So what is it we're doing? And so when you have the reactionary leaders saying no, you have to come back. It's because they don't understand that there's a whole new way that needs to be created.
Now, folks that have the vision for it, Brian Chesky, who's the CEO of Airbnb, says you can work from wherever you are forever. He's got that new policy. This is like the ideal case. He has offices, mini-offices, and co-working spaces built into his business model all around the world. You can do this. It's all digital collar work.
It's all creative—anything that can be done remotely. So you've got this perfect situation. He's thinking about this, and what he's done is not just, “Okay, send everybody home, and that's it. Thanks.” I'll just assume you're going to do your work.
What he's done is establish some caveats, and the most important in my mind is that he said you can work forever from wherever, but you have to get together with your team in person for at least a week every quarter, and he's actually got four other aspects to this policy, kind of basic rules.
To me, what he's done is think really hard about how he wants to continue to define what the work is, how the business is experienced and personified, and how to continue to build and strengthen relationships between the individual and their work, the individual and their team, and the individual and the company itself.
If you don't have that, I believe you're already starting to feel it. If not, you'll feel it in the next 12 to 18 months—that sort of degradation of connection. All of a sudden, you're going to be way out here. Floating by yourself, having Zoom meetings—it's what's going to keep me from just moving. There's no friction. I can move wherever I want to go.
Daan van Rossum: Josh, I know you also worked for Credit Karma. Can you share a little bit about that case study?
Josh Levine: I worked with Credit Karma to define the value and through that process, we actually defined a purpose statement for them. Because Credit Karma is an American-based financial services company, I don't know why they would say digital financial services were acquired by Intuit for a gazillion dollars. Basically, they will provide your credit score for you for free and give you the ability to see what affects it and what doesn't.
And there's a couple of different products that'll do that.
Then they'll sell other services on top of that. They'll sell you mainly the credit card. You have great credit. Then let me match you with a good credit card; that's how they make a lot of their money. Ultimately, if we think about what we're trying to do by giving people the ability to manage their credit, it's to help them be their best financial selves.
I was thinking about using my brand chops to connect it back to the meaning of the name, Karma. Be your best self, and you can use that to help people understand that look. Yes, we are offering credit cards, but that's one of the mechanisms. We have a lot of different things that we can do.
We can offer new features and benefits. The goal is to help people take control of their financial lives. So you can imagine, should we offer a financial dashboard? Does it help people be their best financial selves? Yeah! Okay. Well, then I think it passes that sort of brand-culture product alignment.
That purpose statement really starts to focus on you. What is it we're trying to do here again? What is it I'm showing up to do? That's a really great example of how a purpose statement isn't just up in the clouds. It's this idea that helps people get aligned with the intent of the company.
When I think about culture, it's identified, codified, and then operationalized. So what we have to do is identify. We have to say it to each other. Hey, what are we doing here? What are we trying to do? And it's not just more feeds and speeds or features and benefits; it's like making more widgets or whatever. It's what we're trying to do here. And I worked early on with a friend of mine.
A friend of mine still runs, and he runs a fairly successful quick-serve restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area called Proposition Chicken. They only serve chicken, which I love. You can get it one of three ways: fried, flipped, or fake. And you can get it on a salad, a sandwich, or as a plate. Those are your options. That's it. Done!
First of all, I think that's brilliant from a brand perspective, “Proposition Chicken.” So by their definition, it doesn't have to be everything in the world. Like we were working together, and they're like, Josh, we just serve chicken. And it's like, all right.
So to serve the best chicken and pretty yummy people too, and so it's that purpose statement is, okay, that's, I get it. And “yummy people too” is the second piece, and it's in parentheses, but it's really what it's all about. It sounds fun, and it connects you to that. We have a whole brand and culture guide for them, and they use it to hire people. Every single person and every manager that's hiring an employee has that: here are the values, here is the purpose statement, here's how we think about this, and this is what you're looking for.
This is scalable. This is something that a 10,000-person company can do. You can teach your hiring managers. You can teach them and say, Hey, look, this is what our values are. This is what we're looking for. What are their personal values? How do they align?
I'm not just talking about white tech bros hiring white tech bros. It's about the intent. Are you excited about what we do here? Do you believe in this idea that we have these particular values and that this is what it means? Can you get behind that?
To me, that’s really powerful. That's where you start to see the rubber meet the road. When you think about building a culture platform, when you think about setting these expectations, identify, codify, put it down on paper, and then make sure that you can start to use it and activate it. I don't just want to see the values on the wall and then go back to business.
Daan van Rossum: When we're talking about purpose and culture and we start getting into, okay, what can individual managers do? I love the idea that even individual managers and even individual contributors can contribute to the culture.
Brian Elliott from Slack, who we had on a few episodes ago, talked about how people always say that people don't leave companies. They leave managers. They leave teams because you can't even deal with a manager. The rest of the team is really great. So add that one great team member. It can help a lot.
Another question is about employee engagement. We talked about a lot of the higher-up stuff. Purpose, statement, and we talked about building culture and the framework for building culture and then maintaining it over time. Another big thing that people are really curious about now is how to engage employees. You may have that again, that big purpose, but how can I activate that and use that to keep people engaged, which I think a lot of companies would interpret as “please just don't quit?"
Josh Levine: Please don't quit. Before, it was like, “work harder”; now it's just, “please don't quit.”
Good news, bad news. The good news is that there are things you can do. The bad news is that it takes a little bit of coordination, and there are a couple different aspects to it. There's not just one thing.
Number one, which we've all seen in the data, is the impact. What are you doing? So we've already talked about connecting to the purpose, but the purpose is up in the clouds. How can you help the people on your team get closer to what you're doing and to the customer? Customer can be an individual or it can be an enterprise; it can be the person buying the product, B2B, B2C, D2C, whatever it is, everybody's got a customer.
I think that there is a complete dearth, especially inside tech companies, of understanding who the customer really is and what they're doing, and to be able to almost build out case studies or celebrate these customers, think about bringing them in. In the book, I talk about the best, and it's not an employee of the month, but the customer of the month. How do you bring these people closer to the customer?
To me, that's what we're understanding. You're like, Oh, that's what I'm trying to do. So let's just knock that out first.
The other tool that I will, and I lean heavily on tools, is that I think about tools all the time because, if it's the right one, it's going to help you be able to do the job yourself. I don't want to be there forever. And I think about one of the tools that we build for our clients: culture-driven employer value propositions.
The value proposition, the way that we think about it, is like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And it goes from the very bottom: you need the basics, and you need to fulfill those before you get to the next one.
The five P's of the employer, the Great Mondays, like employer value proposition, are package, potential, people, purpose, and pedigree.
The package is “me now.” Potential is “me in the future.” People are “we now.” The purpose is “we in the future.” And then you have that kind of expansiveness of pedigree, which I'll get into in just a second.
At the very bottom, this is all the stuff that everybody has in a package. Are you paying them enough? Are you paying them a fair wage? What are your health benefits? Do I have to worry about child care? A lot of people are saying yes! That's why it's a big deal because it's done as a package. It's the basics.
Are you giving people the amount of time they need? Is it onerous? You have to stay late too often. So it's this kind of "me now.” What are you doing for me now? Let's say we've got all that. Now we've got “me in the future.”
What will this allow me to do? Getting this job? Is it a resume builder? Oh, Hey, I see you, like you've got Google on your resume or you've got this new network of people or there is some sort of path. You are learning something inside the organization. How are you, as a manager, helping this person move forward in their career? And what does this job do for them? So that's “me in the future.”
Then you've got your people. We've talked about that, your team, your manager, and then your larger group. And that is really important. And it's becoming really hard, and we're losing that part.
When you're thinking about either using this as, Hey, come and work for us, employer value proposition, or Hey, I want to keep you engaged, employer value proposition, It's not just that I like the people I work with.
It's who works there, what team are they on, and what do they like? I'd like to be similar to them, I'd like to grow with them, or I have something to offer them. So it's, Oh, look at these really smart, innovative people. I'm aspiring; whether we want to call it out or not, I'm aspiring to be similar to them. That's what I'm thinking about. Wow, this office is filled with really creative, wild people.
That's what I would love: to work at a place with really wild, creative people and, amazingly, do all this cool stuff. So that's “we now.” Who am I working with? How are they teaching me?
Then purposefully, we've talked about “we in the future.” What are we working on together?
Finally, at the top of the pyramid, is the pedigree. Pedigree, in this case, I'm talking about what has changed for me once I leave this company.
If we think about the biggest, if you've fulfilled all those other needs, if you give a competitive salary, health care, reasonable hours, and not being overworked all the time, you've got your potential. You've got to describe. You're saying, Hey, here's your learning path. Here's what you're going to get. Maybe we get bonuses, whatever that is. You've got great people, and you've got a purpose statement.
Now you're thinking about how you communicate with your team or the candidate. Hey, once you leave here, you'll be able to say X, Y, and Z. I'm going to look back at your time here at this company.
You may have heard that phrase. I look back at my time at this company, and without this company, I wouldn't have the kind of network I have and the skills that I have to be able to launch my own business. To then be able to go and become this X, whatever that might be.
One of my students is talking about writing an article called “Everyone Has a Moonshot.” This is what that is. It's what you aspire to do. What do you aspire to be? Could be someone who wants to be in a leadership position in that same company. Fantastic! Legacy! That's what you're trying to do.
That, to me, is a comprehensive plan for thinking about engagement. That's really the piece of this that can make a big difference. But what I like about it is that it pulls in a lot of the different things we're talking about: having a best friend at work, having a purpose statement, having a competitive salary or employee matching, whatever the stock matching program or whatever it might be.
It's got all of those pieces, but you have to do it in the right order. Because it won't matter if you're talking about your purpose statement. If I'm struggling to get to the doctor's office and I can't take care of the kids, it really aligns with that in an interesting way.
Anyway, that's the way I like to think about it. Engagement's a tough nut to crack because it's multifaceted. It's complex, and it requires a little bit of coordination, but if you're a good leader, if you're someone who is able to demonstrate that you care about your people, they'll forgive you for some of those flaws while you're working on it, while you're getting towards the top of that pyramid.
Daan van Rossum: For sure. It sounds like more than just engaging people. This is also a great proposition to attract new talent. Because if either directly from the company or through your network or word of mouth, you hear about a place like that where all those 5 P's are in place.
That's super attractive! I would want to be a part of that. I almost feel excited to work for this company that doesn't even exist.
Josh Levine: Exactly. So it's attract, engage, and retain. That's what we're trying to do. Specifically, by creating a tool like the employer-value proposition, you're building out a culture platform when you're articulating your values, which are guidance.
None of that stuff that we just talked about is how you do your work. Values are how you do your work, rewarding that work, and rewarding how we're going to help people make better decisions. We're going to hire the smartest people, but then we have to give them the ability to go. Oh, this is how I make a good decision. Oh, this is what success looks like at that company.
When you've got those things happening, it takes a while to get them in place, but once you do, you're really cooking. Now, you're going to get people who are going to stay at this company for a while, and we all know that the longer people stay, the more value they can create.
Daan van Rossum: Absolutely. That's why retention is obviously such a big topic for companies, and why, especially now, companies are worried about it a lot more, and why it's so much more difficult now because, again, all these things happened by default, by being near each other and by osmosis.
Now, suddenly, we have to create it from scratch. We have to design it. We have to implement it, and then we have to optimize it, as you said.
Josh Levine: Managers and leaders actually have to go. Oh, I have a whole other job to do here. I have to invent this. We're talking about the future of work. I have to do a thing now, and it's going to take a little bit for it to sink in because they're going to have to get through it a bit to go. Oh, this is really important, you guys.
I'm sure you've been there too. You're like we should, but I'm really busy doing this thing, putting out this fire. So they really need to get religion, as we say.
Daan van Rossum: For sure. Someone has to internalize this and say, this is what I need for my company, and it's going to be worth it. Now, let's all get together and do it.
This leads to my last question: how do you measure the impact? How do you make the business case for investing in purpose?
Josh Levine: I think I go back to alignment to understand what it is that I'm doing, and I think you can go around and ask people; it's one simple question, but it's like, How is what you're doing contributing to moving this business in the right direction, contributing to the purpose? How are you helping the customer? And if you're able to, obviously it's when you're thinking about asking it.
Daan van Rossum: We have come to the end of time. Super interesting discussion. Any final thoughts on the future? What does the future of work look like? What is a wish that you have for the future of work?
I see a neon sign behind you, by the way, that says, Love and work.
Josh Levine: It says live work. So balance both life and work. Although you're not the first person to read love into it, it says a lot about you that you're reading love into it. I do love work. I do love what I do.
That's not to say that it's not hard, but I hope that more people are able to find help and that more companies are able to articulate why they're in business and support, be able to support humans in a way that is more than just shareholder-driven.
At the end of the day, we do live in a capitalist society, but we can do great things with businesses done in the right way. There's a lot of pressure to do things right away, all the time, immediately.
But I think the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, and so my hope is that we're able to at least step back from immediate short-term value thinking and be able to think more on a longer timescale because that's really when we're going, and as I'm getting older, closer to 50, I have more experience to look back on, and I'm like, Oh yeah, sure.
You've got these startups, and they're like, okay, we're going to be the first to market... That is true, but ultimately, what you're doing is real, and you're able to step back and go; we're creating real value. We're confident in that. We don't have to drop the end-of-year sale. We don't have to do it. We got to blow out all the whatevers.
It's longer-term thinking, and that, to me, is when we're going to be able to go. I need to make decisions that are going to support the value of this longer term.
Daan van Rossum: I love that. Josh, thanks so much for being on.
Josh Levine: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate it. Thanks so much for, having me.