An Investor’s Take on Culture

Debrief: CultureLaunch™ episode #7

I recently sat down with Paul Stansik and Jimmy Holloran, both principals at private equity firm Parker Gale, to discuss the importance of company culture from an investor’s perspective. Here are a few key takeaways from our conversation: 

“Find out who you are, then do it on purpose.” – Dolly Parton

When asked how to define culture, Paul Stansik opens the conversation with a rather insightful note from the Dolly Parton school of thought.  He goes on to explain that culture is a very real, observable thing that’s grounded in what is already innately good about how your organization functions. Stansik suggests a good way to define culture is by what it is NOT;

-Culture is not perks.

-Culture is not the ping pong table or keg of cold brew in the kitchen.

-Culture is not engagement. 

It’s the things that are true about your best people most of the time. 

“Culture is if you were to sit in on a conversation at a bar between two of your highest performers; How are they talking about the company? That’s your culture!” Jimmy adds.

“Be intentional about building a purposeful culture.”

leadership, culture, communication meeting

You have a culture whether you are managing it or not. You might as well harness it as a force for good. 

Cultivating purposeful culture starts with a healthy dose of introspection. As investors and as leaders, they suggest an inward look to identify what strengths your organization may have and leverage them to create a competitive advantage. More so, be willing to identify the organization’s weaknesses and work to close those gaps before gearing up for hyper growth. 

Read more on CultureTarget to identify the culture you have today and where it needs to be to achieve your business strategy.

“Objectively measure culture”

When aiming to be more intentional about your culture, Stansik and Holloran recommend using a framework and feedback tools. Reason being, the framework makes culture less nebulous and gives leaders science-backed, definable components of culture that align directly to your broader business goals. While the feedback tool allows you to understand, from a holistic org-wide perspective, where your people stand on each said component.  For example, the CultureIQ Framework identifies “Purpose + Dignity” as core components of successful cultures and allows you to measure them against an internal standard and/or external benchmark.

Learn more about how our Culture Framework allows you to measure culture objectively…

“Leadership & culture are two sides of the same coin”

The two principals offer up some techniques they use across the portfolio to strengthen their cultures based on the data that comes back from their culture measurements. 

Firstly, a leadership and development program Jimmy refers to as “L6”. Instead of looking to the ELT and the lowest performers only, L6 focuses on the middle management layer of the organization. The private equity firm invests 6 months, 6 full day onsites, and executive coaching that essentially aims to upskill management to be more evolved, mindful and skillful leaders.

Ultimately, the program gives those in that management cohort the permission to engage in what would normally be perceived as C-Suite behavior to reinforce and reiterate the ideal actions and values that are necessary to cultivate your optimal culture. 

Stansik also speaks to their strong hiring filters, incentives and emphasis on values that contribute to the strength of cultures across the portfolio. 

“Soft skills are just really hard, hard skills”

Communication is often seen as this formal process; ie performance reviews, all hands call, and the email with the company letterhead. While these formal communications are important to get right, the number of opportunities to give them pale in comparison to the number of informal communication opportunities you have. Paul explains this by painting a picture of a bar chart of formal vs informal communication opportunities and it’s not even close. 

“Communication is less about inspiration and more about consistency.” He goes on to promote the idea that leaders have two jobs; the one their title describes and the role of a “Chief Reminding Officer”.

He asks:

-What are you going to recognize people on?

-What are you going to time out and coach people on?

-And what are you going to reiterate over and over until your team can do a compelling impression of you saying whatever it is that relates to the culture you are trying to build?

These behaviors are what will drive your feedback loops and eventually create a psychologically safe environment. Paul’s Personal Scouting Report offers a simple yet effective and fun team building exercise that removes any preexisting friction that naturally comes with feedback as well as normalizes vulnerability a bit. 

For a more in depth understanding of this exercise see Paul’s blog write up here

“The cost of getting culture wrong is meaningful”

Stansik admits, culture can be difficult to measure which makes it easy to ignore. That’s no excuse. If wasted time, increased employee turnover, decreased productivity, and customer attrition are valuable to you, managing your culture should be a top priority.

Tune into our CultureLaunch Live session here to listen in on this conversation in full. 

About the Author:

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Shannon O’Boyle

Marketing Campaign Strategist at CultureIQ

Equal parts creative & strategic, Shannon is a full stack growth marketer with an imagination rivaled by few and a work ethic to match.