By Tony Tjan, CEO and Managing Partner, Cue Ball Capital
As I mentioned in my last column, 2017 was a challenging year for institutional trust and marked by abuses of power, from multinational corporations like United Airlines being taken to task for clear mistreatment of the customers they are supposed to be serving, to the #me too movement serving up an alarming reminder of the widespread sexism and hostile environments that are still with us today.
But I’d like to dial this back to the beginning, and consider how these toxic cultures came about in the first place. I’ll also put forth some of the lessons learned from my perspective as both an entrepreneur and an investor on how to avoid creating and investing in similar cultures.
In my book “Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters,” I write about the power of Goodness – in particular, goodness of character—and the responsibility leaders have to help others become the fullest expression of their themselves. How many of us live by Benjamin Franklin’s daily challenge, namely, “What good have I done today?” How often do we encourage ourselves and one another to take an honest and thoughtful inventory of the ways we show up in the world? Individual behavior and whether the people around us condone it or stop it, creates culture. Culture in turn is the biggest predictor of the long-term success of a company or industry.
So how do we create and advance a culture of Goodness? Well, you’re probably familiar with the saying that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. This has a direct impact on the people you hire, choose to work under and invest in. True, incorporating Goodness in a business climate that rewards short-term success metrics can be challenging. We live in an age of digital accountability, where it’s easier than ever to see cracks in the armor of business cultures that were designed to protect shoddy behavior. As businesses grow in power and prominence, it’s imperative that everyone, from the administrative assistant to the president, buy into and respect the culture they helped create.
How then do we recommend evaluating “Goodness” in the people you work with and invest in? The methods below are ones that I continuously try to incorporate into all my business endeavors:
Avoid the competency bias: Use Goodness as the primary barometer for evaluating another person’s value to your business. Go beyond titles, accolades and even social media following as key yardsticks of anything. Does the person you’re considering hiring treat others with respect? Does he garner respect in turn? Does he operate from a place of pure intention, or from a darker place of power grabbing?
Use other people you trust to help measure your Goodness instincts: If trustworthy colleagues tell you that a situation is not good, it is probably just that: not good. They may be seeing something you’re not because of unknown biases or outside context. As well as trusting your own perspective, trust those who have proven themselves over time to you.
Think about the long view: Transforming an industry can take years. Ask yourself, “Would I be excited to work with X or Y individual every day for the rest of my life?” Does this prospective colleague give off and elicit professional collegiality, mutual respect and pride? Let that sink in—because it’s a pretty clear indicator on how much you want a given individual to influence your world view.
Companies should embrace a movement toward transformation (both inside their companies and beyond) for the greater good. “Clean” business practices require that all parties are responsible for the highest possible standards for how they approach the world and one another. Through this prism of clean, they—and we—will build the next generation of businesses and industries that will change the world.
In future articles I will further explore a variety of tools and practices that will help us implement Clean into every aspect of our lives, business practices and culture. But I’m also eager to hear from you. What do you think?