In a recent article about SurveyMonkey, founder and CEO Dave Goldberg talks about the role of culture in creating his highly successful company.Although there are multiple leadership lessons in the piece, I want to talk about two that I share with my CEO clients regularly.
The first is summarized well in this quote from the article – “In well-managed companies, “Bad Attitude” + “Good Work” = “You’re Fired.” We often struggle with the employee who is technically gifted or brilliant however, they have a “bad attitude” as Goldberg calls it. We’re not sure how we can get along without them, yet they are a cause of distress. Often it’s not actually a bad attitude it’s really a culture mismatch. People have a particular attitude and it is what it is. If it doesn’t fit the culture, we label it as “bad.” It can show up as non-collaborative, superior, dismissive, confrontational, etc. You know the characteristics when you see them.
What happens if you don’t get rid of this person, regardless of their skill set, is that you poison your culture by not adhering to your values. The rest of your employees are watching to see what you will do. Will you tolerate it? If so, your values just changed. Your real superstars see this and begin to doubt the cultural values and wonder if they “fit,” (or even want to). Next, they in turn may develop a “bad attitude” or just depart. Either way you have a problem.
Rightfully, Goldberg makes the point that you have to let these employees go. You have to stand up for your values, no matter what. It strengthens the culture every time you do. You can train for skills, you can’t change someone’s values so don’t waste the effort. What often happens when you do let that highly competent, values mismatched, (bad attitude), person go, is that others will step up to fill the void until the right person can be found. They will pitch in to help because you did the right thing.
The second point Goldberg makes is that as the CEO, you have to set your ego aside, be humble, and admit what you don’t do well and hire the best talent to fill the gap. As I discuss in my upcoming book “Solving the Entrepreneurial Puzzle,” all CEOs have 1-3 areas where they are extremely talented. The other 7-10 areas are either mediocre or just non existent. CEOs that are self-aware and recognize these gaps and hire for them are much more successful than those who don’t. As Marcus Buckingham points out in “First Break all the Rules,” you cannot fix someone’s weaknesses, so don’t try. Get them into a space where their talents are needed, and they will succeed – or as I like to say, “only do what only you can do.” The rest can be hired for.
Goldberg’s SurveyMonkey at $100M+ in revenue is a wonderful example of values in action. The values have created a culture that not only works, but works better than most startups as they have been profitable since day one – and he leaves at 5:30 every day. He walks his talk and his employees know it.