When Your Culture is Their Product

June Event Review: “When Your Culture is Their Product” with Richard Lyons, PhD, Dean UC Berkeley Haas Business School

by Helene Eichler

July 2013 Event

Dr. Lyons opened SVPMA’s July meeting with “Leaders set culture” a provocative quote from the former CEO of Levis. But how and why do leaders set organizational culture is the question?  He next defined “Culture” as the “norms” and values that guide the organization. Behavioral “norms” refers to the type of behavior, if re-enforced would make a stronger team. For our audience he asked “What is the single behavior that would most advance your product team objective?”

He gave an example from his time as Chief Learning Officer at Goldman Sachs where the culture was “If you have information and it can flow then it must.” It (information) should flow to be more valuable to the business.  Rich further engaged us by asking:

  • As product managers, how could you cause an impact by setting norms for your Product team?
  • Can we create a behavioral norm that can increase the business by 20%?
  • Who leads setting the norms for the team?

Coming from his business world experience where CEOs consistently set culture, Rich was surprised to find UC Berkeley Haas Business School had nothing written down. He referenced that great companies like GE and SouthWest Airlines are intentional about setting culture and their business processes are driven around that culture. One of his first challenges was to establish the “cultural fit” for UC Berkeley MBAs. He also realized most MBA schools also didn’t really have a distinctive culture.

So as Dean, he and his team gathered input from stakeholders over some 18 months and, based on that input, wrote down the 4 defining principles for the schools core values:

  1. Question the Status Quo
  2. Confidence without Attitude
  3. Students Always
  4. Beyond Yourself

Once these were defined they mapped these into the “how” or actionable behaviors to make them real.

  • Selection Process: How one selects members onto a team or into a firm is essential. There are many ways to align this tightly with values. For a business school, this is about both admissions and hiring.
  • First experiences: As one example, the letter of admission—an important early experience—was changed to reflect the 4 defining principles.
  • Rewards & Recognition: At Graduation one student is now recognized for exemplifying each of the 4 principles. Similar recognition initiatives have been launched for faculty and for staff.
  • Story Telling: Stories are not just a compact way to communicate values, they get told by those who hear them, sometimes going viral.
  • Leader actions: Is the leader of the product team or business being judged against the values, e.g., in her/his 360? Is she/he discussing that feedback openly? Walking the talk?

Rich left us with the following Sound Bites:

  • Leaders set Culture — Culture is an important tool for leaders to improve performance.
  • You need staying power if you are setting culture – You’re never really done and need strong “convictions” to keep the process going, often over years.
  • Lots of Levers are available and need to be considered — There are lots of tools for blocking and tackling the “how” of creating culture. He’s finding the mechanics of execution has been, and continues to be, exciting.

Helene Eichler has over 10 years of combined B2B Channel and Product Marketing experience in the Networking and Communications industries.  She currently posts Social Media content to raise awareness of Marketing Operations. She is  a Channel Marketing and CRM Consultant at HRE Technical Marketing and can be contacted at hreichler@earthlink.net.

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