Do You Know Your Isms?

I spend a lot of time with HR leaders of the world’s biggest companies. In the course of those conversations, I’ve seen some great, and not so great, presentations about culture. Netflix’s original, 120-page culture manifesto has been called “the most important document to ever come out of Silicon Valley.” Until this week, I would have cited it as the best I’ve seen.

Tuesday, I sat down at a table at a CHRO Summit, and in front of me was a book. It was colorful. The license plate on the front said, “Isms in Action.” I had no idea why it was there. Then, Tushar Pandit, Vice President of People, for Bedrock Detroit and Quicken Loans, started to talk about Dan Gilbert and the wide range of 100+ companies, sports teams, funds, and projects he and his organization, RockVentures, are involved in. To say it is far reaching and impressive is an understatement.

Intrigued, I started flipping through what turns out to be their culture book. The pages have been authored, compiled and curated by Dan himself. There are 19 “Isms,” ranging from “Every client. Every time. No exceptions. No Excuses” to “A penny saved is a penny.” What I found unique and incredibly insightful were the real-life examples included for every “Ism.” There are real photos of mistakes that have been made and accomplishments. Terrible and fabulous emails received and sent. Inspirational quotes like “If you see a snake, just kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.” It got to the real brass tacks of what they expect from people.

The section on urgency was my favorite. I think every founder has a high bar on urgency and gets frustrated when they perceive others who don’t have the same level. But very few put what urgency looks like in writing. Dan was dead clear on what is expected. An entire page on what to do when out of the office, including examples of acceptable and unacceptable out of office messages. A page for “These reasons are NO EXCUSE for not calling a client back” that listed what are most likely common excuses like “I was waiting for an answer.”

He even shared an email he wrote to the entire company. The text at the top of the page said, “Not a pretty message, but at the time, it was necessary.” The subject line was: “The Most Basic Thing We Do.” He then proceeded to start with, “We return all phone calls to everyone every time.” That it had come to his attention that some have chosen to “arrogantly take and destroy this company’s great reputation single handedly.” He then made it crystal clear in red “all caps” that if people think they can work there, get paid, and destroy the reputation that it wouldn’t be tolerated. “I will find you and root you out… Zero Tolerance. No excuses. Every call returned timely EVERY TIME!!” I wanted to clap at the end of reading it. If you saw this note in the book you received in orientation, what would you do? You are going to return every call on time every time. 

Reviewing this book got me thinking about whether I would be able to write a book of “Isms” for Team WeSpire or even Team Stevens. What are the unwritten expectations for behavior? What are the examples of “do this” and “not this.” What messages do we send, and how do we send them? 

At home, there is a space above the back door coat/boot rack that has room for a sign. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what goes there as it’s the last thing that we see before starting our day. I landed upon it recently: “To Whom Much Is Given, Much is Required.” That is undoubtedly one of our core Isms.

“We only have one rule: no dying,” is a well-known WeSpire-ism, intended to highlight our flexibility, the autonomy we give, our openness to trying, and failing. However, it also implies that when being flexible and autonomous and experimental, you need to ensure you don’t kill yourself (literally or figuratively), others, or the company in the process.

Could you write your “Isms”? What would they be? What examples would you show? Please don’t hesitate to share your favorites.

Quote of the Week: “Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture.”

Brittany Forsyth

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