One way to learn about a company culture

(this post takes about 2.5 minutes to read)

Ask most people what they look for in a job, and eventually they will talk about “company culture”. This is an elusive concept, this thing called culture. It takes some real work to decide what you really are looking for in a company’s culture. You may be able to articulate a few key words, but getting into what those words really mean takes some time and energy.

For instance, you may say “I want to work for a company that values its people”. Is it enough if the company states something about the importance of people in their mission statement? What if they pay people above average wages? What if they have flexible working hours? Might being able to work from home be good enough to say it values its people? I think those are only some of the factors. Maybe you have your own definition.

But I suspect most of us would have different definitions of what they really mean by “valuing people” for instance.

To make it even more complicated, not many people can clearly identify what “culture” really is. Do the products, the location, the look of the offices, the way things are communicated, the management style, the “extras” a company provides describe the culture? I think the answer can be, “yes, some of the time, depending on the situation”. That doesn’t help much.

Assessing culture from the outside 

It is really tough to assess  a company culture when you are on the outside looking in. Company culture includes the beliefs and behaviors that define how a company’s employees and management interact. But most of us would agree that the culture can be different in certain departments or locations. At the end of the day, the culture of the company will define how you are treated day-to-day. Perhaps more important than your actual job duties, culture can really determine how engaged you are at a job.

Forbes Magazine: “Don’t get burned by accepting a job offer before learning about the company culture.” 

What if you could understand a company’s culture a little better before you work there? Would looking at some examples help you better define what you mean by company culture? I think it might help me.

A read a really fascinating article the other day that helped get at this issue. The premise of the article is that the words a company uses on job descriptions provide some insight. The author, in addressing companies, says, “the truth of your cultural environment shows up in the language that your team uses to communicate — especially when your entire company uses the same words.”

So with that, the author looked at the list of companies and their most-used phrases. For instance, the three phrases that show up for Amazon are “Wickedly”, “Fast Paced Environment”, and “Maniacal”. I have to admit, I would not want to work there.  I do not mind fast paced, but maniacal does not suit me at all. That is not the company culture I want. On the other hand, Twitter shows “Nerd”, “Passion for Learning” and “Diverse Perspectives”. That sounds like me.

I challenge you to go the article and look at the ten companies. Which ones fit you and which don’t? Comment back on that. I would love to hear your perspectives. (For the record, Twitter, Slack and Apple hit the right notes for me). Perhaps you will learn a little more about yourself.


To read this article (it’s pretty short) and see the list of companies and their phrases, go here



(This post takes about three minutes to read) 

Sometimes we need to relearn simple lessons.

I am working with a young man, Marcus Graham ( ) on developing his business plan. We have been working together for about three months. Recently Marcus presented his 15 minute sales pitch to a few, select people. We were looking for business connections and feedback on the presentation.

We got a LOT of feedback.

The feedback was clear. Our pitch was NOT clear.

What was really cool about that was neither of us was disappointed or particularly dispirited by what we learned. It was clear – our message was mixed.

This drove home three great lessons for anyone endeavoring to do something new or different.

1.Be willing to ask for feedback

First, be willing to ask for feedback. When you work alone or in your small team, it is so easy to get concurrence and start down a path. Your thinking becomes very insular, often without you recognizing it. People all start thinking in a certain way, simply swept along because the energy feels good. But feedback from an outsider can often poke holes in your thinking.  That is when a big improvement might occur. For Marcus and I, we had been so wrapped up in creating a smooth-flowing presentation that we failed to truly scrutinize the content. The feedback got us back on track.

2. Be open

Second, be willing to take in the feedback without any defensiveness. If you listen to learn, you will. Ask questions to clarify. Don’t make statements to justify what you were trying to do. Open yourself up as you hear contradictory words from others. In the end, you get to decide what feedback to use and what to discard. But first, you have to open up to all of it. If a 25 year old can do that, anyone can do that.

If you listen TO LEARN, you will

3. Focus

Third, there are always only a few lessons to remember when you are presenting to others. One, keep your story clear and compelling. Two, focus. Three, always leave them coming back for more.  Four, where your energy is, the audience will feel it. Go there. Five, what is the essence of your message you want to leave everyone with? Anything outside of that core message (while it may be accurate, interesting and informative) is distracting. When those points were driven home to us, it seemed so compelling – and simple.

You can have an idea that is good. What Marcus presented showed his passion for his work and his direction. It was professional. It was ambitious. It showed he had been planning for the future. He has a compelling story to tell. That was all good.

But often, good is not enough.

Marcus and I are going back to the drawing board. But the pieces of the picture are much clearer. We know what to focus on. And we both learned a great reminder, once again.

The Three Lessons and Careers

For any of us thinking about our jobs and careers, the lessons learned apply. We don’t want to ask for advice so often about what we should do with our careers. Networking sounds exhausting, ridiculous or too time consuming. But who else can give us feedback than other people? Second, too often we start off with all of the reasons why we can’t look at changing jobs or careers (I am too busy right now, I can’t afford to lose medical insurance, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to start). Maybe being open to the possibilities, rather than closed to them, might offer a way forward. Third, focus on a few things to start. What do I really like? What would make me more energized? What is missing in my career? Then work outwards from that focus point.

Why not try?

Starting with what you are missing, rather than what you have

(This post takes about 3 minutes to read)

A really great way to think about things is to ask yourself this counter-intuitive question.

What am I missing?

The blogger Ozan Varol believes it is a great way to become a better problem solver.

Think about it. We often approach a problem or a situation by trying to figure as much as we can out. We use our current knowledge. Perhaps we do an on-line search, read some books, find influential thinkers. Maybe a You Tube video can show us how to do something. From that outline of current knowledge, we build.

It feels so good to have gained knowledge. We confidently embark on our journey, armed with our research. The problem comes when we start down that path, armed with the knowledge we have gained. Rarely do we stop to ask, “what am I missing”?

What am I missing?

Wow. That makes it a little tough, doesn’t it? Especially when we REALLY mean to ask that question. This is not the “I am missing a tool, I will go get it” or “I am missing a certain gizmo. I will go buy it at the store” question. This question is most powerful when it is about doubt-inducing, soul searching, new-direction thinking.

It is hard to admit that we might be missing something. That points out an obvious flaw in our logic. It shows vulnerability. It is hard to stop what we want to do just to think about what we don’t have. We might like the momentum we have. The knowledge we have gained is more than we started with.

But when we do take that pause caused by the question, we end up with one of two things:

  1. A new, better direction
  2. An affirmation that we are headed the right direction, renewed with confidence

Don’t those both sound good? Because when we pause, enlightenment can occur. We stop barreling down a path, like a bicycle going down a steep hill. We have a moment to think.

It’s like the famous passage from the Sherlock Holmes short story, Silver Blaze

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

What was missing? A dog barking at a scene of the crime. That led Holmes to figure out the dog knew the perpetrator. Asking “what is missing?”, led to the answer. Now the detective team can start down the right path.

“What’s Missing” and Your Career Plan

I like to think about this question when I am talking to people about their careers. It is easy to get people to talk about what they like to do. They can discuss their experiences at a high level. They generally have an idea about what they want to do next, usually based on what they did previously (“I was a project manager at a technology company. So now I want to be a senior project manager at a technology company”). But ask them what is missing from their career aspiration often yields a stop.

And sometimes the stop can mean everything.

Here is an example. Ask what someone wants in a job. Often it is a mix of things such as: challenging work, good pay, benefits, a company with a good culture, an opportunity to use their skills at solving problems. Can’t really argue with that list. But what is missing? Maybe work/life blend is important. Is working from home or in an office more important to you? Maybe they have some experiences they would like to repeat (or not repeat). Perhaps they really value the opportunity to work on some larger team projects like they did earlier in their career. Those are the answers that come when you ask, What is Missing?

Want to read more? Read the original post at

Be the Best Version of you

(this post takes about 2.5 minutes to read)

I think in today’s selfie-dominated, social media “likes” world, it is hard to tell the real person from their on-line persona. For some people, that on-line persona is driven by a need for attention. For others, they like to tell a fable of

what their life would look like if most everything was wonderful. I am not going to write about how this impacts those people.

More importantly, how does that selfie world affect us?

“When we compare ourselves to others, we remind ourselves of our own insecurities. And that is a bad place to be.” Simon Sinek

I think Simon has it right. Trying to compare to others is unproductive. It does not get us anywhere. We often compare ourselves to something that is often unreal.

When we try to achieve a life like we see other’s, we may be shooting for a unattainable target. We need to remember that others’ on-line lives are often curated. They always seem to be having fun. They are always at the cool places. They never seem to be working. We don’t read about their car breaking down. We don’t see a picture of the broken dishes. The nights they spend at home doing nothing does not get tweeted or Instagrammed.

Think of the person in the office who always seems to have a fun weekend to talk about. Or the salesperson who talks about their sales seemingly everyday. These are often our perceptions. We forgot about the times when those individuals did NOT speak about their dull days.

Trying to match someone’s highlights only is not easy. Or advisable.  As Sinek says, we only remind ourselves of our insecurities. Citing both internal and academic research, Facebook recently noted, “in general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward.”

I am wondering if that is a great idea for a New Year’s Resolution. Try to be the best version of you. #1, it is attainable. #2, the best version of you is a great gift to others. #3, it is an active attitude, not passive.

So, my Resolution for 2018 is to be a better version of me. But how do I do that? For me, it means being a better version of me – for other people. I am going to try two things specifically. One, I am going to work on realizing that I am probably not right most of the time. I  make assumptions about other’s motivations, actions, intelligence all the time. Smug in the certainty of my awesomeness, I judge. I need to stop that. Second, I am going to try to be “unproductive” 1 hour a week. Anyone who knows me (and my wife and kids would attest to this) knows I like to be efficient in EVERYTHING. This passage from a post by Oliver Burkeman prompted my thinking: “One of the sneakier pitfalls of an efficiency-based attitude to time is that we start to feel pressured to use our leisure time “productively”, too.” I DO THIS! I am not sure exactly what “unproductive” looks like, but I am going to try to find it. My hope is that it will help me be a better person.

What about you? What would a better version of you look like?


Can you hear me now?

(This post takes about 3.5 minutes to read)  

I believe this is a well-known phrase popularized by Verizon. One of life’s most frustrating experiences is speaking but not being heard. We all have a need to be heard, whether what we are saying is something important or not to the other person.

So what happens when we think of being heard from a listener’s perspective? What if we could be able to answer “yes” to that question “Do you hear me now”? After all, in a conversation, if at least one of us is listening, we have the chance for a meaningful exchange.

But unfortunately, we all think we are good at listening. A study at Wright State University surveyed more than 8,000 people from different vertical industries. Almost all of the people rated themselves as listening as well as or better than their co-workers. So everyone is better than average? It is a common misconception in many parts of life that we think we are better than average. Of course, that is not possible. Would you rate yourself “above average” in listening?

I love this quote:

“The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.” –Alfred Brendel

You can read numerous articles on more effective listening. I am not going to repeat their recommendations and exhortations. But the idea of “silent” is a great start to being a good listener. “Silent” means more than “not speaking”. Silent also means “quieting your mind”. When you can bring yourself to silence the inner voice, to be present, you have a chance to be listening. When you make silent the desire to start formulating your response to the other person, you probably are a better-than-average listener

Doesn’t better listening come from a desire to understand the other person? Think about it. If we really want to understand someone, we make a conscious effort to listen. We are focused – on what they are saying. If we don’t understand, we ask questions. If we think we understand, we might try to clarify what we hear. We might repeat what we think we heard and ask if we “got it”. It always comes back around to focusing on them. We probably also use more of our senses than just our ears. For instance, we might look at their facial and body gestures to see what else might glean.

But we don’t impose our own thoughts, biases or understanding

We don’t look for a spot to rush their thinking

We don’t try to tell them how our experience is so different or similar

We don’t have our cell phone or computer out, trying to multitask

We don’t try to finish their sentences

We don’t focus on ourselves

We simply focus on the other person

That does not seem that hard to me. It does not take super strength or intelligence. It doesn’t require particular knowledge or expertise. You do not need a degree or certification. It does require a little sacrifice – setting aside our own agenda or ego is not easy. Setting aside our agenda requires effort. It requires a conscious decision to be present.

Think of it this way. Have you ever heard of someone who is characterized as “They listen too much”? On the other hand, we could all probably say about someone, “they talk too much”? Looking for a potential New Year’s Resolution? How about becoming a better listener?

If you really desire some more concrete steps to better listening, here is a good article:


Dreams Go By

(This post takes about 2 1/2 minutes to read)

I was listening to a song by Harry Chapin called “Dreams Go By” the other day. In this holiday season where we reflect on the joy and promise of a new year, it struck me as serendipitous.

The song takes a first-person perspective of a man talking to his wife. He is reflecting (late in life) on all of the dreams they had in their lives left unfulfilled. These include  to be a “ballplayer”, to be a ballet start, to be a doctor, etc. Every one of those dreams was achievable, but there was always some “but” in the way.

The chorus goes like this:

And so you and I
We watch our years go by
We watch our sweet dreams fly
Far away, but maybe someday
I don’t know when
But we will dream again
And we’ll be happy then
‘Til our time just drifts away

Our time just drifts away

How many of us know someone whose life is just drifting by? Maybe it hits close to home. It is so easy to allow things to wait until “the future”. Think about when we say, “I can’t believe summer is over”. Or, “Where did the year go by?” when we get to this time of year. If we are not conscious about it, time drifts by.

It is so much a part of human nature, the desire to coast. We all like to relax and take it easy. I recognize that I write a lot about barriers we place in front of ourselves. I also like to talk about how unfinished business stays with us throughout our life. But they are so real, so prevalent. It is a reality of life.

So how do we stop the drift?

Be Reflective. Take some time to think carefully about where you are and where you want to be. Spend some time writing down you dreams or your bucket list. Share your list with a significant other, your kids or a best friend. Nothing like saying something out loud to either make yourself commit or decide you really are not committed to it.

Act now. The song contains the phrase “maybe someday” as a justification or a rationale. Instead of “maybe someday”, how about today? What is really holding you back? While the holidays can often be very busy times, they can sometimes leave an opportunity to act. Again, taking action is not a lot of time.

Look around you. We all miss a big world passing us by as we focus on the target straight ahead. Let’s stop that. Just like being in a slow-moving canoe going down a stream, watch the scenery on each side of you. Is there something you notice? Is there a spot you want to stop an explore more closely? Just noticing the environment you are in might lead to some insight.

Soon you will be ready to tear down the calendar for this year and put up a new calendar. Maybe you can take that action as an impetus for another action – stopping the drift. Need some help? Give me a shout.

Want to listen to the song? Here it is (this is my best Steve Browne imitation).


(This post takes about four minutes to read)

In his book, Popular, author Mitch Prinstein explores why popularity plays a key role in our development and how it still influences our happiness and success. The book provides a wealth of studies about how our adolescent and teenage experiences with popularity affect us throughout life.

But being popular is more than getting voted Homecoming King or Queen. It can impact our lives and our work every day. Understanding that may help us thrive and overcome problems.

Two Types of Popularity

Prinstein writes of two types of popularity into two “types”: status popularity and likability popularity. Status popularity is the “jock”, the head cheerleader, the frat president, the “it” person. The author characterizes status as “whether someone is well know, widely emulated and able to bend others to his or her own will”. Paradoxically, these status popular people are actually hated by a lot of people. Their popularity does not come from some inherent goodness. Rather it comes through self-promotion, physical gifts or something inherent to the person. They become popular at the expense of others.

A great example of status popularity would be the two contestants for the last presidential election. Each was “popular” with many people due to their position – wealth, successful career, great power, etc. But each was (and is) hated by a significant part of the population.

The other type of popularity is “likability”. This captures those we feel close to and trust. These are the people who make us happy when we spend time with them. Our best friends fit in that category. Hopefully our spouse or significant other. Or the person we enjoy doing stuff with all the time – like my running buddies.

Many of us mix up these two types of popularity. We envy the popular people. We would love to be the CEO, whose popularity often comes from status. The chance to be the football star or the music star, simply because of their popularity, draws us in. I think perhaps a drug dealer is someone who is both popular (they have a lot of money and power) and hated. In many ways, their life looks better than ours. But it is a chimera.

We ought to look up to the likable popular person. The waitress who greets us at our favorite restaurant. The co-worker who seems to know the right thing to say to everyone. The eternally-happy person who lifts us up simply be being around them. Their popularity comes from inherent goodness. They have a willingness to reach other people.

Interestingly, the book reflects on how social media has impacted our perceptions of popularity. We tend to look inwardly, trying to figure out how many more “likes” we get. Receiving immediate feedback – from lots of people- on our Instagram or Facebook post is a sign of popularity. And of course, little or no feedback reflects just the opposite.

In reality, “Likes” might = Popular. However, “Likes” does not equal Likable

Prinstein writes about a way to think more about likability and less about status:

Prioritizing likability over status means choosing to help our peers rather than exclusively fulfilling our own needs, showing more interest in others rather than vying for more attention and power, and cultivating relationships more than “likes”. Its making the choice to help others feel included and welcome rather than making ourselves feel superior. Attaining the most gratifying form of popularity comes from making the effort to fit in more than trying to stand out, and from doing what we can to promote harmony rather than focusing on how to dominate others.

Popularity and Careers

Think about how you can apply this to your career. When you focus externally – on the other person – you promote likability. Going out of your way to help others is a great way to be successful. It also promotes likability. Rather than trying to promote yourself, you look to promote others. When someone is looking for a job, you try to help them. Maybe you take a little of your time to make someone else feel needed or important.

Wow, simply focusing on “WE” instead of “ME”.

Good advice for the coming year.