Episode 5: Does Culture Really Eat Strategy for Lunch?

Jay, William, and Laura discuss whether a great culture produces a successful business or whether a successful business produces a great culture. Do you think of your employees as family? Do you have anyone working for you whom, if you had it to do over, you wouldn’t hire? Plus: do you manage your Glassdoor page?

Does Culture Really Eat Strategy for Lunch?

Laura Zander is co-founder and CEO of Jimmy Beans Wool.

Jay Goltz is founder and CEO of Artists Frame Service and Jayson Home.

William Vanderbloemen is founder and CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group.

Producer:

Jess Thoubboron is founder of Blank Word Productions.

Episode Highlights:

Jay Goltz: “I think most companies would say, ‘We want a respectful environment. I want everyone to treat each other nice.’ But they keep Bob around, who really is a jackass, and everyone rolls their eyes and says, ‘Everyone knows how Bob is.’ And that is a bad excuse.”

Jay Goltz: “I have eights, nines, and tens working here. Tens are a fluke of nature. You’d be lucky if you ever get a few of them at one time. Nines, got lots of them. Lots of eights. The ones that kill companies are the sixes. They’re not quite bad enough for anybody to fire, but they’re not good, and they’re costing the company and the other employees are covering for them.”

Laura Zander: “We say we only hire broken people. If you’re not broken, don’t come work for us.”

William Vanderbloemen: “There are a lot of terribly competent people who are decent human beings who would never fit in at our company because we have quirkiness that all of us share.”

William Vanderbloemen: “There can be a whole lot of risk seeing your staff as family…”

William Vanderbloemen: “You can Google image [search] the Enron main office lobby, and the images that would show up are for the elevator lobby. You walk in, they have core values literally plastered to the wall. Right in front of you is the word ‘integrity.’”

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Let’s meet this week’s 21 Hats Podcast team. With us today are Laura Zander, CEO of Jimmy Beans Wool, a digital version of a neighborhood yarn shop that is based in Reno, Nevada; Jay Goltz, who has several businesses in Chicago, including a picture framing shop, Artists Frame Service, and Jayson Home, a home furnishing store; and William Vanderbloemen, who is CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group, a recruiting firm that’s based in Houston and specializes in working with churches and other faith-based organizations.

Today, I’d really like to talk about culture. And I have to confess: this is a term that kind of gives me the willies, mostly because it gets thrown around a lot and I think its meaning often gets lost. We often end up talking about trivial things that I’m not sure really reflect the true culture of a business. Also, I think we often talk about it almost like a fantasy version of what it’s like to work at a company when everything is going great that ignores what happens to the culture when the business struggles.

I’d like to start with a question. I’ve always been curious about this. What do you think comes first: do you need a great culture to build a successful company, or do you need a successful company to build a great culture?

William, I’d like to start with you, both because you’ve written a really good book on culture called Culture Wins, and because in that book, you acknowledge that you didn’t start out with a great culture. In fact, you didn’t have a very good culture at all, and you had to figure it out. Let me ask you first: which one comes first? Is it a successful business or a great culture?

William Vanderbloemen:
I think some of that depends on the age of the organization. One organization I worked in where I didn’t fit the culture was a church that had been around for a long, long time. I came in assuming that I could shift or change a culture that had been around a long time. If you’re going into an organization that has been around—like the culture of IBM—it’s arguably going to be pretty tough to change whether it’s good or bad.

On the flip side, if it’s a startup, what I’m learning as we’ve built our company here is we didn’t figure out culture for a while, but the culture in a newer organization seems to be predicated on the people themselves that are there: the founder and the first three or four who work alongside the founder. In some ways, I think you can say you want to have a culture all you want, but the culture for me is how an organization behaves while they’re trying to get their vision or mission accomplished.

Here in Houston, we’re known for innovation. We have the first dome sports centers, the Astrodome (that’s why we have astroturf), MD Anderson’s innovative medicine curing cancer. President Kennedy wants to go to the moon. He says let’s go to Houston: innovation in space. When I got to Houston in 2001, I realized we had innovation in accounting, and it was called Enron. Not the best. When I was writing the book, I don’t know if it’s still true, you can Google image [search] the Enron main office lobby, and the images that would show up are for the elevator lobby. You walk in, they have core values literally plastered to the wall. Right in front of you is the word “integrity.” I don’t know that that’s exactly who they were.

You can name cultural values all you want. You can say, “We’re going to have a great culture and this is who we are.” But that’s kind of like me saying, “I’m going to win the slam dunk competition for the NBA this year.” It’s not going to happen. It’s more of, “Who are we as people? How do we name that?” The question I like to ask is, “When we’re functioning at our very best, what do we as a team do that’s common to us, but uncommon to other teams around us?” Then rather than travel to the mountain and come down with the cultural commandments, you do an archaeological dig of the team that you have, and you’ll discover your culture. Then you can lean into a little bit more aspirational of a version, but you can’t just create culture. That’s a roundabout answer for you.

Loren Feldman:
I hear you saying that culture is something you discover, not something you mold. I think if you read business journalism, you read the opposite. People seem to think that culture is what you make it. Laura, what does culture mean to you?

Laura Zander:
We are who we are. I guess people call that “culture,” but I don’t try to create a culture intentionally. I’m on the same page as William. We’re like Madonna: who we are today is very different from who we were five years ago, which is different from who we were 10 years ago. There are some consistent rules, if you will. You must respect every human who walks in the door and recognize that we all have equal value and equal talents. That’s something that’s always been the case. There are a few things underlying, but as an outsider coming in, if you were to look at and try to define our culture, you would see that it has changed over the years, because we have different people who worked here over the years.

William Vanderbloemen:
Laura, that’s where I’ll buddy in and say exactly. The culture is defined by the people on your team. The mistake I see organizations make is they say, “We’re going to go copy the cultural values of Google or the slide deck for Netflix, and we’re going to do that.” Well, no, not unless you want to just change out all your people to match that. I think the people you have define the particular culture that you have.

To clarify a little bit, to me there are two layers of culture. One is: are you a healthy place to work? You brought up such a good point, Laura: respect everybody who walks in the door. That’s just got to be a cardinal rule. That’s just: are you healthy or not? The second piece is: within that general health, what is our particular set of family behaviors or family rules or the way we always do things around here?

Laura Zander:
I love what you just said about the family rules. We just had a conversation yesterday here, now that I’m in Texas, about how—I’ve not used this term before, but I’m going to use it from now on—one of our family rules is you’re allowed to have a bad day. You’re allowed to be snotty. You’re allowed to cut somebody off or do whatever it is because we’re humans, but you have to come back and apologize and own it. That is one of the fundamental rules. If I’m shitty with somebody, then I come right back as soon as I can and say, “God, I’m so sorry, I was totally inappropriate, blah, blah, blah.” Then we move on. I guess if we were MBA students, we would be teaching that that is culture, as you’ve defined it.

Loren Feldman:
Jay, I want to get you in on this. What I’m hearing from William and Laura is, I think, very different from the conversation that we often hear on this topic. One of the lines you hear repeated all the time is, “Culture eats strategy for lunch,” which certainly implies that it’s something that you mold, not something you discover. Where do you fall on this?

Jay Goltz:
First of all, I think corporate culture is a subset of management. Its management. It sounds much sexier and much cooler, but at the end of the day, I believe it’s a function of management. In my little world, in my brain, I think corporate culture is three things. One: how far are you going to go for customers? Are you going to do whatever it takes? Everyone says they do, but they don’t. In my case, we always get the customer taken care of. Whatever we have to do, we do it, and everyone who works here knows that. If we’ve got to stay late, we’ve got to come early, we’ve got to drive somewhere, we do whatever we need to do.

Number two is: how much do you expect out of employees? I don’t want people working here 60, 70 hours a week. That doesn’t mean that I want them working 40 if they didn’t get the job done, but some organizations push people a lot more, and I think how far you push people, and do they need to be pushed, and how demanding you are, is absolutely part of the corporate culture. Lastly is: how do you treat each other?

The problem I see a lot of time is I think most companies would say, “We want a respectful environment. I want everyone to treat each other nice.” But they keep Bob around, who really is a jackass, and everyone rolls their eyes and says, “Everyone knows how Bob is.” And that is a bad excuse. I get rid of Bob eventually. I talk to Bob. I talk to him the first time, I talk to him the second time, and I explain to Bob, “You can’t do that again. Because if you do, it’s going to be your last day.”

I’ve had to do that two or three times. There were people working for me who were here for years, and I would find people in the back crying. “What’s wrong?” “Oh, so and so makes me feel bad about myself.” I would talk to this person, and they can’t stop. They just can’t stop themselves. My corporate culture is, I’m going to walk the talk.

I believe that there’s a lot of talk about corporate culture, but there are a lot of people who aren’t walking the talk. I think that whole “Corporate culture eats strategy for lunch”—what a ridiculous line. What does that mean? We don’t need strategy anymore? How about both?

Loren Feldman:
William, Jay just walked us through what having a good corporate culture means to him, how he defines it in his business. How do you define it in yours? What are the key elements of your culture?

William Vanderbloemen:
Rather than elements, the recovering preacher will tell a story. Years ago, long before smartphones, my mother’s father would take his daughters and sons-in-laws to Europe once every other year or so. He made each of them host a city. They went to Amsterdam, and of course dad, being Vanderbloemen, said, “Okay, you’re hosting this one, find a place for dinner.” So he calls the restaurant that he looked up in some book. He said, “Table for eight in the name of Vanderbloemen,” and they said, “Sorry, we only do tables of four or fewer.” “Okay, can I get two tables of four?” “Sure.” “Okay, two tables for four. One in the name of Beech, and one in the name of Vanderbloemen.” They said, “Can you spell that?” He said, “Sure. V-A-N-D-” “No, no, sir. Spell “Beech.” These are my people. This is home.

A good company culture is when a new person walks in the door, and in a very short amount of time, is like, “I belong here. This is my people.” There are two layers to that. One is, there’s a layer of human decency. There’s the basic: Is this a healthy place to work? Beyond that is: I fit in here. This feels like family. I don’t mind spending most of my workday here because I function like they do. There are a lot of terribly competent people who are decent human beings who would never fit in at our company because we have quirkiness that all of us share.

Laura Zander:
Amen, brother.

William Vanderbloemen:
We all carry the same dysfunctions, whether that’s we respond at a ridiculous rate or we can have a love for a wide range of different clients. We’ve been able to identify nine different things that identify our kind of crazy, our dysfunction, and then go find people who fit that, so that when they walk in, they say, “Finally, someone who can spell Vanderbloemen. Finally, this is my people.” That’s a long-winded answer, but there you go.

Laura Zander:
I love that, William. The watershed moment for us a couple of years ago was when I finally quit trying to mold our business around. Well, that would come in that we just couldn’t quite fit. And I kept thinking it was my fault. And then I needed to figure out how to be different. And I finally just let go and surrendered and was like, “You know what, we are who we are. Either you’re going to fit or you’re not.”

We can’t quit trying to do all these gymnastics to bend to every person who is, as you said, a good decent human who might be smart and capable who walks in the door who doesn’t fit. We are who we are. We say we only hire broken people. If you’re not broken, don’t come work for us.

William Vanderbloemen:
I love it.

Laura Zander:
I am so broken, I cannot deal with a bunch of perfection around me. I just can’t.

William Vanderbloemen:
Jay, I totally agree with you about strategy and culture need to go together. But the mistake I made in hiring many times early on was to say, “Oh my gosh, they’re so talented and they want to work here. This is awesome. Their talent is so good.” To lay it over the metaphor, their strategy for business is so good, but they didn’t fit who we are, and I couldn’t make it work. I finally got to the place where—there are some exceptions to this—my general rule is, I can’t teach cultural fit, but I can teach strategic competency. I’ll take culture over competency almost every time, and that may get closer to the Drucker phrase that Loren mentioned earlier.

Jay Goltz:
Which Drucker phrase? I love Drucker, he’s one of the few guys I love.

William Vanderbloemen:
The line about culture.

Jay Goltz:
Seriously?

Loren Feldman:
Yeah. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Jay Goltz:
God, that is so, so disappointing. Okay, one more hero gone. He said some brilliant stuff. He has said, “You can’t look for opportunity and solve problems at the same time,” which means you better find out a way to fix your problems, because you can’t continue moving forward without it. I think he’s said some really smart stuff, other than that.

The people who work for me are really into what they do. I need people who identify something who are really into it—not someone who will take any job because she figures it will maybe give her a better line on her resume.

We’ve gotten really, really good at hiring because, after enough conversation, you can figure out whether these people think like we think. That’s my turnaround. My average person has been here 10 and a half years. It’s because of the hiring process for sure.

Loren Feldman:
William, I’d like to go back to something you said. You gave the example where you told the story of feeling at home because someone knew how to spell Vanderbloemen. When you think about the fit in those terms, it seems as if it would be easy to end up in a situation where you are hiring people who mostly look like you. How do you avoid that? How do you spot fit while also looking for diversity?

William Vanderbloemen:
That’s a great question. I started the company on a card table. We started adding people. All of a sudden, we’re winning culture awards when we had named our cultural values and gone through a process, but we never really studied it, then got asked to write a book about it. I went and said, “Well, this doesn’t help me because I’m just a preacher with a religion and philosophy degree.”

We went and interviewed 150 CEOs of companies that were winning Best Places to Work, Top Company Culture, defined the common threads, and one of the common threads that I heard is this two-layered approach. One, we need to be a healthy place to work. But then secondly, we have to do the hard work of discovering why we all fit together. That’s where I got to this question: when we’re functioning at our very best, what do we do that’s common to us, but uncommon to other teams around us? Once we started to get clear on that—and I heard it over and over and over from huge organizations to small startups that have gotten Best Place to Work—we figured out what we as a family do together that might be weird for others. Once that got named for us, we were able to interview around it. A great example: one of our values is ridiculous responsiveness.

There’s a long story behind that. Basically, I’m a little OCD about getting back to people, and that birthed a team that carries that same value. We generally get back to people within 60 seconds of them reaching out to us. That’s kind of crazy. I mean, there are a lot of smart people who just don’t do that. That doesn’t make them abnormal. Once we had that figured out, we could start interviewing to see if someone innately behaved the same way we do.

Loren Feldman:
Do you have a test?

William Vanderbloemen:
Oh, yeah. I’ve got to find a new one because I’ve told the story, but, we bring Loren in for an interview because he wants to come work with us, and it’s great. You fly all the way back to Newark and you take the train into Princeton and you finally get home and then you get a text from somebody you don’t recognize. It’s a text that says, “Hi, Loren. This is Jay. I work at Vanderbloemen. I was on the road today. I heard you in the office for an interview. Would love to connect with you some time.” If you don’t do anything, that’s fine. If you get back to Jay within 24 hours, that’s pretty awesome. The average response time for leads is 42 hours, which is insane.

Laura Zander:
Why would you not reply in two minutes and just be like, “Hey, hey.”

William Vanderbloemen:
Two minutes is too slow. But if Loren chooses to text right away and say, “Hey, I’m just getting home to my family. But let’s set up a time to talk next week,” and that’s that same night, wow.

Loren Feldman:
William, if you had just told me you wanted me to respond within 60 seconds, I would have done it. I didn’t know.

William Vanderbloemen:
Yeah, right. That’s like the lame interview question, “Tell me your greatest weakness.” No. Find ways to interview when you’re not supposed to be interviewing to see if people function and behave the same way you behave that’s weird to the rest of the world. That’s a whole step above, “Is this a healthy place to work?” and “Harvey’s just that way.” It’s a different way of thinking, but my study of the 150 companies showed me people are starting to say, “We’re all broken. But do we share the same kinds of brokenness so that when we work together, there’s a synergy that’s really amazing?”

Laura Zander:
Oh my god, that’s really smart. You should write a book.

Jay Goltz:
I’ll ask someone, “Why are you looking for a job?” They go, “It’s just time.” Really? What does that mean? I know you’ve been told not to say something, but there must be something about your job you don’t like, and I’d like to know. Because maybe I’m the same way here. It’ll save both of us a lot of time.

I had a woman tell me one time, “It’s just too corporate.” “Really? What does that mean?” “You’ve got to use a key card to get into the bathroom.” I figured out myself what the problem was. She was a graphic designer in a real estate firm, the only one, and she probably had 10 bosses throwing stuff on her desk all day long going, “No, no, no, this is more important than the other guy.” And I’m sure it was frustrating. If she would have simply said, “Frankly, I’m the only graphic designer there, I’ve got 10 bosses,” I would have accepted that. I would have liked her honesty, and I would hire her. Instead, I don’t want to hire her because I learned that if they’re not honest on the interview, they’re not going to be honest two months later, I found that people that do the phony interview don’t work out well here.

Loren Feldman:
Do any of you refer to your teams as “family?”

Jay Goltz:
Absolutely not. I’m not getting trapped into that. I think it’s like a family, but I believe that’s a very, very serious trap because you don’t fire your family members.

Laura Zander:
Yeah, but Jay, that sounds like you have a much different family background. See in our family, you do fire family members.

Loren Feldman:
I’ve fired a couple of cousins.

Jay Goltz:
I did too.

Laura Zander:
You don’t have to love them. You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to see them. You just have a biological connection to them.

Loren Feldman:
Laura, do you refer to your people as a “family”?

Laura Zander:
Informally, every once in a while. It’s not like it’s a term that we use. But I can’t say that I’ve never said that sometimes this is like family. Again, it’s okay, every once in a while we’re going to get into an argument. Every once in a while we’re not going to agree, but as long as we respect each other and care about each other, we can work through it. I also refer to it as a basketball team.

Loren Feldman:
William, how about you?

William Vanderbloemen:
It’s so interesting. I learned a new word a few years back. We do have a lot of millennials in the office, and I learned the word ”framily.” The friends and family sort of thing. I’m just learning from them, and one thing I’m learning is this generation—which now dominates the U.S. workforce—in general, they’re the first generation, the first people within sub-generations where it’s not really a cardinal goal to get married and have kids before you’re in your mid-30s. You’ve got a lot of people who are waiting longer to get married, waiting longer to have kids, so what does that mean? That means you’ve got a lot of people whose primary relationships are found in the workplace. That’s a whole different ball game.

This generation is going to come and go from jobs and careers like crazy, and to me, retention is going to be the competitive advantage for companies over the next 10 to 15 years as this generation saturates the workplace. Retention, to me, will depend largely on: is this a workplace and a group of people I want to spend most of my time with? Maybe you don’t call it “family,” but it’s different than the old-school “they just work here.” We call it “framily” and we’ve had to learn that that means there have to be boundaries, like it can’t get too fuzzy. There can be a whole lot of risk seeing your staff as family, but it’s certainly more familial.

Loren Feldman:
Including drawing a line when you have to draw a line. Do you feel like it gets in the way of that?

William Vanderbloemen:
Totally. We could spend hours parked on this, because I’ve learned so much the hard way. Well, yes, we’re all one big happy family until something gets weird. It’s hard. I totally hear where Jay’s coming from, but in my experience, I’ve had to change my leadership to not view people who work here as just people who work here and then go home to their family. Because a lot of times, they’re not going home to family.

Loren Feldman:
Laura, do you have anybody working for you, who if you had to do over again, you wouldn’t hire them?

Laura Zander:
Is this part gonna get edited out?

Loren Feldman:
No!

Laura Zander:
Perhaps. But let’s say 99% of the people that we have right now, for the very first time in 17 years, perhaps, are rock stars.

Loren Feldman:
Nobody has 99% rock stars.

Jay Goltz:
No, no.

Laura Zander:
No, but we’re good. I don’t think we have anybody…

Jay Goltz:
I have eights, nines, and tens working here. Tens are a fluke of nature. You’d be lucky if you ever get a few of them at one time. Nines, got lots of them, lots of eights. The ones that kill companies are the sixes. They’re not quite bad enough for anybody to fire, but they’re not good, and they’re costing the company and the other employees are covering for them. Those are the ones where we all roll our eyes and go, “Well, they’re trying hard. Oh, he’s been here a long time.” Those are the ones who kill companies.

I’m happy to say that out of 115 people, I’ve got eights, nines, and tens. I have a seven who’s been here a long time and sometimes it’s just not worth the grief. I finally figured out I don’t need to figure it out. I just know they shouldn’t work here.

Laura Zander:
To be fair, like all forms of happiness and peace, it is temporary.

Loren Feldman:
William, do you have any sixes or sevens?

William Vanderbloemen:
I don’t know that I’m as quick to grade, because it’s six or seven within what we’ve hired them to do. I’d say no, we don’t, not at the moment. It’s always a moving thing. The company moves and changes. Right now, there’s nobody on my team that I wouldn’t hire over. I might hire them for a different position than I have them in because I’ve had to move them into a place where they’re stronger, but right now, fortunately, we’re at a place where I’d hire them all over again.

Jay Goltz:
I had an interesting conversation when I joined a business group because, in my case, I never worked anywhere. I was just on my own trying to figure out the way the rest of the world works. Joining business groups was very eye opening. So I go to this business group, I’m probably 32, 34, something like that, and there’s a bunch of older guys in this group. I go there, and I’m really frustrated. I said, “I’ve got this problem. I’ve got this guy who’s been with me for 10 years, and he’s just losing it, and it’s killing me. I don’t know what to do.” I thought they’d all just go, “Jay, grow up, do what you gotta do.” And you know what they all did? They all roll their eyes and said, “Yeah, I’ve got one of those.”

It’s a problem. This wonderful family we want to have, “like a family.” We want to be nurturing. We want to be responsible. But the reality is, people can eventually get to a point where they can’t do the job, or maybe the job changed. It’s not pretty. I don’t have a quick and easy answer to that. Most companies—not most, every company—goes through that eventually. I don’t know how you can avoid it.

Loren Feldman:
Doug Tatum wrote a book called No Man’s Land. The whole notion of the book is that every company reaches a point where what’s worked for you so far, what got you to this point, stops working. You’ve grown to a point where you need better capabilities. Suddenly, somebody who may have been a very loyal employee for an extended period of time is in a role that they’re not prepared for.

Jay Goltz:
And can’t change or don’t want to change.

Loren Feldman:
Laura, William: have either of you dealt with that?

Laura Zander:
Absolutely. That’s the worst, at least that’s been the worst for me. Because, again, you sit there and you wonder, “What am I doing wrong?” Am I the one who’s not growing? Is it this person who’s not growing? Especially sometimes when they try really hard in this new role and it just doesn’t work. It’s horrible.

Jay Goltz:
That’s when you grow up and you realize it’s just not always pretty at work. You try to be fair, you try to be nice, you give severance pay, you try to figure out: is there somewhere else in the company you can do something? It’s just not always pretty.

William Vanderbloemen:
Try doing it and try doing it in church: “Well, Jesus never fired anybody.”

Loren Feldman:
So what do you do, William?

William Vanderbloemen:
I point them to the story where he did. He fired a fig tree and it was bad. But that’s a whole different…

Jay Goltz:
Can you send me a note on that so I can use that?

William Vanderbloemen:
Would love to. It’s terrible. What I am trying to do is keep a couple realities in front of our people. I keep our core values, our cultural values. Sometimes life shifts and cultural fit is seasonal. It’s not permanent. People change, their life circumstances change, and keeping the cultural values out there many times has saved our bacon on having to have hard conversations, but having something for a reason—the why behind the conversation. Another thing to try and do is to say, the organization changes, and hopefully, people who are listening today are in growing organizations. The hardest call I’ll get is from the pastor who says, “When we started this church together, Joe was awesome. Then when we got up to 200 a week in attendance, he was good. We’re headed toward 2,000. He’s not done anything wrong, what do I do?” That doesn’t have to be a church, it can be a business too.

I bought a copy of the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. I actually read it on Kindle, but I bought a hard copy just to keep in my office on my desk. It reminds me, and I hope it’s a visual reminder to everybody out there: just because we all fit together now doesn’t mean we’ll fit together in the future. Jay’s right—it’s just messy and then it’s time to put on the big boy, big girl pants and have hard conversations. It’s the worst, though. I don’t know a worse termination.

Jay Goltz:
The problem out there in the marketplace is when—like I said, I never worked anywhere, I thought it was just me—you read these books about these great companies. There’s nothing ugly in those companies. Everything’s always great! I’ve read some really popular books about famous companies, like Starbucks. It was a really interesting book. But apparently he’s never had to fire anybody because there wasn’t one episode in that entire book that talked about that awkward moment—nothing. Then you read all these other books and you think, “What am I doing wrong?” They don’t tell the truth.

Laura Zander:
That’s what it was like having a kid, and all you read are all these stories about how babies are so great and it’s so wonderful and magical to give birth. Yeah, no, it is not.

Jay Goltz:
One of the smartest things I did, is I had my management staff sit around one day. This was years ago. I said, “Let me ask you a question. Let’s think about this. How demanding do we want to be as a company?” Let’s say that at the number one scale is Mr. Rogers, and we’re just lovely to everybody and sweet and we go broke. Number 10, at the time, was GE. I don’t want to be GE where they just fire 20% of the people. We all agreed that we want it to be a seven and a half or an eight, and that we were probably a six and a half and we needed to toughen up a little bit.

A wonderful thing happened a couple of years later. I was talking about a particular employee problem and I finally said to one of the managers, “I think we’ve got to give them a little room on this, blah blah blah,” and she turned to me and she said, “You know why? Because we’re an eight, not a ten.” And it just made me feel good all over because she heard me. That’s exactly the point. The fact that she was able to articulate that from something I told her a couple of years later, I felt great.

Loren Feldman:
One thing that has changed in recent years is that there’s now kind of a measure of your culture that’s available to the public. People can go on Glassdoor now and read comments about your business. I’m curious how seriously you take that. Do you pay attention to what people are writing about you on Glassdoor? Do you try to manage what they’re writing about you? How do you think about it? Laura, how about you?

Laura Zander:
I don’t go on there. I do have our staff go look at it, so that’s not fair.

Loren Feldman:
You’re afraid to look?

Laura Zander:
Yeah, absolutely. I’m too fragile. A lot of times, the negative comments that are on there are things that I know. What I’ve noticed is, the only people who put stuff up are the people where it did not end well, or in many cases, it’s the scenario that we had just talked about before where it was somebody who couldn’t grow with the company. It’s just messy. We should probably work a little harder on that, but we don’t.

Loren Feldman:
How about you, William?

William Vanderbloemen:
We do. I try not to let it monopolize my energy. It’s kind of like: do you really pick your restaurant based on Yelp reviews?

Loren Feldman:
Nobody would advise a restaurant to completely fake positive reviews. But smart people do advise restaurant owners to encourage their customers to write a review.

Laura Zander:
Was it Amazon that got in trouble recently for all the fake reviews that are on the site and people gaming all the products? Being in retail, that’s kind of the area that I look at. You just can’t trust the information, at least from my perspective, it starts to lose its value when you can’t tell if it’s been gamed or not been gamed. All of a sudden, at some point, it’ll become useless.

Jay Goltz:
Maybe this is the difference between my age and the other people’s age. At some point, you just say to yourself, “Enough already, it is what it is.” You could make yourself nuts. Someone’s going to get mad at you about something and that’s just the way it is and you’d better get a thicker skin, because if you’re naive enough to think you’re going to make everybody happy, and then when you fire people, they’re going to thank you for giving them an opportunity to find a different job, you’re crazy.

It starts with: do you think you’re going to hire perfectly? No. Are you going to have some people who you’re going to have to eventually fire? Yes. Are they going to be happy with you? No. Are they going to go on Glassdoor? Quite possibly. Are they going to say nice things about you? No. It is what it is. And there’s only so much you can do.

Loren Feldman:
On that note, thank you all. I thought this was a really good conversation.