Paul Herrerias recently interviewed Josh Fryday, President of Golden State Opportunity, on the topic of managing culture. Josh has created three organizations, and recently added a local town mayoral role to his credentials. His work experience managing culture has been greenfield, where he created organizations from scratch and thus was free to create the culture he desired and envisioned. Conversely, as mayor, he inherited a culture, which is very different. Noteworthy, his leadership experience spans state, regional, and nationwide organizations.
PAUL: Let’s start by defining culture…it is like air in its intangibility. Good air is needed by us all, and yet we don’t’ see it, and often don’t notice it until it gets stale. How do you, as the leader, define culture?
JOSH: “I define culture as the environment within which individual behaviors act.”
PAUL: Before I ask for your advice on building cultures to support successful organizations, first tell me a little about where your learned about various cultures and their impact on teammates and organizational success?
JOSH: “I took my cues on culture from my communities growing up (my family moved 17 times by the time I went to college), from my schools, including college and law school, from my experience with the NAVY Judge Advocate General’s corps (JAG), and from studying other successful leaders in government and business. I then led NextGen Climate on a national level, created a state-wide organization called Golden State Opportunity, and also serve as Town Councilmember and recently as mayor for municipality”
PAUL: “There are few global, definitive answers to culture, though when asked everyone has an opinion about what works and doesn’t work. Josh, looking back at the organizations you built from scratch, what were the important principals you followed to build the most effective culture?”
JOSH: Here are my learnings on how to lead culture:
- Have a clear vision. In the Navy we were very clear within our JAG department what we were trying to accomplish: Prosecute or Defend members of the Navy. We were very effective, except when personnel were not fully engaged in the mission, such as during off-duty time. At NextGen Climate, we started with a clear mission, including time-bound quantifiable goals for new legislation or desired outcomes of elections. The challenge came after we achieved those short-term goals on election day and had to reset goals without the benefit of a new specific election date. Without that sense of urgency, we had to learn a new way to set goals that focused us on our mission. Operating without goals allows for internal turmoil, distractions, and conflict. When you have all this top talent and energy, we must keep it directed in a productive direction. Thus, we had to reset goals to maintain focus, support positive relations internally, emphasize purpose, and maintain momentum toward our mission. Governments are challenged now with question: What is the role of government? Change the economy? world? culture? This lack of mission and vision focus is causing a lot of the turmoil we are experiencing at all levels of government. Businesses have the same challenge to stay focused on organizational mission and vision.
- Make sure everyone in the organization feels valued and needed. Dali Lama wrote an article before Trump was elected: Why are the two most financially successful governments in the history of the world (USA and England) experiencing so much anxiety? He believes that people want to be needed, respected, and valued, yet many individuals are feeling superfluous, which leads to negative feelings, and then bad behavior. Conversely, in the Navy every person knows their role and its impact on the mission. Are you chipping paint on the carrier? Then you are critical to keeping the ship afloat. Are you a cook in kitchen? Then you are feeding the General, so he can help us win the war. Everyone is needed and valued.
- Recognize collective accomplishments. A goal is not accomplished through one individual’s effort. Instead, goals are achieved through the collective work of the team and the organization. Set team goals, hold the team accountable, support the team, and celebrate team successes. Again, in the military, unit-wide or team awards are prized higher by the enlisted men than individual recognition or medals. Teamwork dedicated to pursuing the mission drives away many bad habits and individual behaviors that weaken the culture and the organization.
- Set up mechanisms for sharing information…quickly. To win as an organization, and a team, information must be shared efficiently, effectively, and on a timely basis. Access to needed information builds trust, supports better quality decision making, saves resources, increases learning, and increases the chances for success. So, what are the alternatives? Siloed organizations.
PAUL: When everyone knows the mission, the team and individual goals, and feels empowered and critical in their roles, the next thing to happen is disappointment when the boss doesn’t listen to them or let them try something new. How do you deal with this human-systems disconnect?
JOSH: Yes, this brings up a couple extra points about building culture, which I’ve learned along the way:
1.Support and encourage risk taking. In healthy environments risk taking is tolerated…and even encouraged. Learning together yields stronger cultures and organizations. Conversely, Intolerance disincentives taking risks. Fear of a boss’ negative reaction can become a clearer focus than the team mission. The Military does everything it can to mitigate this risk. For example, we had to write an AAR- After Action Report, after EVERY outing. What worked? What didn’t work? What did I learn from it. We had a monthly award for those who took the biggest risk to be adaptive, creative, or take initiative…yet didn’t endanger the mission. Leaders must manage the RISK. In the office we commonly manage risk through the budgeting process, empowering to the extent each person can be successful given their experience, scope, information, and role.
2.Be willing to change and adapt. Keep the Mission within the context of the Vision and the Values of the organization, which means sometimes we have to be willing to change with the times, events, and circumstance. A mission lives because of the overarching Vision that brought us together and is pursued in alignment with the Values of the organization. Keep the Vision alive and adjust the Mission as needed. Lead the culture in such a way that members of the organization are clear on the Values and are living them. Model the way and showcase the right values being exercised by teammates, highlight them as examples, as reinforcement.
Thank you, Josh Fryday, for sharing you experience and learnings from the battlefields of life and organizational leadership!