Workplace guru: ‘To get people to *behave* the way you want, you need to get them to *think* how you want’.

One-on-one with the world’s top culture coach // Also: Silent meetings // the right way to do layoffs

Listen to the world’s most sought after culture doctor: Frances Frei is the Red Adair of work culture problems. If something goes wrong at WeWork, Uber or Riot Games there’s one name you call… You’ll be enthralled with the brilliant, thoughtful interview she gives on Eat Sleep Work Repeat. If you’re interested in workplace culture, Frei is the person to listen to:

Frances and her wife are the authors of a brand new book called Unleashed which recounts their experiences fixing Uber, WeWork and more. My initial take with the book was that I didn’t think there was any great revelations in it, but having had such a thoughtful chat with Frances I suspect that was because I hadn’t reflected on the approach.

There’s a line from former MIT professor Edgar H Schein in the book that culture consists of artefacts, behaviours and shared basic assumptions. Frei quotes his thinking, concluding that ‘to get people to behave reliably the way you want - even in your absence - you need to get them to think how you want’. This seemed like a massive insight. Maybe (for bad) it’s why some firms seem so cult-like. To make culture work we need to get everyone to think like the culture. (It also poses a question, is it healthy? It’s reminiscent of Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field)

Schein said: “the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture”.

The book has lots of clear advice of how firms should re-engineer broken culture. I was particularly impressed with the socratic approach that Frei takes, asking lots of questions. She describes how her approach is to diagnose a company’s problems while ostensibly teaching them leadership and management skills. While they’re learning she observes how they talk about each other, how they interact.

She gives some questions that anyone should be asking their team members:

“How well do you think our culture sets up people for success? Are there ways that it also undermines our effectiveness?”

“Have any of our values or commitments to each other become empty or weaponised”

“How aligned is our culture with the current opportunities and challenges?”

“What do we need to change culturally to achieve our most ambitious goals”

There’s also an intriguing exit interview question:

“As someone who cares deeply about the culture here, is there anything you think I should know about your experience or the experiences of other people?”

Not only was Frei a well regarded business professor at Harvard but her experience of talking to thousands of workers at crisis stricken cultures (like the aforementioned Uber and Riot) has given her a clear take on diagnosing and fixing broken systems.

What you’ll also learn:

  • could Uber have kept Travis Kalanick and solved their problems?

  • what’s horrifically wrong with 360 appraisals?

  • can anyone be the agent for change in culture?

  • her feeling on the importance of purpose

Listen now.


A few months ago I did an episode about silent meetings…

Here's an example of the feedback I often get. This one a LinkedIn message from this week.

Here's the episode. And pay it forwards… tell me how you get on please! (and tag @gasca the genius behind it).


READ: I wrote something about being classy in the way we do layoffs is the right thing to do.

LISTEN: Matthew Syed talks about the importance of diverse thought in teams.

ALSO: not helpful right now, but noise is a killer of productivity, also FYI listening to music while you work makes you less creative.