Las Vegas 2019

The Shift: Creating a Culture of High Performance

Presentation by Dr. Andre Martin.


Dr. Andre Martin

VP, People Development, Google



I've known this next speaker, uh, for years, uh, I met Dr. Andre Martin when he was a chief learning officer at Nike, where he served for four years. And I was very excited when he, uh, later took the role of chief learning officer at target. I had so many questions for him, such as why would organizations create a senior position to create a learning dynamic? How do executives view employee engagement and how do we as a technology community leverage these values, uh, Dr. Andre Martin has spent his career exploring these issues, including getting his PhD in organizational psychology. Uh, just a bit of trivia for you. For those of you, uh, familiar with state of dev ops, the employee net promoter score after came from a suggestion from Dr. Martin, which, uh, Dr. , uh, was a wildly enthused about and integrated into the survey. So I'm very excited to learn about his latest role. He's now VP of people dev at Google, where he leads a global team committed to helping Google unleash the full potential of Google loos worldwide. So please welcome Dr. Andre Martin to share is with this community, what he's learned and give us some advice.


Good evening, everybody. How are we doing tonight? So I've had a lot of spots and a lot of conferences I've been in the morning. I've been right before lunch. When all people want to do is eat. I've been right after lunch. When all you want to do is sleep. I have never stood between an audience and a unicorn party in my life. So it's a new experience for me. So I think my job is, is to make this time go by as fast as I possibly can so we can go, I'll go, I'll see what a unicorn party is all about. So my hope is to do just that and to do that through a topic that has been near and dear to my heart since the beginning of my 2020 year career. And if you think about where my career has led me, it's led me to a lot of fantastic brands at key moments in their growth trajectory, from Disney to Mars, to Nike, to target, to Google.


And it's really been all about this career. That's around a single question. How do you make sure that a company is as powerful as a brand? And how do you ensure that culture is a lever of growth and not the reason why your company doesn't exist? And so how many of you wonder why an HR guy like me as a dev ops conference? I I'd be asking that question. And in large part it's because every time I watch an earnings call and I watch everybody's every time I'm sitting with a CEO or I'm talking to an organizational leader, everybody is now a digital company. You make dog food, your digital company, you make tennis shoes, you're a digital company. And what that means to me is that we're at this really interesting intersection of culture where mainstream business finance strategy, marketing sales are now looking to are folks like yourself and saying, help me understand what's going on.


And you all are sitting over on the other side of business saying, I will help me get in the room and be a part of this conversation. And when it comes to culture, everybody has a role. How many of you work at a company that has more than one employee in it? Raise your hand. Good. How many of you lead a team? Raise your hand. Great. So that means that you all are creators of culture in your company. That doesn't happen on high. It's a big word. It's mysterious. A lot of us make a lot of assumptions about what it is and what it isn't. I hope to unpack that with you today. And it starts 20 years ago with a few brands that I was familiar with based on where I grew up. You may know all of these, except maybe the one on the bottom right-hand corner, which is Jones university, which believe it or not was the first online university in 1984. And they were an accredited college that took place completely on cable airwaves in the Western United States. I revered these companies. They had the best talent. They had huge market share. They had fanatical consumers and they had all the technology they needed to drive the next wave of business. You fast forward, 20 years later, and they're all gone.


Now, I look at that and I read the stories and I think about these companies. And it comes down to the reason that they lost their way is because they lost their culture. They lost sight of the original principles that they started their firms with. And they started to treat themselves as invincible. They started to treat themselves as if no real competitor can ever compete with us. And I worry that if we're not creators of culture every day, our firms are going to go under the same history. So question I sit with is how do leaders impact culture? It's a big topic and it's super hard. This is some McKinsey research that talks to CEOs around this idea of culture change. And they say 68% believe that their culture is a competitive advantage. And if you run down below that stat, they also believe 81% of an 81% of organizations believe that if they don't have a high-performance culture, they're doomed 76% of those same leaders.


Believe culture can be changed. 67% believe they have to change theirs. And the bottom right-hand is probably the most daunting statistic, which is only about 10% of firms succeed in sustaining or building a high performance culture over time. So this is a little sobering. I promise it's going to get more inspiring. And it starts with this question. Why do some teams stay at the top while others are one and done? Each of you are the CEO of your team. Each of you create culture in every single touch point interaction you have with your employees. Each of you talk about values, and then your employees are over here watching to see if those same values are in the very decisions you make on behalf of them. And if they're not guess what you start losing engagement. And so I want you to read the statement out loud. What is that? I couldn't hear ya. No, that's not what it says at all.


That's a cheap parlor, PowerPoint trick that emphasize a really important part about your role, which is past experience is going to be the biggest inhibitor to future growth. As human beings, our minds are created to shortcut information. We use our experience of the past to make decisions about the future. We use our experiences to define the moment that we're sitting in and in doing so, we likely are missing a lot. We're likely making faulty assumptions and we're likely making decisions about our teams, our company, and our areas of focus that aren't correct any longer. And I studied leadership for 20 years. And the next slide is the one that gets me really excited about being in an audience with each of you. Who's got a really big, booming voice. Anybody in the front of the room have a big booming voice. Raise your hand, come on. There's gotta be a volunteer. Otherwise I'm gonna have to make Jean do this Jean. All right, right here. What's your name, Chris. I want you to read this for me. He can do it. Give him a second. No, I'll start yet. The phenomenal power of the human mind.


Um, our mind, according to research at Cambridge university university, it doesn't matter in what order the letters in a word are. The only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not meet every letter by itself, but as a whole,


Let's give Chris a big round of applause.


Here's what that is a story and a metaphor for it's. What great leaders do every day is they make sense of nonsense. They pay attention to weak signals that are surrounding them, and they use those weak signals to find the better argument and the better decision for their companies. And that's what I believe each of you are having to every day, as you try to lead this transformation and it drive and win in this digital disruption and actually build these highly engaged, high performing teams that our companies are dependent on. And so if culture is the only real job that a leader has question, you're probably sitting with, okay, great, really cool, really fun, PowerPoint tricks. Give me something I can use. And so I want to, but I want to start here behind me are some of arguably the most powerful brands in the world today.


They also happen to be companies who are revered for their workplaces and their cultures. And each one of them in the last five or six years has seen that growth puts pressure on culture. Each one of them has faced an issue, some really big on the front pages of the New York times and some really small that never make the news. But the fact is every one of those CEOs, every one of those heads of HR, your CTO is, would say the same thing. It is really hard to hang on to the core of who you are at the brake net pace we're leading in. I'll give you an example. The CEO of REI went on a popular, uh, piece of technology called Reddit in 2015, right before Thanksgiving. And he went on because they were making the decision to close a shop on Thanksgiving because part of their values and principles is that people should be with their families and outside and not shopping.


So he goes on Reddit, right? He's going on to be a hero. He's going on to talk about how great this decision is and put everyone on notice that they're not going to be a part of this crazy that it is black Friday. He gets on Reddit and sure enough, the first few sort of highly voted streams of questions are about man. You're awesome. How'd you make that decision. It's amazing that you're setting the tone for all the other retailers in the world. And then by about the fifth or sixth feed, the things that started to get up voted were about employees saying, Hey, Jerry, we used to be a company that cared about our employees. I don't feel that anymore. We used to be a company that believed it was all about a great consumer experience. It feels like all I need to do is sell memberships and for the next 50 or so maybe a hundred, it was employees who were disgruntled and upset and frustrated.


And they were taken to the public airwaves to tell their story. And I sit there, I work with these leaders and I have empathy for them. And I think, man, what happened in all the moments before that Jerry had so little awareness of where employees were, what they needed and how they felt, and he's not alone. And so when you think about culture and this is the only Hetty academic slide you're ever going to see me put on a screen, there's a few terms that matter. The first one is what culture is. Culture is actually aspiration. It is the things we say. We value the expectations we set and the environment we hope for every single day, right? That's what you see on your walls and in your culture pamphlets and your onboarding. It's very different from climate climate is the environment. The felt experience that your team members have every day.


And if those two things align, guess what you get, you get high engagement, you get super committed employees who are going to put discretionary effort and energy towards your business, towards your consumer, towards your productivity and towards your innovation pipeline. Now, if you claim to be this great innovative company, who's all about these values of collaboration and care. And then all of a sudden you're in a team and the dark basement of the last corner of the final building of the company. And you've got a manager who's just barking orders every day, telling you what to do, how to do that. Never letting you leave. What you get is dissonance. You get this promise of the organization and this felt experience it's down here. And you know, what happens? Engagement gets eroded really tremendous talent. Find themselves in a place of being burnout, of being actively disengaged and actually putting their discretionary effort towards shopping for the next pair of hiking shoes on our website.


And this is real. I see this in every company I've ever worked in. And so the secret is as a leader is to go, Hey, culture, doesn't come on high. It's not about my CEO espousing values. It's about the choices that I make and how I run my team every day. And whether or not those things actually line up, there's no right or wrong. There's no right or wrong culture. I've got law firms, the most successful litigators in the world in New York city, who will tell you their employee brand is get a sleeping bag. Cause you're never leaving. And they get thousands of the best litigators every year wanting to come to their company because you work with the best in the best cases in a flat organization. And you will walk out of there. One of the world's best litigators, and they're honest about who they are.


And they back that up in the felt experience every day. Just make sense. It's not a unicorn party, but is that interesting to you? All right. All right. So let's talk about engagement just for a second. And this is the part. If you take nothing else out of this talk, this is going to help save your marriage. So 20 years ago, this guy, John Gottman and his wife, they started to look at what I think is the fundamental attribute of engagement, because engagement is nothing more than relationship, right? You are increasing and decreasing your team's engagement every single day in every moment you have with them. Scary, right? That puts a lot of pressure on leadership, but you know what? You got the job you're getting paid the money. So good luck. What they were studying was what is the smallest unit of currency in a relationship.


And so they did some fascinating things. They ran what was called the love lab. They ran the slab. That was basically, you think it was an apartment. And the whole one side of it was a see-through mirror, two way mirror. And they ask couples to come in and they said, we're studying American life in the U S today, come in and just spend a day in this apartment, doing the things you'd normally do, have coffee, eat a meal, watch TV. Um, and we just want to see what patterns exist. What they were really studying is the relationship between those two individuals. And what they found is the smallest unit was a bid that actually were bidding with each other, like 10, 20, 30, 50 times a minute. And there's three types of bids. There's the bid towards, which is nodding, giving someone a compliment, summarizing what they said, responding to their joke. There's the bid against, which is that relationship that you see, people have some times where it's like, you say laughed. I say right, but it seems to work really well for them, right? It's the argument that you're having. And then there's the bid away. And that's the one where I ignore you. You're talking to me, I'm reading the paper, I'm making a presentation. You're on your computer.


We're sitting. I asked you a question and all I hear in return is silence. And what they found is that they could, with 90% accuracy of the people that came in the lab tell you if you're gonna be married seven years later. And what they found is that healthy couples bid toward each other 83% of the time, couples headed for divorce did it about 30%, 33% of the time. So the takeaway is pay attention to the bids, your teams, they're bidding for your attention every single day. How much are you giving them? Your partner, your wife, your best friend is bidding for your attention. What kind of bid are you giving them? You know what the most detrimental one of all is? What do you think the big towards the bid against or the bid away? It's the bid away? Because actually the message you're giving me is that I don't exist, which is like the worst fear all of us have, right?


That I'm not relevant in the world. That I'm a part of. And so study this it's super core research. They're actually marriage counselors. So if you're working on your marriage and go see them in California, I've never been, but I'm sure they can, uh, set you straight or tell you to take a different path. Um, this is the other piece of data. That's really fascinating. So I'm a geek for growth companies and I know growth puts pressure on culture. And these are eight signals that if you're seeing in your team or your company, you can almost be sure that unless you take it seriously, your culture's going to be in trouble. Any of these look familiar in the companies you live and work in today. Yeah. We all should have them successful companies do, right? The things that you see, things like I walk around in the world today and I ask people how you are doing.


And you know what? The number one answer I get it's busy. Busy is the answer of the unstrategic. It just is right. I'm busy because you know what? I got all these things to do and I can't make a choice and nobody's helping me. The other answer I hear is fine and finds the answer. They actively disengaged. Nobody's fine. You're not fine. You're usually either really angry, really upset, really sad or super excited to be here. So when someone says, find you I'd ask them the next question, cause they're probably not really being honest about where they stand. And so I want to unpack a couple of these in 11 minutes. So you can get on your way, uh, with some stories of leaders who are doing some really fascinating things with them. First one is invoke your history. I see this in so many companies, I work with you go to a new company and the first piece of advice you give new talent that you're paying a lot of money for is just sit still and listen, we're different.


That's invoking history, right? You hired them because you don't like where you are today. And so let them loose on your company, right? Onboarding should be about us getting to know them. Not only them getting to know us, you open that door, they get that seat. You should listen to them in a full attention. And with all that you have, because they're going to bring you really good information. But we use history to keep ourselves in place. We've tried that idea. It doesn't work here. How many of you have ever said that to somebody ideas have their time? Just because it didn't work once doesn't mean it's not going to be tomorrow. And so when you think invoking history, there's a young man that I've known for about 15 years. His name is Alex Velez. I met Alex when he was a junior at Berkeley and he does things that the normal college junior would never do, which is he attended some optional lectures during his day.


One of them, he went to was a geology professor who was giving a talk about how you can grow high quality, organic vegetables out of waste. And so him and his buddy, Nick went to this lecture cause they're overachievers. And they sat there and they listened. They were curious. And then they did something that was really remarkable is they walked out of that room instead of saying hi, that was cool. They went back to the fraternity house. They got these huge drums. They went around and got all the coffee grounds from all the coffee houses. And they started grow porcini mushrooms in their basement, the fraternity house. Now lo and behold, the president of Berkeley finds out that two frat brothers are growing mushrooms in their basement. And what do you think happens next? He comes down probably with security and it's like, what is going on?


And these guys tell them the story. And he literally sort of funds them and helps them get started. And what's become one of the most successful social entrepreneurial firms in the world. And these guys are to the top 25 leaders of the movement. It's called back to the roots ventures you've ever been in whole foods. They're the guys that do the mushroom kits. What I love about Alex in terms of history is he calls me probably once a month asking for advice. Even now the guy has made it. He's a great business mind. And he reaches out and he calls. He's like Andre, Hey, we're potentially looking at a merger and acquisition helped me understand how to do that. And I'm like, Alex, I don't know if you know, but I'm an HR guy. Like what do I know? And he was like, I know, but I trust your brain. And he calls everybody all the time. And so don't evoke history, right? Think about the idea of shortcutting your own ice cream is good schemas and experience with new talent. Second was keep people busy. I already talked about this when leaders fill free time and free time is where creativity and innovation rests. And so I encourage you to just think about how much of what you give your people is actually just exporting stress.


Cause you should be importing stress, exporting civility. And if we're not strategic and we don't make choices, man, I mean, we're just making impossible to participate in strategy, right? Because our lives are full. And I bet there's a number of you sitting here right now on your computers, trying to catch up on work. That's the kind of where we live in. And it's up to leaders to say, Hey, you know what? Fewer things done better is actually going to be a higher value even though it's counterintuitive. And so this is another leader I like Ricardo similar took over his father's business. He was 26. He fired the entire management team, 97% of managers. And what he was seeing was exactly. I was talking about people were busy. They were making their own choices. They weren't moving a singular direction. And so he wanted to build a company about accountability.


And so what he did was basically said, I value accountability and it is going to permeate every single area of this business. And so from onboarding to the way that people are reviewed on performance to the way that they do to development all the way to what a person makes, he was trying to build ownership. So everybody participated in strategy and made the right best choice for the business. And so the example I'll use there is as people came into the company, they got to choose their own salary and I'm not kidding. He would give them the comp ratio to their peer set, internal to company. He would give them the external benchmark to the peer set outside the company. He would give them their job description and he would say, tell me what you're worth. And I will pay you guessed how many people he overpaid and his entire tenure of being CEO.


Cause he put people in the spot of being owners of the business. That they're a part of. It's fascinating, right? This idea that it's actually in all the touch points that you communicate values. It's not posting them on your walls. It's asking the question, the next touch point, does that reinforce the value set? I say, I want to live by or does it run against it? And it's from small moments like how you open the team meeting every morning to big ones. Like how you stand on these stages and talk about the future to every touch point that you have with your team members in between last one, lead with critique. You all are engineers and you're working in agile and you're doing operations and it's easy to get in place that everything comes to you. You have to pick it apart. It's easy leader.


Think that my job is to make the idea better by finding the things that are wrong with it, it hate your job. Your job is to instill a sense that I need more and better ideas every day. Your job is to teach people how to find and work through to the best possible solution to the better practice. And so one of the guys I love in this regard is, uh, is Tom Kelly from IDEO. Tom is a believer in creativity. You go to IDEO, famous product, designed for him out in Silicon valley. And, and what you find is that it just creativity is rampant, they're rampant. And so I remember seeing a young man interviewing at IDEO. Um, his name was Bo and I got it. You got to get this picture. Bo walks into the room. He has disheveled blonde hair, a dirty white t-shirt on wrinkle khakis mean he looks like he literally just got out of bed after being in for three days.


Right? And he sits down and he's got a projector in front of him. And he sits in this seat and he projects this film onto his chest. And he had done a stop motion, photography, uh, project of his entire life, who he was, where he came from, what he values, what he believes in his work experiences shot. This whole thing, played the video on his chest for about three and a half minutes, shut off the video. And they hired him without saying a word because they know that technical skill can be taught. And they know that if you find someone who has creativity, innovation, and talent, you don't let them go.


And that's the way that they run their hiring processes. They value a, they hired for it. You value accountability and ownership. You let people set their salaries. You care about curiosity. You call people who are ill informed about the subject and you ask them anyway, because someone's going to have a better idea than you do. And so in the last three minutes, here's what I would say. I would say more than anything, your job as a leader of your teams is to set the rules for recess. Scott stook, buddy of mine at west point does a leadership course. The capstone project is to have west point cadets create the rules for recess. So you can imagine how this goes, right? These cadets type, a personalities buttoned up, believe that you can design everything and every moment and get the best result they design recess. They set the kids up tallest to shortest, right?


Scott's like, yeah, I love this idea. This is going to be great. So then we're going to bring them out on the, on the field. We're going to number them one to six, where we put them in six different groups and each group is going to have an assigned activity. We're gonna let them do it for two minutes and then we're going to switch. And then they're going to walk out. We're going to blow the final whistle. They're gonna come back in line and they're going to tell us how recess went, what they learned, then they're going to go in. And so for those of you from international audience, recess is like the break in American schools. So Scott's like, that's an awesome idea. You're brilliant. Let's go do it. So he takes them out to the play yard. And he says in about it like four minutes, the Bell's gonna ring and you all are on.


So the bell rings. What do you think happens? I'm in chaos, the kids come flying out. They're blown whistles. Those kids are blown by them. They're climbing over fence. They're kicking, they're screaming. They're hitting their run-up muck. These guys, 15 minutes feels like six days. Right? And they bite them. Whistle blows. The kids find their way in. And the cadets come and they're disheveled and their hats are missing and their whites are dirty. And they're all like, Scott's like, how'd that go? And the guys were like, what happened? And he's like, I don't know. Why don't you watch the teachers do it. So bell rings again. Teachers come out first or stamped the kids go by the teachers. And it's an entirely different thing, entirely different thing. They're like, self-organizing, they're having a good time. No, one's doing anything. And the teachers are just standing there. And so they come over at the end and the cadets were like, what gives this is a setup. Like if we've been punked and she's like, no, we set the rules for recess everyday before we walk out and they're simple and there's only three. First one is no one runs in the parking lot. Second one is nobody climbs the fence. Third one is, do not hit kick, pinch, slap or bite anybody.


Other than that, you're on your own. And I use that metaphor to kind of say, sometimes we like to over organize the lives of our employees. Sometimes we like to be parents instead of leaders. And if you just take that metaphor and you think what's the fewest number of rules you can set to get the highest level of engagement, empowerment out of your team, you're going to be okay. And so the end is my ask. First one is as a leader, be mindful of the climate that you're creating and whether or not that aligns to the culture that you want. You are in control of more than, you know, as a leader. Secondly, is a talent. Use your voice, your organizations give you chances to tell them how we're doing. Don't let those weak signals stand. Use your voice when asked and don't complain and moan and, you know, be a thorn in the side of your leaders offer better solutions in the last minute, as least as a community, have more conversations like this one, like you are on the cusp of being a really, really central part of the future of business and to be at your best to get the kind of innovation we're going to need in technology to run our companies.


We're going to have to have more conversations about the, how about culture, about high performing teams engagement and how do you keep employees and great talent from finding a different place to work. And so I just encourage you to have more of these conversations, um, to give yourself grace, to just try to be 10% better, right. And just know that for all the stuff that you do all my 20 years in leadership, we're all super imperfect. There's no best leader, but if you align the way you lead to the values that you subscribed to in life, you're going to be okay. And so are your teams. So with that, how about I invite, uh, the man back up here on stage to close us out and get us that unicorn party. Thank you for your time. .