Featured Guest: Josh Levine
For more than 15 years Josh Levine has built culture-driven brands that empower employees and engage customers. His passion for culture flows through all of his ventures: consulting with purpose-driven organizations; redefining the future of work as co-founder of CultureLabX; and in conversation with MBA students as an instructor at California College of the Arts. Josh writes for Forbes.com. His recent book Great Mondays was selected as one of BookAuthority’s best culture books of all time.
Josh is also a frequent contributor to conferences as well as publications including Fast Company, The Design Management Journal, and 99u Magazine. He holds a BS in Engineering Psychology from Tufts, and BFA in design from the Academy of Art University. His book Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employees Love will be published in 2018 with McGraw-Hill Education.
David Reiling is an innovative social entrepreneur focused on empowering individuals through community banking and financial technology. David is the Chief Executive Officer of Sunrise Banks and has been in the community development banking industry for more than 25 years.
[00:00:00] Josh Levine: I believe culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that improves the bottom line of the business, the output for the customer and the employee.
[00:00:15] David Reiling: Welcome to the NextGen Banker podcast, where we explore what’s next in banking and talk with the innovators responsible for creating positive change in the financial sector.
[00:00:25] David Reiling: I am your host, David Reiling. I am very excited to welcome Josh Levine to the podcast today. Josh. Great to see you.
[00:00:31] Josh Levine: Thanks. Appreciate being invited on.
[00:00:34] David Reiling: Yeah. So just a quick reminder for our audience to stick around at the end of this episode each NextGen Banker episode showcases one new artist from somewhere around the globe representing a wide range of genres.
[00:00:47] David Reiling: So, check it out. It’s a lot of fun and Josh so great to be with you. For our audience, I’ll give a little background. You are an educator, a designer, a consultant, a bestselling author the founder of Great Mondays, a culture design company, focused on helping business leaders, build culture driven brands.
[00:01:06] David Reiling: You wrote a book you’re an author. Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employee Love and looks like an adjunct professor at California College of the Arts. So, lot on your plate.
[00:01:18] Josh Levine: That’s right.
[00:01:19] David Reiling: All around culture, I imagine. And so, I have to tell you, I I’m getting back out on the road to different conferences and so forth and culture culture, culture, culture, the conversation around culture is coming up everywhere. So, let’s start Josh with just maybe a little level set. What is culture? Give us some insight.
[00:01:41] Josh Levine: Yeah. Great question. And that was the question. When I first get started getting into this about 15 years ago. I also had the same question.
[00:01:48] Josh Levine: I’m like, I think this is important, but what is it? And I think there’s a lot of definitions that are kind of floating around. But the one that I landed on was that the cause and effect of every decision that we make the cause and effect of every, and, and this is, you know, this is about companies. So, we’re thinking about organizations and how people make decisions, how they’re influenced in making decisions and how their decisions influence others. And I think the most important element of this is that it’s a it’s systemic, right. It’s self-reinforcing. And that to me is, is why that became kind of my go-to definition.
[00:02:30] David Reiling: Got it. Very cool. I see, and I interpret that to mean like every action I take as a CEO, every decision that I make has ripple effects across the organization. It is where my values, if you will, come to life. And if I’m some even Contra a little bit to what my proclaimed values are. That is. That is evident. So, it’s, it’s walking the talk of decision making, what you stand for, kind of constantly that cause and effect.
[00:03:00] David Reiling: So that is very cool. Now tell me a little bit about your company. Great Mondays and, and how you work to build a great culture within an organization. I, I, I think I get this question a lot and people are like, well, what’s the secret sauce? Do we throw a party? Do we go on a trip with our employees? It’s all about, you know, some swag or something, but it seems to be more than that.
[00:03:21] Josh Levine: It is definitely more than that. The way that we think about culture, and this is this is really how I’ve outlined my book is in six parts. There’s six components and little they’re what I think about is little levers or footholds for thinking about how to influence culture and these six parts are broken up into what I would say, two phases.
[00:03:42] Josh Levine: One is the design phase. So that’s the first part. So, establishing where on the map you want to go is really the kind of the intent. And then the second half is the activation of it just because we proclaim that’s where we want to go, that’s how we want to act, doesn’t mean that people are gonna do it. As a matter of fact, I almost guarantee by just saying it, it doesn’t make a lick of difference. And that’s what we think about. And those are the two phases. So, do you know where you want to go? Do you know what it looks like? And once you do, how do you get there?
[00:04:14] Josh Levine: So, I’ll quickly go through the six components. The first three, which are in the design phase are a purpose, values and behaviors, purpose, values, and behaviors. So, purpose is why you’re in business beyond making money or personally, why you show up to work? Why do you get up every day? Why do you do what you do?
[00:04:32] Josh Levine: That is the peak of the mountain. It’s something that should be inspirational and aspirational and something that should really almost be something that you could never really achieve. It’s like, it’s, it’s, that’s how big it is. It’s so important. So, the, the, you know, some examples that I would say from kind of the retail sector, there’s the Ikea, you know, it’s improving the, the daily, the, the daily lives of every person.
[00:05:01] Josh Levine: And so, you think about per what does it mean? It’s like, Ikea is about these really affordable, you know, pieces of furnishings and like, how do we get this to people? And you can kind of see, or like, okay, I can understand how that is. And the, that, that’s the kind of thing that we’re looking for.
[00:05:18] Josh Levine: There’s one from Starbucks. I’m gonna see if I can get this right. So, Starbucks is improving people’s lives one cup, one person, one neighborhood at a time. And whether you know, think that they’re actually doing that or not, that’s the second half. I’m not gonna say whether that’s actually happening, but you can imagine it’s like, okay, great.
[00:05:37] Josh Levine: It’s about interactions is about me as a person, as a, as someone who works there and is about obviously inspiring people, as you know, a cup of coffee is inspirational in some ways, right? And then they also have this aspiration of improving the communities that they go into. So those are examples of, of, of purpose statements.
[00:05:54] Josh Levine: Think about it as the peak of the mountain. The next are values. These are how we actually do it. So, we can’t just say there’s the peak go for it because you might hit the crevice or you might cheat and get in the gondola. What you want is to describe a general path forward. How do we get there? Values are the three to five most important things that we’re working on in the organization.
[00:06:16] Josh Levine: And that is, that is critical because it provides, it establishes expectations around, around behaviors, remember behaviors and decisions. That’s what we’re talking about. that enable people to go, oh, I understand. This is what I should be doing. Or a manager can go, hey, listen, you didn’t, this didn’t work out, this isn’t what you’re doing here is not aligned with one of our values.
[00:06:43] Josh Levine: And then of course the third one behaviors. That’s why we’re talking about this. This is about decisions. That’s why every article about I don’t know a choice that that was made or a failing of an organization is like, this is a culture problem because it’s repeated choices that in that case, in those cases are causing issues.
[00:07:06] Josh Levine: So that’s the first three purpose values and behaviors.
[00:07:11] David Reiling: So we got the first three. Yeah. What’s the next three?
[00:07:14] Josh Levine: So, the second three recognition rituals and cues. So, I’ll go through these one at a time. So, everybody knows about recognition and rewards programs. It’s something that has been around since the dawn of business, right?
[00:07:29] Josh Levine: So, what happens, what you’re supposed, what, what I believe and what we help our clients do is identify, recognize, and reward values, driven behaviors. What you want is you want to incentivize it’s, it’s a little bit of a longer circuitous route. So, if you want to crank up sales for the next quarter, my brother’s a sales guy he’s in sales.
[00:07:51] Josh Levine: So, I know exactly what he gets, right? Like big screen TV and the trip to Bahamas, like CR you know, sell more things. And you will get that in the next quarter, but it doesn’t, it doesn’t really last unless you keep selling those extrinsic motivators. And how do you do that? How do you go about actually what’s important is recognizing the values driven behaviors that drive the outcomes?
[00:08:20] Josh Levine: Rewards and recognition, powerful, powerful way to incentivize particular kinds of behaviors.
[00:08:27] David Reiling: Yeah. And so let me take you in a slightly different direction, but still as we think about, we’ll talk about the great resignation in a second. I wanna get your interpretation of that. But the, the role that culture plays in attracting and retaining employees. In today, people say that, you know, that company has a great culture, and they refer their friends and so forth. Is culture that powerful sphere like gravity, that’s going to keep and, and retain people and bring ’em into your organization.
[00:08:59] Josh Levine: Yeah. Yeah, it certainly can be. I mean, if, if, if you are, if for, for me the intent of culture and the reason why I am so passionate about this, right.
[00:09:09] Josh Levine: Why I do all those things is because I believe culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that improves the bottom of, out of the business, the output for the customer and the employee. And that’s the key, those people, if you are able to invest in and allow for those people to raise up their right, like, I don’t know, get self-actualized, but like become more filled with, with purpose and are able to align their own desires with the, with what you know, what the organization is and how that organization can help them. Then you’re gonna have more productivity, more engagement. You’re gonna be able to, you. Bring those people in because you are providing as an organization more than just money.
[00:10:02] Josh Levine: And if you’re just providing money or the benefits, well, then someone else can provide more. Hey, I have one more. Oh, I have another, I can give you one more dollar. Okay. I’m gonna go over there, but that’s not really what, the only thing that we want. If we cover the base, the bases, the bottom of the pyramid with just that, you know, it’s the cash and the benefits.
[00:10:23] Josh Levine: We can then move up to the next level and say, okay, now that you’ve got the basics taken care of, what else do you want? We wanna talk about relationships. We’re talking about the people at work that you actually form relationships with, and you can do that over, over the internet. Right?
[00:10:39] Josh Levine: That’s not that doesn’t, doesn’t matter. I mean, it helps to be in person. You have a sense of impact and affect, a sense of purpose. You’re working for an organization that is doing something that you believe in. And perhaps even when you leave this job, you look back and say, this made a difference for me.
[00:11:01] Josh Levine: I left a legacy. This was a really powerful moment. I learned a lot. There’s something that it provided for me in the long term. So that’s, when we’re talking about culture, we’re talking about all these different things that help that person. That individual really become fulfilled in a bunch of different ways that many, many companies don’t.
[00:11:25] Josh Levine: And that’s my kind of pervasively optimistic view. And I realize that not all organizations are gonna be like that. Not all people want that kind of job. I get that. There’s certain there’s elements of that, but this is the, this is the sort of Great Monday through the Great Monday’s lens. Yeah. Of. This is in a perfect world.
[00:11:44] Josh Levine: This is the power of the potential of culture.
[00:11:48] David Reiling: I see, I love that. And, and I drink your Kool-Aid wholeheartedly because I know, I know it is. I mean that, I I’ve heard you say this more than once, and I love it every time I hear it, that that culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage. And the fact is, is.
[00:12:03] David Reiling: We describe it in, in some slightly different terms, but it’s exactly what you’re talking about. We call it that it’s a double paycheck. Yes, mm-hmm. you, you’ve got the financial that bottom of the pyramid you described, but it’s that fulfillment, that emotion, the I, my coworkers, and I get along and I feel fulfilled.
[00:12:20] David Reiling: I have a healthy relationship or we’re working towards a greater cause and purpose and we both share this. We wanna be a hero to the same people as a result. There’s unity in that. There’s fulfillment in that. And so, there’s one other thing that I think we find in, in a, in those thick culture companies, as I’ve looked at them. Employees sometimes go because they’re offered a lot of money somewhere else, whatever else, but then they come back.
[00:12:47] David Reiling: Cause he go, yeah, I got a little more money, but it was horrible to work. It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth the money. And so, it’s really fascinating how that, that value and that culture and that fulfillment, it’s hard to put a price tag on it, but at the end of the day, if you’re happy, when you’re going home and you’re excited to go to work it makes, makes a lot of difference.
[00:13:07] David Reiling: So, let’s, I, I will get to the great resignation, but I gotta go here first. Yes, let’s do it. The virtual world and culture. So, at best we’re hybrid these days, we’re yeah, we’re virtual everywhere. How does culture live, thrive, and survive in, in our digital space?
[00:13:26] Josh Levine: Oh, man. Yeah, this is, this is a really intense, multifaceted question and I am still thinking about it and I, I don’t have an answer.
[00:13:37] Josh Levine: Right. I don’t know what, I don’t know what the answer.
[00:13:40] David Reiling: I was hoping you did. Cause I left it. I have no answer either.
[00:13:44] Josh Levine: Yeah, here. Here’s what I will tell you is that and let’s, let’s just take ’em as they, as they come, which is the big thing. The big challenge that I am observing is about to spring up and surprise everyone is the, the acceleration of the degradation of relationships.
[00:14:11] Josh Levine: So, there has been one or two studies. It’s not been around long enough to, to no notice this yet. Right. Of, of like to have so many studies, but initial studies show that we are closer with our immediate team and a lot further away with those that are not people we work with on a day-to-day basis. Now, what does that mean?
[00:14:32] Josh Levine: In my book? I describe relationships as the synapses of culture. Relationships are the synapses of culture, which means that the way that behaviors transmit are through exposure, how often. Especially when it comes to a leader or a successful leader because I want to emulate that person. I want to become successful, whether I’m thinking about that or not.
[00:14:59] Josh Levine: So, if we have less connection with others across the organization, what does that mean for our collaborative abilities? Our work styles, our productivity, if, and when we need to work with those folks. In fact, what we are gonna to see is a reemergence of the scourge of the silo. We’re gonna see, not just the silo of the business unit, but it’s the silo of these teams.
[00:15:32] Josh Levine: So, you’re working with what are you working with five or six people maybe, or maybe you manage 20, and you’re gonna see those people over the course of a week or a month. But outside of that, it falls off really quickly. You don’t know who they are. You don’t know what they care about. And the worst-case scenario you, if you do not know a person you can make negative assumptions about who they are, that that void is deafening.
[00:15:59] Josh Levine: And so, when we lose that, we lose our ability to work with other people. So, what organizations need to do, and they need to do it now is begin to establish the rituals, this is, this is component five explicit and purposeful rituals, that connect people outside of their immediate teams.
[00:16:24] Josh Levine: Establishing those relationships. It will bite you in the butt if you don’t do it. And you’re gonna see a falloff in productivity, you’re gonna see a falloff in functioning, just base functioning. And increase in contentious relationships. If you don’t know who they are and you have to go and ask someone for a last-minute request, which of course always happens.
[00:16:49] Josh Levine: The difference is if I know you, hey, Josh says, David, I have a last-minute request. Can you, can you sneak this in for me? Does dah something happen? Absolutely. I trust you. I know you wouldn’t ask this. Otherwise, if I don’t know you. What does this jerk, what does he think he’s doing? Like what? I’m busy. He doesn’t know what I, and, and that’s just an example of how that and it’s not even like, I didn’t, like, I just don’t know you and you need me to do a favor for you.
[00:17:17] Josh Levine: You need me to help you. And I’m just not as likely to do it. So that to me is like that of in this, at the, like you said, best case scenario hybrid, you are, we are a, we are going to experience this relationship decomposition. And because we aren’t, we don’t have the opportunities to establish those relationships throughout the organization in a physical manner, like at the vert, at the whatever, theoretical water cooler, whatever it is at the office.
[00:17:51] Josh Levine: Right. We have these meetings; we pass people on the hall. Hey, right. Oh, you’re the new person. Right? Cool. Like we have these commonalities. That are just physical. Now. There’s no reason for us to connect. I don’t know you. I don’t see you. And so, we need to establish rituals and ways of creating connections in a purposeful way.
[00:18:15] Josh Levine: Organizations did not have to do this before. They should, it helps, but it wasn’t an existential threat. Now it’s an existential threat. And so that is the reason we need to reinvest in the fifth component of culture. Rituals.
[00:18:32] David Reiling: Yeah. And I hear you loud and clear in that and it’s I I’m, I was thinking at Sunrise, we do have I’ll call them rituals in which we do some of that, just for the audience to give them some, a little bit of optimism that yes, you can. Don’t wait until, oh, we have to go back to the office to create rituals. The fact is, is you can do some of this now and I’ll just give you one tip for audience wise. You can start every meeting with some type of what we call a segue. So, Josh, tell me, what was your personal best from last week?
[00:19:07] David Reiling: From the last time we’ve met? What was your business best? Just gimme and it’s really quick, but we’re checking in. Oh, your son’s going to college. That’s fantastic. You know, I’m, I’m glad you made that choice. It, it, again, you’re just trying to bring the fibers together to, to knit. To, to knit some culture and some I don’t know, togetherness, if you will.
[00:19:26] Josh Levine: And expose the other parts of our ourselves.
[00:19:29] David Reiling: Exactly. And sometimes we get tired of the personal bests, and we will bring up like the other day was national ukulele day. And as crazy as that, it sounds we would go around the group and say, do you have a ukulele? You’d be surprised how many people had ukuleles. And I’m like, I’m even not quite sure what a ukulele is. But again, as, as crazy as that is, it is the, you begin the fabric and you’re like, well, why do you have ukuleles?
[00:19:56] David Reiling: Oh, my daughter played the guitar and then she’s in a band. And so, it, it expands looking for those opportunities in which to create some connective tissue. The, the real trick that I think you’ve posed is how do you do this cross-functionally? Yeah, a lot of those meetings are very much team and silos if you will.
[00:20:15] David Reiling: One opportunity that you could have is when, when COVID hit we started a daily radio show and we featured people from different parts of the bank and what they were doing and why they were doing it and why it was important and, and who they were. And the other aspect of this is if you can get pictures of people with their email or, or some type of directory to make a face.
[00:20:36] David Reiling: So, the day that you do see ’em, you can recognize ’em, but yeah, I’m with you. I, I think that that connective tissue is, I don’t know. Well, I think we’ve stretched it during COVID times, and we have to figure out how to rebuild it and, and do it both in person and virtual. And it’s gonna take some intentionality, I think, on, on the company’s part and management and leadership to do it.
[00:20:58] David Reiling: So. Okay, Josh, the great resignation. How, how do you in interpret it? I, I don’t quite understand it.
[00:21:07] Josh Levine: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t I don’t, I don’t know another yet another question I don’t have an answer to. I, it’s a, I like the frame that I’ve heard of kind of the, the great reevaluation of, of priorities.
[00:21:22] Josh Levine: And I think there is there. I think we are going to look back in five years and say it is the culmination and the cause of the result of a few things. One of course is people who just do not feel safe, and they don’t want to go to work. And that, that makes sense. And it’s not worth it. Right. So, we’re reevaluating our, our lives for the paycheck and that’s a really interesting frame.
[00:21:51] Josh Levine: Right. So, it’s an immediate threat. In the kind of more, I would say the more privileged business community, people that are able to work remotely, you’d mention it briefly, which is we no longer have former the constraints that we once had. We no longer have the physical constraints that require us to be somewhere.
[00:22:14] Josh Levine: And if an organization now, now you have a demand, an in an it’s like an instant increase in demand. So, I can reach out to you, and we can, I can give you an, I can give you a better offer, so you’re gonna get more and just at the base level, higher, higher wages. That’s, it’s an easy, that’s an easy answer.
[00:22:39] Josh Levine: And so, we’ve gotta think about how do you maybe counteract that with culture? Are you going to see organizations that have stronger cultures to have a lower resignation rate? My hypothesis is yes. And on the flip side, if you have a good culture and you are able to articulate it, communicate it, you can bring that you can bring those people on onto your side.
[00:23:09] Josh Levine: So, I think those are though, to me, those are sort of the two pieces that we’re looking at. And, and it’s just like, what matters to me now. And I think we said it earlier, maybe now the extra 10,000 a year that you might get for working for a, a jerk is just no longer worth it.
[00:23:35] Josh Levine: And so, I think what I learned in trying to listen closely to all of the information about the great resignation is that these folks aren’t just leaving and leaving the workforce, they’re leaving and they’re going other places. And that it’s a, it’s a big shuffle. And so, what we are, it’s a very much a capitalistic result, which, you know, I think the free flow of human capital in this case, I am no longer bound by a half hour drive from my, to my office.
[00:24:16] Josh Levine: So, what does that enable me to do? So, I can live in the same place and work for somebody else, or I can move anywhere and work for anywhere. And that to me is really compelling. And I think we’re gonna see the markets. I think one of the outputs, right? We’re starting to, to see this. Well, what’s the pay equity.
[00:24:39] Josh Levine: If you’re, if you, is it the same across the organization? Or is it? Well, it’s a it’s, it’s like tracks to the kind of the living wage of the particular person and where they are. Or if you come into the office, you get paid more. And if you don’t then, well, you don’t have to spend money on the, on the commute.
[00:24:59] Josh Levine: So, we’ll pay you less. That there’s sort of this really interesting, like, whoa what’s happen. And I think those folks, I think that conversation is gonna happen. That’s gonna, we’re gonna see what it’s interesting, we’ll see a bunch of different versions and experiments of this. But ultimately that’s not where the game needs to be played.
[00:25:18] Josh Levine: Right. You’re missing it entirely. That’s not you need to figure that out, but that’s just the, as we were saying at the bottom of the pyramid, that’s just the base level. If that’s where you’re trying to like, well, we’re gonna get more people. If we’re gonna let ’em work remotely. And then someone else is like, we’re gonna let them remotely more.
[00:25:36] Josh Levine: And you’re like, well, okay, then I’ll go with that. Like how, where does that go? So that, that to me is like we’re early days in these organizations and leaders understanding, like, what do people want? And the ones that figure out. What people want above and beyond being at home all the time and that salary are gonna be the ones that succeed sooner.
[00:26:01] David Reiling: Yeah.
[00:26:02] David Reiling: That is the best explanation I have heard.
[00:26:05] Josh Levine: Oh, good. All right. Good, good.
[00:26:08] David Reiling: And. The, the most logical if, and, and again, it’s a journey to discover what it is employees want and what, how that fits the value of the organization and how both can prosper if you will from benefiting one another.
[00:26:25] Josh Levine: I don’t, yeah. I don’t want people to walk away and, and say, well, we just need to give PE employees what they want. It’s not a one-sided equation. What, you’re, what we’re describing. And we started this way. It’s a system, it’s an ecosystem. What is it that the company does well, that people will appreciate?
[00:26:44] Josh Levine: What is the authentic thing that you can, as an organization can offer someone that benefits the organization as well. Yep. So, so yes, I think ping pong tables, or I guess that’s what they were, but maybe retreats or, you know, giving people stipends to set up standing desks or whatever it is, you know, that’s, that’s great, but that’s, that’s not the, the only thing. And, and that, that needs to be part of the part of the equation, but it, it isn’t the entirety of it.
[00:27:17] David Reiling: Yep. So, Josh, I have to, I’ll close with you here in what is the NextGen Banker question. Mm. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna phrase it a little different, but in relation to building and sustaining a competitive advantage culture, what does the next gen banker look like?
[00:27:37] Josh Levine: Caring about not just financial capital, but human capital and understanding that it’s the humans that are the biggest resource that we have, the most expensive resource that we have. And even in this distributed financial world or whatever, you know, autonomous organizations or whatever you wanna call it, even in that world, you’re still talking about humans and you’re still thinking about communities and that is going to be a critical piece of, of this.
[00:28:09] Josh Levine: And, and it’s the people that are the reason why I care so deeply about culture. It’s why I got into it. And, and it’s my. Yeah, it’s my mission in life. To help more organizations understand the power of culture inside their organization to improve people’s lives and the world around them.
[00:28:30] David Reiling: Josh. Thank you.
[00:28:32] David Reiling: Thank you for your insights and how to build a great company culture. I, I can almost hear the notes being taken on the other side. I know I have scribbled them down as well. Hey, always. Good to talk with you. Thanks so much for making the time and being on the NextGen Banker podcast.
[00:28:48] Josh Levine: Yeah, my pleasure
[00:28:53] Becca Hoeft: For this episode’s musical feature we’re showcasing Jesse Sprinkle. Jesse is a New York state based musician originally from Seattle Washington, who has been involved in numerous projects and genres throughout his career. He’s music falls on the melancholy side of beauty with surprising splashes of cheerfulness.
[00:29:13] Becca Hoeft: Here is Kindly Numb by Jesse Sprinkle.
[00:29:24] Becca Hoeft: That was Kindly Numb by Jesse Sprinkle. And you can find more of Jesse’s music at jessesprinkle.bandcamp.com. If you would like your music featured on the NextGen Banker podcast, email David@nextgen-banker.com with a link to your music and website.
[00:30:23] Becca Hoeft: Well, there you go, folks. Thanks for listening to the NextGen Banker podcast. We’ll see you next time.