Contributed by Krystal Meiners
Good conversations are typically born in the company of good people.
That was the driving thought when we created the Empower Happy Hour at the beginning of 2014. We wanted to have good, meaningful conversations with people outside of our own organization (because frankly we were all preaching to the choir internally and were probably consuming too much booze just to keep things interesting). What we didn’t want, however, was to host a formal event, or a networking opportunity. We wanted to have real conversations with interesting people, so the Empower Happy Hour was born.
The format of these events have always been the same… low key, in a bar, no nametags, no soapboxes, no formally led discussions – just a topic to unite us, an amazing sponsor and an impactful non-profit. Each event has been unique – but the most recent one in Ballard was especially inspiring and a great indicator for successful future events. We are truly thankful for the opportunity to have hosted with Sustainable Ballard and we were especially grateful to our sponsor Redfin Builder Services.
While this event was a bit different from our other Happy Hours - there were a couple of key ingredients that helped mold it into something very special and eye-opening.
We were very excited to host this event with Sustainable Ballard and Redfin. The event lasted well past our 6:30 cutoff and folks lingered having friendly discussions. While there was no Bocce, like our previous event at Von Trapps, and there was no policy big-wigs like our event with Climate Solutions – it was intimate, refreshing and exactly what we could have hoped for.
We definitely look forward to hosting many more Empower Happy Hour’s, and aim to keep them simple, sexy, and substantial. We hope you will join us the next one to help ADVANCE THE DISCUSSION.
The Empower Happy Hour is a quarterly event hosted by Green Canopy Homes. If you are interested in sponsoring the event or if you belong to a non-profit that is interested in co-hosting, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org . If you are interested in joining the event – please sign up for our Newsletter to receive updates on event dates and venues.
Contributed by Aaron Fairchild, CEO of Green Canopy Inc.
According to 2013 research published by Luigi Guiso, Paolo Sapienza and Luigi Zingales, The Value of Corporate Culture, 85% of S&P 500 companies have at least one section of their website dedicated to -- what they call -- “corporate culture” i.e. principals and values that should inform the behavior of the firm’s employees. Values are important to promote and advertise on corporate websites and reports, because it is imperative for companies to manage their image. External stakeholders expect companies to have thought about their values and publicly acknowledge them. The act of creating and promoting values can help assure external and internal stakeholders that the company has a higher degree of integrity and is guided to conduct their business in a way that is consistent with and based on their stated values.
Start with Intention
I recently spoke with the CEO of a publicly traded bank who was extremely proud of his employees for going through the process to create and document their values. They were, “developed by a group of really passionate employees that love this organization and only want the best for the bank, our employees and our customers.” Their guiding philosophy relating to their values are stated as, “Our Core Values encourage us to act in a manner that “wows” others and provide us with the opportunity to guide our actions that allow us to become who we want to be. We take pride in our Core Values and strive to live them each day.” This is an example that provides insight into great intentions and proactive leadership. However, when I asked him, “What does the bank do to ‘strive to live them each day’?” he floundered. Wasn’t it enough to go through the process to create their values and then promote them both externally and internally?
Learn from Employee Perception
This is a great place to start. But organizations that want to leverage the power of corporate culture to increase productivity and returns need to do more.
The Guiso, et al. study also uncovered some additional, interesting facts regarding advertised values. Notably, the value most commonly exploited by the S&P 500 companies was “Innovation” followed by “Integrity” and “Respect”. When the researchers attempted “…to correlate the frequency and prominence of these values to measures of short and long term performance,” they “...fail[ed] to find any significant correlation.” Basically they found that advertised values are not a great indicator of corporate and employee performance. Perhaps that is because it is easy to state your values, so everyone does.
Another point to note in the research is the concept of perceived value. The study found that if the employees of the company perceive management to have a high level of integrity, there was a positive correlation, and good outcomes in terms of higher productivity, profitability, and the ability of the company to attract talent. In other words it isn’t enough to create and promote values, they had to be perceived and held within the employee base of the organization.
So how do we know if a company’s stated values are not just something that they claim to be true, but are indeed perceived and held by the employees of the company?
A few clues to consider in your evaluation process:
I am sure you can think of many more “sniff tests”. The fact that anyone can truth-test stated values should give employees, investors, and customers alike a leg up in identifying if a company is truly anchored by its values (which correlates to performance and profitability) or if their stated values are just the lip service of corporate collateral created in the back halls of the Marketing Department.
Contributed by Aaron Fairchild, CEO of Green Canopy Inc.
Have you ever heard ANYONE say after coming back from Europe, “I had a great trip, but I just hope those Brits/Germans/French don’t lose their culture?” The very notion of a nation losing its culture seems silly. Sure cultures change, but they change over time. National cultural changes happen slowly and change is usually driven by a shock to the current way of life.
For whatever reason, corporate culture doesn’t seem as “fixed” as national culture. Nations lose their leadership, have lots of turnover and people come and go all the time. And nations are influenced by other nations in ways that it is hard to imagine might happen in companies. So what makes company culture more susceptible to change?
Fast Starts and System Shocks
I recently spoke with David Norris, CEO of MD Insider. We both agreed that companies tend to start-up rather quickly. People come together in the beginning more out of chemistry and shared excitement about the opportunity surrounding the product or idea. More often than not, they share a common national cultural framework so they already have a great basis to begin working together. They also have a shared language, and typically share the same historical perspective, political and economic frameworks (socialist, democratic, capitalist, parliamentarian), etc. Layer chemistry on top of a similar national cultural framework, and that can take the newly formed company down the road a fair bit.
The breakdown typically comes, just like with a nation, with a shock to the system. For a company this could mean jumping from four employees to twenty in less than one year, and then from twenty to forty in another six months. When countries are merged together for one reason or another, we often watch as the individual cultures tear them back apart... Infighting can happen as larger and more powerful countries begin to dictate terms. Just bringing a similar currency to Europe has been challenging since adoption of the Euro. In the same way, with companies experiencing rapid growth, bigger personalities typically dictate cultural norms, and when those personalities move, for good or bad, so goes the cultural dictator.
Core Values As Cultural Seeds
To help ensure your corporate culture isn’t encapsulated and controlled in one or two, or even just a few key personalities, consider what is at its core. Culture can be defined as the shared values, language, beliefs, and customs of a group. At the heart of culture is how we interact and behave together. At the heart of culture is how we interact together and behave together… David referred to our shared set of core values as the seeds of culture. As the seeds of culture take root in your workplace, your teams will thrive and productivity will increase.
If a group of people has a shared set of values, they can be pointed toward any mission or vision, and as long as they buy into the mission and vision, they will excel. Core values incorporate our language, what we celebrate, how we develop, our rights of passage, and how we interact. For a country, these things may seem obvious. For companies, it seems less than obvious for many leaders. In fact, I’ve heard more about the importance of the boss taking people out for beer as a means to “create culture”, than working on our values to create culture. Hmmm.
Whether a company’s values are implicit or explicit, they exist. The more explicit the shared sets of values, the more that group of people “live” their values. The more alive values are within a group the stronger the bond and the greater the resiliency of that group. It’s about so much more than happy hour beers.
Every Day Values
Companies often explicitly state their values on their websites and in promotional material, creating a veneer of credibility and sincerity. One of the most infamous examples of this is Enron’s four capital V Values: Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence. Clearly this broke down long before the company failed. So if our values are the seeds of culture then nurturing and cultivating these values throughout every day will help to keep them alive and healthy, rather than stale and static on a corporate website.
For a traveler, there’s a difference between that sense of “Love this place, but wouldn’t want to live here” and “I would love to live here!” It’s the same in companies. Living your corporate values and keeping them alive and healthy within the company means the right people will find they’d “love to work here”, and the “wrong” people will move along. A company whose employees work to keep their shared values alive within the organization will allow the company culture and the team to thrive through down times and times of change and growth.
"If we don't pay attention, we risk running businesses at the expense of our communities, our planet and the future."
Contributed by Krystal Meiners
It’s been nearly one year since Green Canopy became a certified B Corp. Our company, at that time, was a small and tight-knit group that was dedicated to living out our values and our mission. Our work was meaningful and the team was excited about growth.
It couldn’t have been a better decision to certify at that time. Our small and nimble team had created a rich corporate culture that everyone was excited about preserving. We were mindfully crafting systems for hiring, communication, and human resources that would ensure that our culture and values were protected as we grew. Certifying* was part of that process… but one year later we are finally seeing just how important it was.
Since then, Green Canopy has nearly doubled in size. We have started new business channels: from Fund development, to Custom Services, to RePurpose (a whole-house deconstruction program). We have gained talent, we have restructured; we have evolved. All the while, managing our culture, resources and social capital in a way that is intentional and meaningful.
B Corp means a lot more to how we do business now. It enables us to do business the way we want to do business – the way we started out with our high-fiving, adventure-loving, sustainability-minded (Fbomb-dropping) nimble team not long ago. But now it allows us to do more. It holds us accountable, it guides us and gives us tools for growth. B Corp helps us do business better.
I asked some of our team, both new and old members, what B Corp means to them and how it allows them to do business better. Here is what they had to say:
Each member of the team finds the B Corp certification meaningful for their own reasons, but putting some structure and accountability around those values strengthens our community and purpose. In the year since we certified, we have improved in all areas of our business and are currently working on a Corporate Social Responsibility Framework. This framework will help us develop a set of action-oriented goals for improvement, as well as help us improve our reporting and the measure of our impact. The steps we are taking, including even just revisiting team commitment to it through writing this post, help us collectively see the change and be all the more intentional about B-ing the change.
* A B Corp is a for-profit company that is committed to gains in social and environmental capital rather than just monetary profits. It is a certification that is awarded by B Lab in Pennsylvania – an organization that scores companies based on a set of social and environmental metrics. Green Canopy’s score at certification was an 86.
"64% of Millennials would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they think is boring."
Contributed by Aaron Fairchild, CEO of Green Canopy
A lot of research has been dedicated to learning more about Millennial attitudes as companies struggle to adjust corporate cultures to align with their thinking. This cohort has received a bad rap in most of the research, but at Green Canopy we have found that building a culture that unleashes the “Millennial Mindset” in all of our employees increases our productivity and our ability to execute our mission to inspire resource efficiency. For this reason, I believe that organizations should work to realign their corporate cultures to foster this mindset in their employees. A few fun facts below help illustrate the point that the future of successful businesses will be predicated on creating corporate cultures that are designed to attract and retain millennial minded employees of any age.
The below excerpt was taken from an interview with Ron Alsop who did the research and wrote the definitive book on Millennials.
“Kuhn: How can employers best capitalize on the millennial generation?
Alsop: I believe employers can best capitalize on millennials by making them feel that their work is important, giving them lots of feedback and positive reinforcement, and telling them that the company will help them develop their skills and career potential. This generation isn't loyal to any one company and is likely to work for many employers. But millennials will be more apt to stay with an employer if they can see why their sometimes seemingly mundane job is important to the company's success. They also want to build their portfolio of skills and experiences through mentoring, training and development programs, and the opportunity to switch jobs within their company…”
Evolve Into the Millennial Mindset
Frankly the work of today and tomorrow is important work. As the world’s population continues to grow and strain our finite planetary resources, all businesses of the future will have to consider and adapt to working more with less resources. Many more businesses will intentionally start and organize themselves to tackle some of the world’s pressing resource scarcity and climate challenges, while also doing well for their shareholders and by their employees.
As I synthesize all of this, the Millennial picture becomes clear. This mindset is a key to our world’s future success because Millennials are a large percentage of working Americans now and will be in the future. They are diplomatic peacemakers for whom success doesn’t necessary equal wealth. They want to work at doing good in the world. They would rather have a job of purpose and challenge than one that is boring and pays more. They are optimistic, believe in merit over tenure, and prefer coaching over being told how to perform. Rather than complain about the Millennial Mindset, we should celebrate it, seek it out and foster it in our work.
The successful businesses of tomorrow will employ people with the Millennial Mindset that some love to hate. Their cultures will be designed to unlock the inner Millennial in all their employees and earn the right of retention for those they are so fortunate to serve. The stodgy business practices that made corporations great in the past, thrived in what is no longer our world: a very top down, heavily bureaucratic, do-as-you-are-told, perceived limitless resource reality. Thankfully, society has largely evolved beyond those outdated business practices. It is time for employers to do the same.
Contributed by Aaron Fairchild, CEO of Green Canopy, Inc.
I recently read the PSBJ article by Rachel Lerman on elephants under the corporate table. In the article she recapped an interview between Joe Wallin of Davis Wright Tremaine and Dan Levitan, the founder of Maveron. It was striking to hear Levitan, a venture capitalist, talk about not underestimating the importance of a “holistic team where there are no elephants under the table.” He noted that the most agile and high-functioning teams have love, respect, and appreciation for each other.
It sounds like Levitan is a millennial at heart. Corporate America is changing rapidly. The 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s Mad Men era of, “do as you are told” and heavy, top down management is a thing of the past. And as this interview illustrates, the importance of healthy corporate cultural development can no longer be denied. The millennial generation has been given a bad rap and pointed to as entitled and fickle job-hoppers, however my experience is that inside every top caliber talent, whether they were born before or after 1981, exists a millennial mind and heart.
"When the right cause is coupled with a great cultural framework, magic happens."
High functioning people need to be inspired to work hard. As Elon Musk recently said, “Putting in long hours for a corporation is hard, putting in long hours for a cause is easy.” In addition to having a cause that inspires, high functioning people need to feel respected in order to contribute their all. Furthermore, they will not work for a team that they themselves cannot respect. Just look at the non-profit world. Nonprofits are all about great causes yet, we all probably know at least one or two that can never seem to live up to their potential. Having a great cause or purpose in today’s corporate America isn’t enough… creating inspiration at intersection of people and the cause results from a deliberate focus on corporate culture.
When the right cause is coupled with a great cultural framework, magic happens. Think of that framework as a tapestry of shared values. Everything from who washes dishes in the corporate kitchen to how board meetings are run… those values present themselves to the rest of the team. If there is misalignment or inconsistency, no matter how noble the cause, the ecosystem of the organization will begin to break down. Respect and love for each other is so important.
Equally important is trust, where confident leaders motivate not through the force of their egos, but by letting go of control and empowering their team to take responsibility for their own decisions. Having autonomy is a must for top tier talent (micro-managers suck) and talented people are the very people that we all want to work with. Good managers will let go of control beyond what feels comfortable and play to the strengths of the team. Playing to someone’s strengths is simply another way of saying, don’t ask people to do what they are not good at. If a team member was hired for a job that they are not good at or interested in, then management should recognize their complicity and move the individual into a role that they are good at and interested in mastering.
Lastly, when thinking about the insights of people like Levitan, consider how far we have come in managing top talent in America, and then consider just how far we still have yet to go. Thankfully, the millennial mind has been born and is demanding more from corporate America. It demands that managers earn the right to retain top talent… top talent isn’t only interested in money.
The problems we face as a nation and as a species balancing on stressed and changing ecosystems are pressing to say the least. Establishing corporate cultures that are designed ultimately to respect people and play to their strengths is a must for the successful businesses of the future, and a must for a fragile species in need of corporate solutions that address resource scarcity on a planet in transition.
I met my wife, Susan, 14 years ago at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. I was a banker and Susan was forming a non-profit mentorship program for at-risk youth in south Seattle. She was attending the meeting to recruit mentors and came away with a lot more than she anticipated. We lived very different lives at the time however we shared similar values of social and environmental justice.
Over the course of the next several years I continued to feel juxtaposed in life. I was working to make money, and really wanted to be making a difference. The juxtaposed feeling culminated in meeting another couple on a hiking outing in 2003, when I was asked what I did for a living. When I responded that I worked in banking, the couple immediately looked at Susan and asked what she did for a living. When she said that she worked in the non-profit sector, they quickly struck up a conversation leaving me feeling like a third wheel. Ugh… it was time for a change.
I guess I share many of the attitudes of the millennial generation, meaning I am far from alone. I am ambitious and demand a lot from an employer in order to earn my respect and retention. I am fine working long hours from the office and from home if I am inspired, and I believe in perhaps a naïve notion that I can live an aligned life.
When I reflect on my own experience and look out at the world around me I see the intersection of two major factors that are driving our company, Green Canopy, and the future of business:
1) The prevailing cultural attitude of the “millennial” shared by so many born before and after 1981, and;
2) Society’s hard charging transition into a new world paradigm of severe resource constraints and climate upheaval.
The success of Green Canopy and other companies is limited only in our ability to positively respond to these two things.
The first of these requires that we inspire our employees and earn the right of their respect and continued employment. And whether the business of an organization is about addressing environmental challenges head on like Green Canopy or not, the most successful businesses of the future will intentionally conduct their operations in the most resource efficient manner possible. Simple, yet oh so difficult.
“At Green Canopy we recognize that we are firmly planted with everyone else somewhere along the spectrum of hypocrisy.”
After the culminating hike in 2003, I spent much of my time trying to create alignment in my life by finding ways to apply my skills and experiences toward environmental issues. That eventually led me to quit working at my father’s bank in order to start my own enterprise. And in 2008 I shared an idea I had recently been mulling on with a longtime friend. After a short period of time Sam and I began developing the plan and finding the right partners that would lead to starting Green Canopy over one year later.
At Green Canopy we recognize that we are firmly planted with everyone else somewhere along the spectrum of hypocrisy. Our mission is to inspire resource efficiency and – while we are extremely intentional and deliberately try to always make the most resource efficient and less environmentally harmful homebuilding decisions – we have yet to perfect our efforts in building the utmost in green and resource efficient homes. Sometimes we are faced with no other alternative than to make the less resource efficient or more wasteful decision. It sincerely frustrates the team when this happens. We certainly have green building design and development standards that we never sacrifice, but the cruel realities of market-based economics sometimes force our hand. And yet many times these very same constraints open up new possibilities. However, at the end of the day we are far from perfect. So when I talk about our company it comes from a position of deep humility and a desire to inspire others to take action.
Inspiring at the intersection of the prevailing cultural attitude and the new world paradigm of severe resource constraints is clearly tricky. How we go about it at Green Canopy is through delivering – for our employees – what Daniel Pink has written heavily about: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Intentionally building a company designed to deliver these three essential things to its employees took a lot of thought and dedication to cultural development. As a result of our culture we cannot help but to give employees autonomy to make their own empowered decisions, the ability to master what they are already interested in, and a binding sense of purpose. Inspiring at the intersection happens right there, with the binding sense of purpose. Developing a cultural framework that allows every employee to meaningfully engage in addressing that purpose is part of the work.
When Susan and I reflect on the journey of the last decade and the sacrifices that we have made as a family to get here, we know that it was well worth the struggle. We are aligned through our work and in our day-to-day lives and we are proud that through this career we are making a meaningful and lasting difference. Also, despite the hike and my feelings of career shame, my banking skills definitely come in handy at Green Canopy. The future of business requires innovation on every front, including capital.
The Green Canopy blog is written by our CEO and Culture Curator, Aaron Fairchild, as well as our staff and a few very special guests.