4 Tips for Building a High-Performance Culture Around Constructive Feedback

any plans for dinner

U.S. businesses spend $105 billion per year handling poorly performing employees. This unfortunate data indicates that subpar employees can harm a business both culturally and financially.

So how can entrepreneurs avoid or correct this issue? By building a company culture that embraces opportunities to share feedback.

Make Your Feedback Constructive

Continuous, transparent employee feedback is great, but not all feedback is created equal. Constructive criticism encourages people and incentivizes improvement, while non-constructive (i.e., destructive) feedback actually inhibits growth. Understanding the differences between these approaches will enhance your interactions with employees and expose their true potential.

To reach that true potential, be sure your feedback is:

  • Direct. Providing feedback can be uncomfortable, especially when someone needs a major behavioral adjustment. Dancing around an issue will only lead to confusion, but being direct will improve comprehension and lead to real change.
  • Solutions-oriented. Feedback becomes destructive when you tear employees down without building them back up. Creating a solutions-oriented conversation will help you and your employees focus less on poor behavior and more on ways they can improve.
  • Unemotional. Are you feeling angry or resentful? You may want to consider giving feedback at another time or having someone else address the issue. The goal of providing feedback is to inspire employees to redeem themselves. If you’re harboring ill feelings toward an employee, you should step away from the situation.

How to Build a Culture of Constructive Feedback

When employees and leaders feel comfortable communicating with one another about what they’re doing well and what they can improve upon, it creates a culture of openness and accountability. But there are some practices you must build into your culture to nurture this type of environment:

1. Lead by example. In his book, What You’re Really Meant to Do, Harvard Business School’s Robert Kaplan presents the idea that as business leaders become more senior, people are less likely to give them feedback or address shortcomings. Kaplan emphasizes how important it is for business leaders to actively seek feedback from team members, which allows them to grow and creates an environment where giving and receiving constructive feedback is normalized.

Leaders must also understand how to receive feedback well. This involves listening without interruption, asking questions for clarification, respectfully acknowledging what the person is saying, and taking time to think before reacting.

2. Deliver bad news constructively. There is always room for growth and improvement. People can’t fix problems if you don’t communicate them clearly. Underperforming for an extended period of time can also make someone feel insecure when tackling new projects.

When delivering bad news, avoid criticism, and state the facts instead. Talk about the behavior — not the person. After you’ve communicated the facts, provide solutions-oriented recommendations.

3. Make positive feedback a priority. People can receive too much criticism, but they can never receive too much encouragement. Celebrate the things your team is doing right on a regular basis. Schedule weekly staff meetings and encourage department leaders to submit weekly team victories. It’s important to celebrate company wins and emphasize that those accomplishments required team effort. Tools like Dunwello are making this easier.

4. Set company goals with your team. As your company grows and develops, set goals with your team. Once everyone is striving for the same mutually developed goals, it will be easier to hold one another accountable and give constructive feedback if others aren’t measuring up.


As the leader, you have the opportunity to build a unified and unstoppable team. By creating a work environment founded on constructive feedback, you can push your employees — and yourself — to grow personally and professionally. So probe your employees, open your ears, and find out what you can do better. The spike in performance and productivity might surprise you.

Brent Grinna is the founder and CEO of EverTrue, a leading social donor management platform. EverTrue harnesses social data to help higher education institutions raise more money and better engage alumni. Connect with EverTrue on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Why You Don’t Want Employees On Payroll


Dear W-2 employee,

It’s not you; it’s me. I’ve been hurt before by people like you and I’m just not ready to do it again. I’m sorry, but not really. I’ve moved on, and I’m keeping the business.

Best regards,


We must buy commitment!

When I did my first full time startup in 2007 I was obsessed with company culture. To my mind, and aided by partners who shared this view, in order to foster loyalty and commitment we simply had to put all of our hires on payroll. We were absolutely convinced that what we were building was too damn important to work with, gasp, contractors.

Fast forward to the end of 2008 and we had eight really talented people on payroll. We were doing top line revenue of just over $40K/month. For the first time in the history of the company I was paying myself (less than the high school kid at the snack bar, but still). We were getting there, baby.

Anyone remember what happened then? It started with “Great” and ended (oh, did it end) with “Recession.” B2B training and development budgets, our life blood, all got cancelled the instant the clock changed to 12:00am on January 1, 2009. It was unreal. We went from $40K/month to $0. For six straight months.

What would you do?

I love this story. Not just because I took a six-figure haircut and burned my friends and family loans to the ground. More so, I love it because it taught me a hell of a lot about what it means to be an entrepreneur. It also makes me a damn good mentor for founders. You know that advice you are ignoring from that mentor with gray hair? Yeah, I was you.

So, ignore advice I did. I refused to believe that each successive month was not an ugly aberration. Certainly this can’t continue… for three years.

I ran out of money, laid off the entire staff, and closed the doors in June 2009, a month before my first son was born. In reality I was lucky. I got a consulting gig the following Monday and started making actual income that persisted through the recession. Many were not so lucky.

So what does this have to do with payroll?

Factors in the failure of this company were varied. We had significant marketing issues and were likely peddling a valuable solution to a problem no one wanted to try to solve when the chips were down. We would likely not have survived 2010 even if we got through 2009. However, we also had one significant operating flaw: too much payroll overhead.

I believe sincerely, and have accumulated proof, that our critical failure was to believe we could not create and deliver an exceptional experience with contract staff. We simply burned too much cash staffing our bench. What’s worse, when that fact was clear and I most definitely should have cut staff, I balked. I took care of people to the detriment of my company, my partners, and my family’s finances. I paid everyone else until the bitter end and left myself with a huge debt load. (I paid, and intend to keep paying, the company’s debt even though it was unsecured.)

Contractors can be blow your mind awesome.

I’m not saying it was really like this; I know everyone on staff was doing their best. But, it often felt like I was killing myself trying to sell enough work to pay everyone else. During the day everyone was in a desk waiting for a gig and during the evening and night I was alone at mine trying to eek out how the hell I was going to make it another week. I got to where I hated getting out of bed to go to work at my own company. That’s a sad place, the kind that makes CEO peer groups and therapists grateful.

Since that very expensive learning experience I have started somewhere around 10 additional companies. Every single one of them has been successful with an exclusively contract workforce. At first I did this begrudgingly. I just couldn’t afford payroll. I paid when the client paid. It didn’t take me long to realize what I had created by accident.

My contractors are bar none the most effective, efficient, and loyal people I’ve ever worked with. (I refuse to say they work for me, always with me.)

How was I so wrong about this? I think it was a fundamental misunderstanding about motivations, incentives, and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Let’s dive into the lesson.

  • I need you hungry. If you want the “security” of payroll we’re not a good fit. I need you to thrive on projects for which I will pay you well and not give you shit about your rate. I need you to starve if we don’t collectively kick ass, and I need you to love it. For that I’ll always pay you and do so before I pay me.
  • I need you to appreciate public feedback as compensation. I started hiring Odesk and Elance contractors shortly after the sites opened. I loved how I could get great talent for projects who worked for their 5 Stars because their top ratings got them more gigs. To me that’s a brilliant alignment of incentives.
  • I need you to own it. I’m a huge proponent of project-based interviewing. You get a gig. If you jive with me and you kick ass, you get another gig. It’s elegant and, again, incentives are aligned.
  • I need you to take my call first. This is why I don’t haggle on rates. I ask a contractor what he or she wants to make and I don’t argue with the answer. If it fits the project, I pay it. If not, I’ll tell the truth, allow for a lower bid at their option, or file their info for the next gig that’s a fit. In exchange, I want to be first. Every time. I don’t care about your other clients. I pay the best, I manage the best, and I bring the best gigs. If you want that then we’re a good fit. I care more about fielding the best team and winning than I do about anything else. My clients demand it and I’m your client, so I demand it.

This works for me.

I have a sick team that has joined me, project to project, in some cases for 12 years or more. None of them has ever asked me for a salary or benefits. None of them is hurting for money. We absolutely kick ass together and we bring the goods. More importantly, we work like an all-star team together. We support each other. We have a damn good culture even though we don’t share a shred of durable binding.
It’s awesome, and it’s why I’m done with payroll.

5 Tips For Nurturing Company Culture At Your Growing Startup

Zach FerresAs an entrepreneur, your startup probably began as a one-man show.

You made all the decisions — from the product to the budget to the logo. And when the time came to determine the kind of culture you wanted to build the company upon, it was merely a matter of self-reflection.

But as your business gained momentum, you needed more manpower to sustain it, so you began bringing on team members to accommodate rapid growth. With more employees, more processes, and more customers, your system became more complex, and all the components — including your company culture — became harder to control.

You might fear that the culture you envisioned is impossible to maintain, but company culture is a dynamic component of your organization, and it’s supposed to grow and change with your company. In fact, if your culture doesn’t grow and change, your company won’t survive.

Here are five practical tips for growing your culture with your organization:

1. Support Your Tribe

Your procedures, policies, structure, leadership, decisions, and products catalyze the culture you want to develop, but it’s simply impossible to create real culture. It can’t be imposed on your team, and it certainly can’t be paid for. Real culture happens naturally.

As you grow, you can’t forget about the employees you already have. They helped build the culture you have today. While some initial employees might be ready to move on to other career opportunities, it’s important to receive feedback from and show support to those employees who have been with you for an extended period.

In the book Tribal Leadership, great leaders are recognized by their ability to build and scale their “tribe.” The tribe is the muscle of the company, and its strength depends on that of the culture. Harness your tribe’s core ideals and skills, and measure the success of outcomes based on its goals and intentions.

2. Find the Right Fit

If you want to confidently build on the culture your original team constructed, you must hire people who align with it. This proves increasingly difficult as you speed-scale during your growth phase. You’re tasked with quickly evaluating candidates’ job qualifications while simultaneously deciding whether they would be good culture fits.

Ask culture-specific questions during the interview process that will indicate whether candidates would be a good fit, such as “What work environment do you thrive in best?” or “Do you prefer clearly defined tasks or clearly defined problems?” Depending on the stage your business is in, these two different answers could mean very different things culturally.

3. Welcome Feedback

Opening feedback loops in your company is instrumental to culture growth. It’s the best way to find out what’s working in your company and what isn’t. Odds are employees will identify anomalies that you’re completely unaware of.

Crunched for time? Construct the process so your team can give quick, simple feedback. The metrics of the feedback process will directly correlate with your company’s values and purposes.

Gather the data monthly or quarterly, and segment the feedback into categories by locations or team. You can also evaluate the company from a big-picture perspective. There’s no right or wrong way. You can even use tools such as TINYpulse or iDoneThis to gather team feedback.

4. Open Your Mind

When you were on your own, your culture was simply an extension of your own values. You could mold it into whatever you wanted because it was you. But as the company grows, you have to treat it as its own person and allow it to take on its own identity. Confining the culture to your original, narrow scope will only stunt its growth.

Review the feedback you collected with an open mind. Not all suggestions are feasible, but by considering them, you let your employees know that their opinions matter. Share some of the results, set targeted goals, and even implement logical recommendations.

5. Maintain Core Values

Your brand promise and purpose should remain constant. Core values should be fairly constant as well, but can evolve over time — carefully. While cultures do naturally change, it’s your job to make sure that your company culture is still aligned with these integral factors. Being flexible is one thing, but compromising your values is an entirely different ball game.

Your company culture will develop many new facets as it grows, but expanding away from your root values should be limited or handled with extreme care. Too many deviations from your ethics will make your team doubt the company’s integrity. Openly discuss any necessary adjustments with team members to assure them that you haven’t lost sight of the company’s true purpose.

Company growth is exciting for any startup. You’re finally growing your team, creating revenue, launching products, and gaining new customers. Although balancing new business, hiring, and day-to-day operations while trying to nurture your company culture may seem impossible, it’s not as hard as you think. Leaders shouldn’t try to define and impose culture. Instead, they should plant the seed and water it, knowing it will grow on its own.

Zach Ferres is the CEO of Ciplex, a full-service interactive agency that helps clients succeed online by creating award-winning digital solutions for online marketing, E-commerce and content management systems, and social network platforms. Follow them on Twitter.

3 Myths About Successful Startup Cultures

Ping Pong ~ Table Tennis

We’ve all read the stories about the hot new startups making waves in their industry – and how they’re doing it from colorful beanbag chairs in a once-destitute warehouse on the south side of town. We’re prone to conclude that these startups are sustaining high-level performance because they’ve broken down the (cubicle) walls binding our ability to collaborate, innovate, and achieve full potential.

Unfortunately, myths about high performing culture develop from these stories. Now, to dispel a few “must-have” myths:

A ‘Cool’ Vibe

While it may seem that a waterslide snaking through your office will promote innovation, it usually just leaves you all wet. Many high performing companies do have “cool” vibe cultures, but their sustained performance is attributed to much more than the free mocha coolatas. These cultures tend to be manifestations of their founders and leaders – entrepreneurial, risk-taking, intentionally provocative. These outward characteristics predicate high performance when they are founded in certain values: determination to succeed against all odds, an underdog mentality, and a youthful exuberance that imitators just can’t match.

Don’t try to be something you’re not. Seek to understand what is truly valued in your organization. Then, ask yourself how those values manifest themselves daily. Are these manifestations going to help you or derail you from achieving your goals? “Cool” doesn’t necessarily mean high performing. And trying to be “cool” when you’re not certainly isn’t going to end well.

A Charismatic Leader

The second common myth is that organizations need a charismatic leader at the helm in order to inspire greatness in others. In fact, recent thinking is quite the opposite. Highly successful CEOs tend to be those who shy away from the spotlight – those who are maniacally focused on the success of the business and who are never satisfied. If your charismatic CEO spends more time on the speaking circuit than in the office contributing to your organization’s success, you may be in trouble.

A Startup Mentality

While all organizations must be adaptive in order to meet the changing needs of the market (an attribute often associated with quick and nimble startups), this is not a prerequisite for success. Although it may be more challenging to turn the rudder on an ocean liner than a dingy, mature organizations are absolutely able to foster innovative thinking that keeps them competitive. It’s less about a startup mentality and more about understanding your objectives and how your organization’s culture is going to help get you there.

Myth-buster bottom line: A culture of performance is not necessarily a culture that seems catchy. The key is to clarify what you stand for and who you need to be and to execute on that vision authentically.

A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

Chris Cancialosi, Ph.D., is Managing Partner and Founder of gothamCulture, is a recognized expert in the field of leader and organizational development with particular focus on the leader’s role in shaping high-performing culture.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

3 Tips to Building Strong Startup Culture

startup life


The desire to be engaged in purposeful, fulfilling activity is universal. Maslow classified it as a basic need in his “self actualization” rung of the pyramid. Aristotle called it eudemonia, or human flourishing: “the soul acting in accordance with virtue.” Csikszentmihalyi proffers two concepts: good work — in which one “enjoys doing [one’s] best while at the same time contributing to something beyond [one]self”— and growth toward complexity — in which people flourish as their achievements grow. When we boil all these concepts down, we see that they are all derivations of the same basic principle. I call this principle Live.Learn.Grow™. These three words tap into a universal truth that people ultimately want to be and do their best.

So what does it take for this to happen?

What You Do Doesn’t Matter

A company has to realize that what they do doesn’t really matter. Sound completely nuts? It shouldn’t.

Think about companies that completely changed course or shifted strategy and direction. When a company that specialized in producing computers saw an opportunity in mobile phones, they introduced the world to the iPhone. When a video dating site called TuneInHookUp flailed, its founders decided to change direction and then created YouTube. An unsuccessful podcasting startup worked on a side project for months before making it their full-time gig and renaming themselves Twitter.

More and more companies are seeing that making drastic shifts to what they do doesn’t have to impact who they are, as long as they are true to how they do it.

Many companies who modify strategy and approach are unsuccessful because their compass is pointed solely towards profits, not towards the people who create them. So what goes into how a company does business and, more importantly, how it does business well? I believe it’s about creating an environment that allows people to thrive.

Why “Core Values” Fall Short

Companies most often define their culture through a series of core or company values. If you take a sampling of some of the core values out there, you will see many of the same themes repeated. Really, don’t most people want similar things? We want to work in a place where we feel respected. We want our clients taken care of, we want to do good work, and we want our company to prosper.

So why do so many of these attempt to create a strong culture through values fail?

Values are often static and generic. In the effort to boil them down to universal truths, values are often universally useless. Many leaders and businesses try to create a list of values to impose upon the company, as opposed to creating a company with these values woven into the fibers of the business. They take the same approach with people; they try to hire folks who have the skills they need and then try to instill the values in them once they are onboard. Rather than that, hire people who, themselves, embody the values.

How to Define Dynamic Values for Your Organization

Values must remain a dynamic element in an organization. Each value of the snowball builds upon the other both at the individual and organizational levels, gaining a momentum that snowballs and propels the growth and development of both.

To work, your values must be:

  • Action-oriented
  • Relevant regardless of tenure or stage in the organization
  • Dynamic – they grow, change and develop with individuals
  • Holistic – they apply personally and professionally.

A critical assumption behind our approach is that businesses leveraging our methodology would have to outperform their peers in the market. Profit is only the means to the end, but it is a powerful validator for those who would initially be dismissed as “unsustainable nice-to-haves.”

In his book Conscious Capitalism, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey argues that profit maximization need not be the sole purpose of business and calls for “a way of thinking about business that is more conscious of its higher purpose, its impacts on the world, and the relationships it has with its various constituencies and stakeholders.” It is not that profits aren’t the responsibility of a business; without strong performance, people lose their jobs, investors lose their money, and customers lose access to a product or service. Instead, it is the blind pursuit of profits as purpose that leads companies astray.

Sound too good to be true? Mackey and his co-founder tracked businesses who adhered to these practices over 15 years and compared their performance to the S&P 500. The result? Businesses built on a higher purpose and values outperformed the market 10 to one.

I want to help create a world where everyone has the opportunity to live, learn and grow. Ultimately, that is what my company aspires to do daily for anyone we touch. While there are many ways to do this, I’m personally compelled to drive this change through the workplace. Since so much of the world spends so much time and energy at work, my assumption is that, by changing the way the world does business we can fundamentally change the world.

A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

Tynesia Boyea Robinson is the CEO of Reliance Methods, which puts Americans to work by providing human capital strategy and placement solutions for clients like Walmart, Trammell Crow, and the federal government. Tynesia serves on numerous boards and has published several articles, which have been featured in the Washington Post and in Leap of Reason. Education: Harvard MBA, Duke University EE & Comp Sci.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

14 Tips For Keeping Team Morale Up When Times Are Tough

Basketball Fans



“Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump — they’ve all failed multiple times in their respective careers. Change your corporate mindset and teach employees that experiencing failure is the only way to succeed — it’s a healthy way to overcome the sting of post-failure frustration and strive toward success.”

– Melissa Cassera | President and CEO, Cassera Communications

“All entrepreneurs go through tough times during their maturation as business leaders. When faced with failure, the best thing that you can do as the leader is to keep an even keel and not get depressed. This is good for you and your team as well. It is hard to believe in a business if the owner doesn’t even believe that problems can be conquered. Therefore, keep your game face on with employees.”

– Lawrence Watkins | Founder & CEO, Great Black Speakers

“Too many companies view failure as a weakness. Although too much failure can be fatal, becoming allergic to it is equally dangerous. Your team should know that failure following a solid effort and thorough strategy is nothing to be a shamed of. I like the mantra, “Fail quick; fail often.” Because no one can foretell the future, your team should understand that failure is part of progress. “

– Kent Healy | Founder and CEO, The Uncommon Life

“Once you recognize what went wrong, shift your energy and focus to resolving the problem, creating safeguards and identifying issues earlier. Nothing beats down morale faster than wallowing in the mistake. Instead, turn that frustration into an opportunity to do better next time. You’ll also set your team back on path and give them a goal to reach.”


“A big mistake a lot of bosses make is that they try to shield everyone around them from the failure or disaster and handle it alone. The false thinking behind this is normally, “If I tell them something is seriously wrong, they might freak out and jump ship.” The reality almost always tends to be if you are open and honest about the situation, your team will rally around you to find a solution.”

– Seth Kravitz | CEO, Technori

“We follow the saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. When faced with failure, we take a step back and look at what works and what is bleeding. If need be, duties and responsibilities will change, standard procedures are modified, and even shifting around people’s desks helps liven things up and enhance communication between departments.”

– Justin Beck | Co-Founder and CEO, PerBlue

“When major failures occur, there’s often nothing that you can do in the short term. The most important goal during a time of significant frustration should be making sure that your team is intact, aligned and energized in order to bounce back. Taking the team bowling, out to a nice dinner or even on a short overnight trip to keep the good will and teamwork strong, which will help you persevere.”

– Aaron Schwartz | Founder and CEO, Modify Watches

“When times are tough, the worst thing you can do is try to hide the news. Let the team know there’s a rough patch ahead, but that you have faith in them and the business. Take time to answer questions and understand their concerns. They’re the ones who will help you through rough waters, so they deserve to know how the business is performing. You’ll find that most team members will rally to help!”


“If you’re worried about a temporary failure affecting morale, then focus on the morale, not the failure. Fix the problem, but make sure your team is focused on what’s going well instead of what isn’t. Don’t let the first mistake lead to the second.”


“Writing what went wrong on paper was a really good idea for us, as it laid out the big picture on our mistakes. By having a document on what went wrong, we can then fix our processes to prevent the mistake happening all over again. No matter what failure though, we always remind the team that greatness is remembered the most when dealing with trials and tribulations — not just success.”

– Kenny Nguyen | Founder/CEO, Big Fish Presentations

“Maintain a sense of humor, don’t point fingers, and never, ever cut the team-building portion of your budget. Most importantly, spend some reflecting on your core competencies and those things that got you to where you are. Then, do those things. Throwing a party might help everyone feel better for a night, but ultimately, you need to remind your team why they joined in the first place.”

– Luke Burgis | Director, ActivPrayer

“If you think about it, most people, whenever faced with issues either are in need to talk to family, friends, psychologist, etc. The times we’ve gone through failures or frustration, the thing we find most effective is talk, talk and talk. We talk to generate ideas, we talk to generate hope, and brainstorm until morale is back up and ready to go even harder.”


“If you’re facing a steady stream of frustration, it’s incredibly wearing. Just a small win — something that can give you a rush and maybe get some momentum going in the other direction — can help morale immensely. It doesn’t have to be particularly big, but it does need to be a clear success that requires some input from everyone on the team.”


“Embrace failure. In fact, encourage your staff to fail regularly. Teach them not to look at failure as defeat but as a missed swing. If you don’t swing, you can’t ever hit the ball.”

– David Cohen | Vice President, Round Table Companies

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons. 

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The 4 Disciplines of Great Company Culture


The word “organization” and the word “organism” come from the same root word. Company culture bears many similarities to natural ecosystems. The way founders do business in the beginning of a startup are the seeds for what kind of company they will develop in two, five and ten years.

Whether you know it or not, the way you run your startup now is setting the stage for what is acceptable and what’s not in your budding organization. That’s what culture is: a natural outgrowth of the way early business owners choose to do things.

This also means that company culture is something that can be designed, just like a beautiful backyard. After you decide what “crop” you want later, plant the seeds for it. Set your goal and reverse-engineer it. Adopting this mentality provides some powerful instruction for how to work right now. Do you want a stressful, frenetic, unbalanced culture in five years? No? Then stop planting those seeds in your startup! Orange seeds do not grow into oak trees, nor do hectic company cultures grow into balanced ones.

If you want an energizing, productive, and astonishing company culture, there are four core disciplines you must “plant” in order to grow it:


When designing a company culture, the first “seed to plant” is a bold and unapologetic focus on people’s strengths. Every company I’ve seen that has a great culture contains this simple but often overlooked premise: focus more on what’s RIGHT with people than what’s WRONG with them.

When left to the path of least resistance, our social conditioning will drift us back towards a focus on making weaknesses less weak (think about every performance review you’ve ever had). But this method only leads to mediocrity, never greatness. If you want your company to do something exceptional, the only way to get there is by starting with strength.

ACTION ITEM: Start learning more about how to leverage strengths—remember, this does not come naturally. You can easily get started by reading a few books (Strengths Based LeadershipStretch: Leading Beyond Boundaries) and by taking a strengths assessment (StrengthscopeStrengthsFinder, etc.).


Back in 2006, the new CEO of Nike, Mark Parker, had an interesting conversation with Steve Jobs. He asked Jobs if he had any advice for him as a new CEO. As you may suspect, Steve did. He told Mark that, while Nike certainly made a lot of good things, they also made a lot of “crap.” “Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff,” he said.

A relentless obsession with simplicity is one of the things that makes Apple so unique. But how does this kind of focus happen? If you ask the senior team at Apple why they do business the way they do, they will give a rather fascinating response. Their culture is aligned to do one thing: make a better product. If they can’t make a product better, they simply refuse to do it. This continual re-centering on what I’d call a “noble cause” allows them a sense of focus and simplicity unmatched by many organizations.

ACTION ITEM: Discover, articulate, and filter everything through your organization’s noble cause. The marketplace is growing more crowded by the minute, and for a new company to succeed it must have a “noble cause” that allows employees to say NO to a thousand good things, so they can say YES to two or three great things.


The best performers in the world — concert cellists or olympic athletes — all employ a remarkably strange and similar method: they create rhythmic cycles of intense performance and powerful renewal. They alternate between periods of extreme energy output and drastic energy rejuvenation.

In startups and small businesses, we do the first one very well (energy output) and all but ignore the second (energy renewal). Here’s the real kicker: not only is our current pace unsustainable over the long-term (thus the intense burnout we see in startups), but it’s also not helping us achieve our best in the short-term.

For many of us, this seed is the most difficult one to plant. As entrepreneurs/owners/leaders, we feel like we’re SUPPOSED TO be busy. What we repeatedly forget, though, is that busy-ness never equals output. “Pushing through” is not the best way to achieve greatness, whether we are delivering a product or designing a culture.

ACTION ITEM: Schedule rejuvenation. This time will probably look a bit different for each individual, based on their strengths. Put these times on your company calendar and be serious about sticking to them. If you don’t value renewal, I promise you that no one else will, either.


In business, the term “system” encompasses a lot: recruiting, on-boarding, compensation, vacation, working hours, dress code, working locations, etc. Every single policy or procedure that touches people is either growing the culture you want or it is destroying it. It can never do both.

ACTION ITEM: Start asking, “Why do we do [recruiting/vacation/whatever] the way we do?” Find a few people in your company who truly care about creating a great place to work, and have a strategic conversation with them. Ensure thatevery single one is supporting an environment that leverages strengths, reinforces simplicity and creates space.

After all, if you’re going to be creating a culture, it may as well be an astonishingly great one!

Josh Allan Dykstra is a recognized thought leader on the future of work and company culture design whose articles and ideas have been featured by Fast Company, Business Insider, MSN.com, Under30CEO, and The Agency Post. He is a co-founder of Strengths Doctors, a consulting firm which helps leaders and entrepreneurs design energizing places to work. Connect with him online at joshallan.com.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.