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Culture Over Coffee Podcast: Tracing a Company’s Culture Journey with Rich Barone

Culture Over Coffee Podcast: Tracing a Company’s Culture Journey with Rich Barone
Culture Over Coffee Podcast: Tracing a Company’s Culture Journey with Rich Barone

Culture Over Coffee Podcast - Ep8_Tracing a Company's Culture Journey with Rich BaroneIn this episode, we break down an individual company’s culture journey. Where did they begin? What were the challenges they faced along the way? What results have they experienced on the other side?   

Helping answer questions like those and more, is the amazing Rich Barone, VP at Cox Media Arizona.

Rich shares so many valuable thoughts, like:  

  • When you make quick decisions to fulfill numbers in the short term, your organization suffers in the long term.  
  • How any successful company culture initiative always starts at the top.  
  • And, lastly, how even those who believe their organization to have a “great” company culture could stand to still take a look under the hood and do the work.  


Leading with a “People-First” Mindset Helps Avoid Culture Pain Points

“I know you have a passion for having a strong company culture,” Beth says, kicking off the conversation. “That's important to you. Thinking through all of your experiences in the business world, either recently or not, what would you say are some of the biggest pain points you've encountered related to company culture and employee engagement?” 

“Yes,” Rich says, “’People first’ is something that Cox Media has lived for the 11 years that I've been here and it really starts at the top. And I know that sounds cliche, but I just saw our company results that are done outside of Up Your Culture and, as a part of the presentation, there's a quote from Alex Taylor, who is a fifth generation [descendant of] Governor Cox. And his quote was, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘The people in this organization make it happen.’” 

“So, I don't want to say it’s easy, but it's been easy at Cox, because, from the top down, it starts with our people. And that's really made it easy to lead people first.”

culture self-inventory checklist“But, to your question, the things that were pain points when it comes to company culture, I guess the things that I've suffered from have really been before Cox Media, when it's a ‘bottom-line-first’ organization.” 

“For many years I've worked for publicly-held companies where, toward the end of first quarter....it was not about people. It was about profits, and it was about the people who owned our stocks, if you will.” 

“To see that inverse has been just wonderful.” 

“The decisions I've seen companies make when there's something besides the people that matter are a lot different than companies that are privately-held. I've really seen that and that would always give me angst. The hustle-bustle, the hurry, the, ‘let'sget it all in, in this timeframe’ as opposed to the longer-term approach.” 

“I think when you make a rash decision, or quick decisions, in order to fulfill numbers in the short term as opposed to kind-of playing the ‘infinite game,’ as Simon Sinek put in his book... that was always a pain point for me.”


For a Culture to Thrive, Leaders Need Buy-In from Their Team

“It is a bare your soul type of exercise,” Rich says about working on company culture. “We do the survey to start a baseline and every leader has a perception of how they lead and how the group sees the culture.” 

“Our initial results were okay. We weren't setting the world on fire, but we thought we were in an okay place.” 

“But there were certain things that stood out that really impacted myself and also our leadership team.” 

“So, I think the positive impact I've been able to make is getting buy-in from my team. And then that kind of cascades down.” 

“It really starts with the leader who is interacting every day with the employee. And if they aren't bought into it and it's not that kind of cascade effect then that tends to fall flat.” 

“A lot of the questions that came up were ‘Well, why do we need to work on culture? Our culture's great!’” 

“Great’ is a strong word. Through discovering that our culture was good, it’s gotten a lot better. So, I think that's one of my most positive takeaways. Everybody was pulling in the same direction.” 

“We all had one goal... Everybody knows it. Everybody signed that paper. That's not a legal, legally-binding document, I swear. But we signed it and bought into it. I think everybody pulling in the same direction has been the most positive impact.” 

“It's a really interesting point that you make,” Beth says. “Because what we've learned with Up Your Culture, when we're talking to prospective new clients, is to say upfront that we're going to give you all the tools, we're going to bring you everything you need, but your people have to really want to do it.” 

“It can't just be the person at the top. And it can't be just the employees who are reporting up. It has to be everyone. And all of the leaders there have to really own it and have buy-in.” 

“So, we'll say that upfront. If your leaders don't want to do this, it's not going to work. I think it's interesting that you landed right on that and you have a group of leaders who really rolled their sleeves up and wanted to do this.”


Even if You Think Your Company Culture is Great, Look Under the Hood and Do the Work

When asked about any hurdles and experiences when working on company culture at Cox Media, Rich says, “I'd say a hurdle that I had to overcome was with the mantra or a reason for being. We've had the mantra established for about five years now, and through Up Your Culture, we had a chance to battle test the mantra.” 

New call-to-action“It's something that I have held very close to my heart and tried very hard to cascade. And going through that process hurt because I thought we were picking it apart and we actually changed it. One of the pieces that was hard to see... and the last piece on there was strength in our communities.” 

“We never had that on our mantra. We talk about supporting each other and serving our clients, but then we added strengthening our communities. And that was a piece that, you know, if I'm being completely honest, I was in the minority of changing because I thought [the mantra] was perfect the way it was.” 

“But through a lot of feedback, it was eye-opening, and it was a hurdle that I had to get over. But the team spoke very precisely about it and I thought it made great sense. 

“That process was kind of exposing and I felt very exposed. And it was a hurdle that I had to get over.” 

“I think that's a hurdle that others had too. They had a perception of what the culture was or what we were doing that it was, ‘perfect.’ And then, to kind of have the results come back that, you know, it wasn't all in green.” 

“Look under the hood. I would challenge anybody and everybody who says that they have a great culture to look under the hood. And what I mean by that is, almost have like a ‘break yourselves down to build yourselves up’ mentality... even though you feel that you are maybe ‘best in class’ in how you do culture, take a chance to survey all your employees to really get an understanding of how your culture is.” 

LISTEN NOW: The Culture over Coffee Podcast with Beth Sunshine

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Brent Tripp
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