The Culture Spark: 5 Steps to Ignite and Sustain Team Growth

Steve Shallenberger: Hi friends and listeners! As you start thinking about wrapping up 2020, finishing strong, of course, this year, but also beginning a new year, some of the thoughts you may have are, “Okay, how can I take advantage of a new fresh year? How can I become my best? How can I increase my productivity by 30-50%? And how can I be excellent in time management and to consistently do what matters most while having peace and balance in my life?” Well, the 2021 Becoming Your Best planner is designed to specifically help you and support you to realize those dreams. Whether you’re working remotely, in your office, or in the field, you can order your 2021 dated Becoming Your Best planner now to help you get an early start on the New Year. Simply go to, hit the planner icon and you will receive a 20% discount. Act now to start getting mentally set for a great 2021! 


Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we are so excited to have you with us. We have an interesting guest with us today, a successful entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of Ideal Outcomes Inc. – and as a business executive with more than 25 years of experience, he is an in-demand keynote speaker who has worked closely with Fortune 500 leadership teams all around the country. He is also the author of ‘Culture Spark: 5 Steps to Ignite and Sustain Organizational Growth’. So, welcome, Jason Richmond! 


Jason Richmond: Thank you, Steve, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you, your audience today. I’ve been looking forward to our conversation and our free flow idea exchange to bring value to any of your listeners today. So, I appreciate it. 


Steve Shallenberger: Oh, you bet. Well, thank you. And before we get started today, I’d like to tell you just a little bit more about Jason. In his book, ‘Culture Spark’, Jason delivers a proven five-step plan that helps define, diagnose, plan, measure, and sustain an enterprising culture that breeds employee achievement, and peak success. Jason holds his audiences right into the moment of the time and his extensive insights into developing business cultures that cultivate employee fulfillment, and long-term organizational success. Now, I’ve got to say, I’m pretty sure, Jason, that the things that we talk about today will apply professionally. But my guess is, that if we have some parents or grandparents listening, it may apply in a family organization. Would that be right? 


Jason Richmond: Absolutely, Steve! In all my professional career, I think one of the key characteristics of my personality is that I’m a continuous learner. And I think ultimately, that’s what drove me to do the research and publish my book on organizational culture. The one thing in my research and the one thing that I have found that has been consistent in every high-performance culture is the level of authenticity. And culture doesn’t just apply to your corporation or to your business team. It applies to a sports team, it applies to your family environment, it applies really, to any group of people that you’re involved in, even your social networks. Whether it be a Fortune 500, or a startup company, a family situation, that theme of authenticity is still ultimately relevant, when you’re deliberately trying to define and maintain a successful culture. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, great. Well, we’ll come back and talk about that. Tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that’s had a significant impact on you. So, what’s your story? How did you get to where you are today? 


Jason Richmond: Yeah, after I graduated in college I was fascinated about travel, about seeing the world. I’ve lived abroad in a couple of different places – I had the opportunity to really kickstart my career, living in Australia, I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe – all over the world, a lot of different countries. And I’ve just been fascinated about organizational culture and how people interact and how they engage, and the political correctness of things and all of it. And I’ve just really constantly throughout my work career, which has been primarily in professional learning and development, leadership components is where it started. And like you said, I’ve worked with startups to the mid-cap companies all the way to the Fortune 100 companies on different leadership and culture initiatives. I think one big turning point in my career, Steve – and this is very early in my career, one of my first leadership positions – I was working with my mentor who’s still a business mentor of mine today. I was developing a brand-new team, and we were accomplishing great success and production numbers and sales numbers and profitability and efficiency quarter after quarter, but then I really plateaued. I actually had a business coach, my mentor, come in and really analyze the situation and talk to everyone – and Steve, it’s a funny story – he sat in my office, and he said, “Jason, the reason you plateaued is because nobody likes you.” You talk about a really hard lesson learned: here, you’ve been successful, you think you’re doing the right things, but what I really realized is that I had a couple of critical leadership blind spots. And those blind spots were what really caused me to plateau. And right then and there, I realized how important the level of engagement and team culture is to an organization’s success. And it fundamentally changed my leadership style and the tendency of my behavior. 


Steve Shallenberger: Right. Oh, my goodness, I’m so glad you shared that, thank you very much. 


Jason Richmond: It was very direct and it was very on point. And I challenge every leader, every manager in an organization to reflect back on their career and find that defining moment, that made a fundamental change in their style or the tendency. We all have them. If we’ve been in business, and we’ve been working, and we’ve been leading, over time, we all have those defining moments, and I – even in family life, raising children, whatever it might be – encourage people to reflect and find some of those defining moments in their lives and figure out what that’s done for them. 


Steve Shallenberger: Right. That’s a great invitation. So, let’s talk about culture a bit more. So how do you define organizational culture? Let’s just give these words a label here. 


Jason Richmond: Yeah, well, when I’m working with an organization, when I’m working with a leadership team, when I’m working with an executive team, when we really start defining organizational culture, I started the fundamentals. And I’ve got primarily six fundamentals in defining organizational culture. And that’s all about how we share information, is the first one. And then the second is how we actually communicate that information. So, how do we share? How do we communicate with each other? The third is, how in general, do we treat people around us? Whether that be peers, whether that be supervision, whether that be direct reports, but how do we treat people? Is it consistent? Is it fair? The fourth one – and this gets a little more into operational – it’s the impact of our decision-making process. How we make decisions? And the last two is what type of policies and procedures do we put in place? And then really taking a look at how is our organization truly structured? Are we a top-down, are we a flat organization, those types of things? All those elements really have to come into play when we define organizational culture. And that’s really kind of some of my starting points when I work with organizations to really take a look at those six things, and modify them.  


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good. Well, I’m glad that you shared those. That’s great. That’s a terrific starting point. And we can kind of keep building on that, because I had a number of questions, but let’s just keep thinking a bit more about that. So why is having the right kind of corporate culture so important?  


Jason Richmond: Well, I write about this a lot in the book, but in my mind, in my vocabulary, culture is really the DNA of a company, if you will. What does that really mean? Well, it can really differentiate you over your competition. So, how can it do that? Well, if you’ve got a really strong culture, you probably have a higher level of talent retention, you might have an advantage in attracting top talent within your industry. I really think, when you talk about the importance of culture – you can google the impact of culture and you’ll get over a million responses. They all talk about things like performance, profitability, company growth. All these things are why culture is really important. And if you ask me, a culture strategy is just as important as having a business strategy, an operational strategy, even a financial strategy. I was reading an article, some research findings, that said, “Currently right now, over 50% of our workforce is disengaged.” That level of disengagement in our workforce could potentially be costing billions of dollars in losses and productivity. That’s why culture is important. It’s not a passing fad, it’s something that organizations have to be strategic about. 


Steve Shallenberger: Is there a right culture or wrong culture for a corporation? 


Jason Richmond: Nope, there is not, there is no plug and play. There is no, “Here is my culture.” It has to start with the organization and what we call culture influencers. If you take a look at any organization, from top to bottom, there are individuals in that organization that have influence – hopefully positive influence, sometimes negative influence, but they’re influencers. And all those influencers should take part in really defining what the organizational culture should be. I mean, ultimately, the top, to start with the plan and the design, what do they want their culture to be. But there’s a lot of successful companies in the same industry that have completely different cultures. There is no right or wrong. It’s, are you deliberate about it? Are you authentic about it? Are you transparent about it? And is it a deliberate intent? And that’s where a lot of different cultures can be successful. What do you want your culture to be? 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, that’s a good distinction. Well, I like drilling down on the culture here. So, what are some common myths about corporate culture and the impact they have on business? 


Jason Richmond: Well it’s interesting, because, I talk about this too, in the book, and I just identify a few, but just more in a conversational style. A lot of times you’ll engage with an organization, and you’ll start talking about culture. And they’ll say, “Well, HR handles that.” Well, one of the myths is that culture is an HR responsibility. Yes, they play in it, yes, they have a part in it. But culture is not a policy or a procedure. So, it’s not just an HR initiative. I think another one is, sometimes people think, ‘if I got great perks and great rewards, that means I have a great culture’. Well, a lot of times, perks and rewards are a short-term motivator, if you will. Recognition, how we recognize our people, some perks can be a part of our culture, but it doesn’t really create the culture. They kind of come and go and they’re pretty individualized. A couple more are our hiring practices. I mean, you’ve probably dealt with enough organizations I have that, “ I’m going to hire the absolute best talent that I can. That person’s attitude or philosophy might not fit, but we can train them our way.”. A lot of times, people are who they are, and when you’re hiring, you need to hire for the type of culture you want. If you have a culture of empowerment, if you have a culture of accountability and empowerment and decision making, and you brought in someone that is really, really, really a micromanager, you’re going to have a culture issue. Does that make sense? 


Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, totally.  


Jason Richmond: Hiring that right type of people. The other one I want to talk about a little bit is, the culture is created on its own. To a point, yes, it is. I mean, if you don’t do anything about it, regardless, you’ve got a group of people together, you’re going to have a culture. But if you’re not deliberate, or give it a little attention, I pretty much guarantee you won’t be the culture you really want.  


Steve Shallenberger: Right, yep.  


Jason Richmond: That’s some of the key myths, some of the key misconceptions of organizational culture out there today, and some of the topic points that I get into when I work with organizations. 


Steve Shallenberger: Well, great. I’ve got a whole bunch of questions on this, I’m just thinking about, banging around in my mind. And I’ve enjoyed reviewing Jason’s book, the Culture Spark. I love the title, it’s great. He talks about five things that you can do to build a strong culture and they’re: define, diagnose, plan, measure, and sustain. When you talked about, initially, when we were visiting defining organizational culture, is that part of these five steps? Is that part of the defining part or…? 


Jason Richmond: Absolutely, and it’s kind of a funny story, it’s not a one-time story. But a lot of times, I’ll start with a fairly high-level leadership team. And one of the exercises that I like to do, Steve, is, have one-on-one interviews, maybe with five or six high-level executives amongst that leadership team, and have them describe what the current culture is, and what they think it should be. And if you put all those people in a room together, nine out of 10 times everyone’s in alignment, “Yep, we all agree, we all agree.” And then when you split up and talk to them individually, and have them describe what the culture really is, guess how many different descriptions I actually get?  


Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, probably quite a few. 


Jason Richmond: Five or six. So, that element, it all starts with really defining what you want your culture to be. It’s no different than an operational strategy, a business plan, a marketing plan. What’s my culture plan? And what’s the strategy? How are we going to define what the culture is? And that goes into taking a look at your values, creating cultural pillars, really a cultural structure. And that’s the first step of the process – to define. And then you mentioned that you route them off, and then you go to diagnose where you get all the players involved. A lot of times there is a gap in what organizations perceive their culture to be compared to what it actually is. And you see that every day with engagement surveys and assessments and those types of things. But it’s pretty critical, if you’re going to address a business challenge, you have to have an accurate analysis of what the current state is. And that’s where that ‘diagnose’ is. 


Steve Shallenberger: On the diagnose, do you use some instruments? Or how do you do that diagnosis? 


Jason Richmond: We introduce a variety of different tools when we work with organizations, different tools to help diagnose. We potentially can use different types of organizational assessment tools from culture assessments to engagement assessments, those types of things. But also, provide a lot of different individual leadership tools for them to be a part of that diagnosis. So absolutely, there’s a lot of different tools that we provide organizations and leadership to help that diagnose process. Now, one thing that sets us apart a little bit maybe is – and I’m a big believer in that I don’t think an organization can bring somebody in from the outside and say, “Fix my culture problem.” We’re not inside. True culture evolution comes from within, in all levels from within. So our methodology is that we work with key culture, influence people across the organization, and provide the tools and provide the insight and the guidance. And that behavior change and that cultural evolution really have to come from behaviors and activities from within the organization. We help lead and guide the process. It’s not a sprint. This is not a sprint. If you’re really going to get serious about your organizational culture, it’s not like turning the light switch on. It’s a process and it will take some time for culture change. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay. And from there, then I guess your plan what steps you’re going to… 


Jason Richmond: Yep, who’s involved, what are we doing, what activities have to be done, what steps into place. Even in the book, we’ve got a couple of sample culture plans, culture strategy templates, things like that. And it depends on really what you’re doing to define it. But then you’ve got to plan and execute. And in that process and step four is set some measurements, how are you going to measure your culture? Your culture strategy has to drive some type of outcome when you’re really talking about a business culture. So, what outcomes are you going to take a look at? I always recommend not having 12 but one of the couple three key measurements or outcomes that you’re going to take a look at – maybe employee retention, maybe employee satisfaction, maybe employee engagement, maybe productivity, maybe efficiency, maybe profitability – but identify three or four key business metrics that we can use. And we do that together. And it really depends on what kind of culture you want, and what should that culture drive. And then sustain – putting the sustainment tools in the leadership’s hands. And this is really where that frontline and mid-level management within an organization really plays. Steve, they’re the mouthpiece of the organization, they can take messages up to executive leadership, and they’re responsible for spreading the message down to individual contributors. So, getting them on board and having them part of your culture evolution, and having that as a communication piece, that’s where the key is found in the sustainment of culture and then at the frontline and middle management level. 


Steve Shallenberger: Good, okay. Well, now I’m interested, with the COVID-19, and the pandemic, people working at home so a lot of what we’re used to before it’s changed. What impact has this had on culture? 


Jason Richmond: It’s funny, I was in a conversation just the other day, and it came out of the conversation kind of the phrase that Zoom is the new water cooler. So, you have less and less opportunity to run into people and to have impromptu conversations, which is such a big part of culture; where now, the big change in the remote workforce is, management and leadership have to be a lot more deliberate in their outreach, in their communication, or maybe a little more structured. But it’s a lot easier now if you’re working remotely and don’t have that personal touch, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate, it’s a lot easier to let things go. And it really has caused a fundamental behavior change in leadership. You can’t really lead and manage your team exactly the same way. You’ve got to do actually specific different types of activities in our communications and those types of things and our follow up. It’s changed how we manage projects. I mean, yes, a team can get on a Zoom call or a GoToMeeting or a WebEx and we can have project meetings and updates and things like that. But things like delegation, empowerment, change – these things I think, have all been enhanced. From a leadership standpoint, I think they’ve all had to get better at delegating things and trusting and empowering people to get things done because they can’t just walk up to their desk. It doesn’t exist right now. So, I do think there are some fundamental leadership behaviors that are being changed. And I think the other big difference is organizations have to go back and maybe evaluate and look at some of their current or some of their past policies and procedures. Some of the policies and procedures might change might not be relevant. And I would challenge an organization if they’re moving to a remote workforce, to just take a little time and say “ Does this policy and procedure makes sense in today’s world?” So, I think there are some fundamental things leaders and managers need to do to adapt so their culture does not plateau or it doesn’t take a step back. 


Steve Shallenberger: Right. Yeah. Okay, that’s great! One of the things I was thinking, Jason, I’m so glad you’re on today because this had a big impact on me already. You think about it, with employees, so many working at home, that if they don’t have the software built within already of how to do the things that matter most, to be highly successful within their own home, that’s going to be hard, because they’re no longer within the office where they have others to depend upon. 


Jason Richmond: It is hard, and it’s the level of distraction in today’s workforce if they’re working from home, and they don’t have that cubicle at home. So that’s an individual case with, “What is my workforce’s capability, what is their structure? Do they have a private spot? Do they have an office or are they sitting at the kitchen table? It has an impact, and these are the questions and the activities and the things that leaders and organizations are talking about today as they’re considering, do I bring people back? We’ve done this now for over six months, we’ve been working remotely. Is this something we should just continue? Regardless of COVID, do we maintain more of a remote workforce? These are all cultural questions that are being asked right now in boardrooms. And there’s a lot of organizations out there that because of this, will maintain a higher level of the remote workforce. 


Steve Shallenberger: Well, Jason, it’s been a fascinating subject. It’s been a fascinating discussion. We’ve had a lot of fun. Thanks for your perspective and ideas. Time flies and we’re at the end of our session here. Any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners today? 


Jason Richmond: My big tip is to pay attention to your people. Take a little extra time and ask them what’s going on in their lives. There’s a lot of unknown and there’s a lot of change going on in our corporate environment, regardless of what industry you’re in. And from a leadership standpoint and a management standpoint, every one of your people is probably dealing with things a little differently. Take the time, one-on-one, to find out how they’re doing. Take the time one on one to find out what they’re dealing with, and be a resource and a support for them. And that’ll help that engagement, that’ll help maintain culture. But make a little extra time for those types of activities. I think that’s my big tip for the day. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, that’s a great tip! So, how can people find out about what you are doing? 


Jason Richmond: On LinkedIn, I’m Jason Richmond. We’re communicating all the time on what’s going on LinkedIn at Jason Richmond. My Facebook page – Ideal Outcomes Inc. – we’re pretty active and staying current, putting blogs and thought leadership and all kinds of things on our website, which is, or So, basically, through the web, through Facebook, through LinkedIn. If anyone ever wanted to send me a direct email, it’s I am always excited to talk to people about what they’re going through, whether it be on an organizational level or even a team level. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, thank you, Jason Richmond for being part of the show today. It’s been a delight! 


Jason Richmond: Thank you, Steve! I really appreciate it. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay, and we wish you all the best as you’re making a difference in the world today and causing people to think about and improve their cultures. Great going. 


Jason Richmond: Great. Thank you. 


Steve Shallenberger: Okay. And to all of our listeners, never forget, you too, are making a difference every single day of your life. And we wish you the very best in all that you’re doing! This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day!  


Steve Shallenberger: At the beginning of this podcast, I mentioned that you can now order your 2021 planners. You’re going to love them! They’re 100% guaranteed, and you can order those from, hit the planner icon for the 20% discount. It’ll take your right to the page, and you can order. Alright, have a great day! 

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