Friday, October 21, 2011

Culture Shift

A few years back, I adopted the practice of waking up ridiculously early. I found I was unable to manage my busy life so I decided to do something about it. Where many start their day in traffic jams, I speed through empty streets. I spend the first 2 hours of my day alone in a coffee shop. By the time the others are arriving, I am gone, on to start my day ahead of everyone else. I put the headphones on, fire up the lap top and hyper-focus. One day, someone interrupted me....

If you understand the "calm before the storm" logic behind my morning mission, you can guess I cherish the time alone and wish not to be engaged in disruptions. But, one morning the Manager of the coffee shop asked me to remove my headphones. He told me he wanted to buy me a cup of coffee for my loyalty to his shop. I accepted. He then told me it would cost me one conversation a week - "I want to bounce a few ideas off you, I'll buy you a cup of coffee every time I do". He didn't know the nature of my degree or my profession, he just needed someone to listen (when no other customers were around). I accepted.

A week became a month and a month a year. We became friends. We connected really well. Like a good bartender, he knew how to ignite my trust. Like a good patron, I knew how to listen. He was hell bent on succeeding, so was I. We was full of ideas, so was I. Neither of us had any apprehension about sharing our thoughts with one another. There was no judgement or formality between was 2 people drinking coffee while everyone else was asleep.

Over time, I came to discover that this guy was having conversations with a lot of his customers. He was also engaging his employees. He didn't seem to care about posting promotional materials, he didn't worry about his new hires industry experience, he wasn't hung up on quick fix rebates. He was creating a culture. I could have chosen 10 different coffee shops, his felt like home.

When he quit so did the staff of extraordinary people he had hired. The promotional material went up and the regulars kept to themselves - the culture was dead.

We talk a lot about culture in today's work world. It can be cultivated by one person. Some times one person makes a difference. That person who inspires others to work hard with positive intent, that person that is inviting of your input of how to make things better, that person that is willing to step away from their work to understand what it means to his/her customers.

We get so caught up in systematic efficiency, marketing strategy, and the right way to manage our employees; that we forget that we are people among people. Some times you have to use your I-phone to actually call someone. Some times you have to stop pretending you know everything and ask for input from others. Some times you have to buy someone a cup of coffee, step away from the lap top and share your experience.

Don't Forget to Remember!



  1. Fantastic post! Thought-provoking and inspiring!

  2. I am with Sunny...Great post! Definitely thought provoking!.