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Symbols connect to us emotionally.

They’re powerful tools in relating ideologies that convey, challenge, and create culture.

Gabe Krajicek, CEO at Kasasa, uses them to communicate a powerful cultural message that changes the work environment.

Learning the Value of Culture

Gabe attributes the beginning of his business culture understanding to his father.

His dad was a thought leader in an industry where you’d least expect it, but was a man who loved his employees and taught his son that leading employees meant more than just paying them to do a job.

It was about having compassion for human beings that you have a duty to take care of.

It’s difficult to place an ROI on culture, but it undoubtedly impacts your business in a positive way.

Gabe found himself outside his element in his first leadership role at Dealerskins, but he knew what he could do was create a great culture.

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This was more than values; it was a direction and a “why.

Connecting your employees with the company’s reason to exist is where the values find their purpose and the people find their motivation.

And even then, without a robust understanding of how culture is perpetuated, it turns out that no amount of love and respect can save a culture that isn’t sustained when the key catalyst departs.

When he moved to the company we now know as Kasasa, Gabe quickly realized that it wasn’t enough to simply build great culture, but that this culture needed to transcend and outlive him.

Pursuing Great Culture

Gabe outlined four principles that help guide his employees in the workspace both as they interact with one another and engage their roles. They call the symbol for this the “Patch.”

Love

This is where respect lives. Caring for others is one of the first principles and permeates the value system. Kindness is a key factor in work relationships.

Interdependence

For Kasasa, interdependence was originally symbolized by the skull and crossbones the pirate band formed together to pillage and plunder but eventually became a Spartan helmet to symbolize the strength of a phalanx.

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Five Star Leadership

They expect results, just like a general at war. It seems often that values tend to dismiss the fact that this is a business. Incorporating this is key.

Baddasstitude

Great work is a necessity; capable adults do work they’re proud of. There’s nowhere to hide from bad work ethic.

There’s wisdom in the disharmony of these attributes, Gabe says. Although they’re deliberately designed to interact with one another, these attributes don’t always sync perfectly.

This requires wisdom from employees.

Sustaining Culture

Gabe learned from past experiences.

He tells us the key components that would sustain this culture even if he walked away:

There has to be across-the-board executive buy in.

“You see cultures that are locked in the 1980’s despite having great people,” Gabe says.

He’s seen situations where innovative people come to him or others frustrated because executives are unchanging.

You need a very clear sense of why you company needs to exist.

What greater good are you doing in the world?

While a paycheck may meet basic needs, in order to tap into what motivates people to give you their very best creativity they must feel that their work matters.

The way you create purpose in their minds is to give them the reason the company needs to exist.

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Implement the changes.

It’s very important to know that this isn’t done all at once. Moreover, trying things that don’t work too often or over experimentation creates doubt. Gabe tries to avoid implementing too many things at one time.

Create onboarding programs.

Gabe sits down with each new hire to talk to them over a cup of coffee about the company’s history and why it’s important. He also gets to know them.

They’ve also tried to create programs where employees can have an active voice in things like hiring and benevolence. It can’t all be about the CEO. It works so much better when employees raise their hand and say this is a problem they’re going to solve.

Throughout all of this, Gabe continually stresses the value of communicating directly with employees.

“I noticed the closer I was with somebody, the better they thought I was at my job,” Chris observes, “And the less I knew them, the worse they thought I did.”

People are more likely to fill in gaps with someone they don’t know because humans have a natural propensity to protect themselves.

Gabe tries to have a “lean into style” where he spends as much time as as possible explaining why he made certain decisions.

In the end, you’re in charge and you must make the difficult calls. However, the manner in which you do this not only instills faith or doubt in your employees, but certainly informs the culture you’re attempting to create.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Gabe Krajicek from Kasasa. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to What Culture Could Be: Cracking the Company Culture Code.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can find other listening options here.

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