Designing for Love & Magic, with Oshoke & Chinedu
How do we foster love and magic within our organizations? This is the question on which architect Pamela Oshoke Abalu and serial entrepreneur Chinedu Echeruo founded the Love & Magic Company.
Oshoke and Chinedu’s job is to help change-makers develop enthused and powerful business solutions. In this episode of the Culture First Podcast, Damon explores with them what it means for work to be “love made visible”
They discuss the concept of seeing your customer or employee as your beloved, designing for your mother, and empathy as fuel for innovation.
Later in the episode, Erica Kuhl, former VP of Community at Salesforce, talks to us about her journey building a 3 million+ member thriving Salesforce Trailblazer Community where members go to connect, learn and give back. We learn about her journey having the company recognize the community’s value, and the role that deep listening played.
DAMON KLOTZ: Hi everybody. This is Damon. Before we get started, I just wanted to quickly tell you that we have a great free resource for you with this week’s episode. We’ve partnered with Love & Magic Company to offer you the “How To Bring Your Idea To Life” playbook. It will give you a systematic and scientific approach to organizing teams and creating a culture of innovation. To get your free copy, head to culturefirstpodcast.com/love. All right, let’s get started.
DAMON KLOTZ: I’m Damon Klotz and this is Culture First. When the team at Culture Amp first came up with the concept for the Culture First Podcast, we wanted to do something a bit different from what currently exists in the workplace and management podcast space. There are some really great podcasts that go deep with just one guest and I’ve definitely used a lot of them as inspiration and education for this show. But, we really liked the idea of hearing from multiple guests in each episode.
DAMON KLOTZ:So, we actually wanted to come up with a bit of a formula and some different categories of how we would pick guests because there’s 100s, if not 1000s, of people that I would love the chance to be interviewing. So, the three categories of guests that we came up with. The first one, well known thought leaders to inspire you. These are people like Esther Perel who you heard from in episode one. The second one is industry leaders with really actionable takeaways that you can implement in your company. Episode two featured people like Ambrosia Vertesi and Molly Graham to really go deep into some things that you can do to improve your culture in your company. And then the final category.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, these are people that you might not yet know, but we think that you should. We’ve really gone far and wide to kind of really reach out to some incredible thinkers and not the typical ones who you might know from the people in cultural space or the human resource space or the management thinking space. These are people with really different backgrounds who are tackling some of the most important subjects that don’t always get talked about. We hope that these guests will challenge some of our assumptions and really inspire us with new stories to improve the world of work. So on episode three of Culture First, we’re going to be hearing from people from that very last category and I’m excited to really introduce them to you.
DAMON KLOTZ: If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find that beloved is simply defined as dearly loved. That’s a really high bar for any person or entity to reach. If I was to try to think of someone who many would agree to be beloved, the first name that’s coming to mind is Hugh Jackman. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t love Hugh Jackman. Plus, he’s a triple threat. He can sing, he can dance, he can act. He can do it all, really.
DAMON KLOTZ: Hugh, if you’re listening, I’d love to have you on the show, but this is not a podcast about Hugh Jackman. Within your own life a significant other can be your beloved, right? But what about organizations? Can an organization be beloved? Or have a beloved? Well, according to Pamela Oshoke Abalu and Chinedu Echeruo, the answer is yes. They have built their company Love & Magic around the idea that organizations can truly seek to serve both their customers and their employees and in so become what they refer to as a beloved organization.
DAMON KLOTZ: Before Love & Magic, Oshoke was the chief architect at MetLife where she implemented ecosystem innovations and ideas like Smiles Per Square Foot. And throughout her career, she has led the transformation of over $1 billion of workspaces, for thousands of individuals in 65 countries.
DAMON KLOTZ: Chinedu was the founder and chairman of HopStop, a navigation app company that would be sold to Apple in 2013. He’s also a serial entrepreneur, and his background is truly fascinating. In this episode we’re going to be talking about an idea that Oshoke and Chinedu have developed called The Beloved Organization. What is it? And how do we go about creating one?
DAMON KLOTZ: Before we get into this concept, I wanted to let all of our listeners know that we’ve partnered with Love & Magic Company to provide a really great resource for you to download. If you head to culturefirstpodcast.com/love you can receive your copy of “How To Bring Your Idea To Life”. Now, this is the playbook and it’s going to give you a systematic and scientific approach to organizing teams and creating a culture of innovation.
DAMON KLOTZ: This episode dives into a question that impacts all employees and managers. It’s something that I think will become even more important in 2020 due to the rise of mission driven organizations and people really wanting to focus on more than just what they do at work, but why they do it and who they’re doing that work for. So the question that I want you as listeners to think about during this episode is, how do we improve the understanding and relationship that we have with the customers, community and people that we’re building for?
DAMON KLOTZ: Today, I’m joined by Pamela and Chinedu of the Love & Magic Company. Thanks so much for having this conversation with me today.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Thank you.
OSHOKE ABALU: Thank you for having us.
DAMON KLOTZ: Your company has two words in it that are used quite often in the world, love and magic, but when used together is quite interesting. How do you actually think about these words in a way that might be different to how the normal public might define those words?
OSHOKE ABALU: I think empathy is one. The idea that your customers, your beloved, and that in your product and in your service, you have an opportunity to love them and your product is that magic that loves them. So I think empathy as innovation. I think meeting and solving unmet needs as innovation. So you take love and magic and you apply it to the concept of work. Why not?
CHINEDU ECHERUO: That concept of love in my mind is almost like the totality of everything and like all information, all possibilities. And then magic is this, the technology of how we can make it happen. So love is like all potential. And I think there’s something also powerful, the notion of oneness. And I think that’s probably the closest concept to love, I think is the idea of unity and oneness, right? And I think there’s power in that oneness. So.
DAMON KLOTZ: Why do you think the world needs more love and magic in it right now?
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Because I think it’s clear that even though the modern economy and the global economy has brought so much blessings to the world; shelter, food, entertainment, and even fun. What’s clear is that something is unhooked, right? The systems that has brought us so many material lessons also results in all kinds of unintended consequences.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: And I think for us at the Love & Magic Company, our intention is that we can design those, we can be more thoughtful about the systems we use to organize ourselves, be more thoughtful of how we work together. Be more thoughtful about what we create together. And I think it’s that new thinking, I think is the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing.
DAMON KLOTZ: Your mantra is work is love made visible. What were the experiences that actually came to you for you to actually create that mantra in the first place?
OSHOKE ABALU: So I particularly love that Khalil Gibran mantra. It’s a 100 years old and the line out of it that resonates so strongly for Love & Magic Company is that he asks, “What is it to work with love?” And he answers, “It is to build a house as if your beloved were to dwell in it.” Work is love made visible.
OSHOKE ABALU: So it’s the idea that we, as members of this human experience together, we’re all participating consciously or unconsciously in new systems for the future. And so when we can take into consideration how to address human potential, how to address human growth into our planning, this is really the core of showing up in love and for the beloved.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Yeah, I mean sometimes the concept of love isn’t used at work most of the time. But you wonder why, right? So if the goal is to serve your customers, why are you stopping? Why are you drawing a line in which how much you can love them? And I think corporations that really embrace this notion of love, true love, at least practical love or expressive love, all this attention and empathy for your customers when it’s so clearly true.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: So I think it’s time for us to really revisit our relationship with the people who we serve. And as Pamela mentioned, let’s make it an act of care because it actually results in revenue and customers and satisfaction and shareholder everything, everybody wants.
DAMON KLOTZ: A term that used to be used a lot was, your life’s work or a life’s work. And that used to actually be very literal. You know? Like this is what I do. I’m going to do it for 60 years and this is my life’s work. Now, work has a very temporary relationship with a lot of people. You can have multiple jobs at once, you can be quite disconnected from your work.
DAMON KLOTZ: So I think what you’re really saying is that there’s a version of the world that we can exist when you actually reconnect back to it. Like it is your life’s work, even if you might work at multiple places or have multiple experiences.
OSHOKE ABALU: Absolutely. And what if we add that to all of our baselines? So in all of our unique complexities as organizations and individuals, what if we start to say, “How are we improving lived experiences with all that we do? How am I improving my employee’s lives?” What if we all started to do this slowly? And that’s the idea. When you think about starlings in flight, they’re these birds and they’re coordinated. So what if our coordination… We recently wrote a piece for fast company, a thought piece. What if our coordination of symphony is all organizations having the same purpose of working towards improving the lived human experience?
DAMON KLOTZ: I love that you brought up symphony because when I analyze work and when I look at the ways that we describe work, so many metaphors get used as sporting metaphors, right? When you talk about strategy or teams or cohesion or achieving success for a goal. Symphony is a really interesting way to think about it. It’s a more poetic way. It speaks to different people. Why does that word mean so much to the two of you, when you think about designing with symphony in mind?
OSHOKE ABALU: Symphony is a composition of different parts. Symphony is the flute and the piano working together as equal and participants in harmony, in a greater harmony. So it doesn’t matter what you’re doing or who you are, what your perspective is, your unique difference participates in this orchestra.
OSHOKE ABALU: So there’s power also in recognizing that what we’ve met is what we refer to as diversity. So as human beings, we’ve just met diversity in work. Our opportunity is symphony so we can continue to operate in the same thing we’ve met. But that’s spinning and that’s not growing. We’re seeing symphonies and opportunities to say, “All right, diversity is a range of different parts. It’s like we’re clanking, how do we start to honor each other’s complexities and work together in service to human growth? Yeah.
DAMON KLOTZ: We’ve spoken about team dynamics, structure, but like designing, you can also physically design a space that actually allows these things to come to fruition. And Pamela, you’ve done this in your career. So creating an inclusive environment, most people think about actually the types of behaviors or people, but like you’ve also physically design spaces to make them more inclusive. How do you approach something like that?
OSHOKE ABALU: In the same way. It’s really identifying who your beloved is and committing to improving their lived experience. So in my work, in my former work as the chief architect for a large insurance company, our goal was to improve the lived experience of 75,000 people. And so a small team, really, of unique individuals came together to do so. I always talk about, in addition to baseline metrics being exceeded, we treasured writing our mother’s love letters in their mother’s rooms. We treasure tracking how many people brought their kids to work after a renovation or before a renovation. So there was this very clear intention to solve this unmet need of improving the lived experience.
OSHOKE ABALU: And so that was in physical space, which is great, but with technology, what that does and in all of our collective ability is to reach each other even grander, even bigger, is how do we just in our unique superpower… So my unique superpowers as an architect and the people who worked on it were focused on architecture and space, but all of us, each of us in our complexities, how do we fine tune this? I think HopStop is also a great story about how Chinedu really showed up in love for people who get lost in the subway. How do you show up in service to improve in something another human being goes through?
DAMON KLOTZ: Oshoke is referring to Chinedu’s previous work as the Founder and Chairman of HopStop; a mobile app that gave you real time directions for walking, biking, busing and subwaying around large cities. Eventually, HopStop would actually be purchased by Apple and integrated into Apple Maps. Chinedu talked about how his own experience trying to navigate the New York City subway system helped him design a product with value and purpose for the consumer at the heart of it.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Sometimes one of the challenges of the capsulism is that that question of who do you serve is rarely asked, right? So what if when you go to dinners and people then ask, “Well what’s your title? Like who do you serve? Whose lived experience do you improve?” What if we walked around with almost, that question and that answer and everybody was asked, “Well, the thing I do at work for eight hours a day is like who does it help?” And, I think what’s happening now in the world is people are asking these kinds of questions more and more. But I think, I don’t know when, but I think there’ll be a time where that’s the question. In fact, there’ll be so much social pressure even answering that question in a way that makes sense, much more so than now.
DAMON KLOTZ: When I read about your background and what I love about that story is I think it’s another great story that the world needs of a business that ends up being very successful. But ultimately that was not the reason you created that business. It was to serve a group of people through an experience that you also were trying to actually better yourself. That just happens to then go on to create a great business. And when I think about the meaning that employees are trying to find with their work, more and more people will continue to be drawn to companies like that. And when you think about the types of corporations that people worked for 20, 30 years ago, compared to now, I think so much of our own identity ends up being absorbed into the company that we work for based on how much we give to them and how much they ask of us.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: So like what we value is changing. And companies that really recognize that align themselves to that phenomena, and find talents and energy, people who want to achieve those goals, I think are eventually going to keep on winning. In many ways, it’s a cooperative necessity that CEOs and boards elevates the nature of their work. We’ve talked about the low engagement rates, why? The reason why people aren’t engaged at work, because they’re not really into it, right? So what’s a way to get people into it, right? It’s imbue it with meaning. And what is meaning? Meaning is to be able to improve the lives of some sense of community, some sense of your greatest self, right? And I think if you extend that, you’re back to love, right? You’re back to the human experience and you’re back to design for another human being whether they’re in Malaysia or in Brooklyn.
DAMON KLOTZ: A lot of what we’ve just heard Chinedu talk about gets to the heart of employees feeling engaged and having meaning in their work. After listening to these stories, you might be wondering about what can you do as a manager or as an employee on a team to actually improve employee engagement in 2020. To help you, I looked at our 2019 Global All Industries Benchmark. Now this includes data from all the companies who are using the Culture Amp platform that were asking questions about employee engagement to their employees. This is a highly robust and reliable benchmark. And it provides a really useful representation of employee experience across all the industries, geographies and functions that we have data on. Now, if you were to focus on two things to improve employee engagement in 2020, where should you start?
DAMON KLOTZ: Perceptions of learning and development opportunities and confidence in leaders has the greatest impact on improving employee engagement. And when we think about this, this actually maps really well to the principles of the beloved organization, which focused on things like collective human growth and maximizing the flow and use of information. I’d argue that we all want to feel like we are growing at work. And that leaders, we need to be thinking about not just whether our message is being heard, but is our message landing with our teams. After speaking with Oshoke and Chinedu, I did some research into the organizations that I think have done a really great job of building with their customers at the heart of their strategy. The first thing that came to mind was, who are the companies that have done a really great job of actually building a community around their company and around their product?
DAMON KLOTZ: One of the most famous examples of this, and one of most famous examples of community building that I can think of is the Salesforce Trailblazer Community. If you haven’t heard of it, then I suggest you do a quick Google image search for the Dreamforce conference that they run each year. Tens of thousands of people from all around the world come together to learn and grow and connect. It truly is a sight to be seen. So to learn a little bit more about how do they actually build this community, I reached out to their former VP of Community, Erica Kuhl, to learn a little bit more about it.
ERICA KUHL: I think it comes back to metrics and data. And I never thought that that was going to be something that was a forte of mine, or something even that I was going to love, because I really set out to be a community builder. I was the quote unquote people person. And I was a connector, but I recognized that if I wanted to continue this mission and this vision that I had for what this community could be for Salesforce, I was going to have to put some proof points in place. And I also knew that it took a coordinated effort across the organization like you mentioned. And I knew that there was value in different ways, that the community provided value to the different parts of the organization in different ways. It was my job to put that in place ,to show the value proposition to each parts of the organization in the way that spoke to them.
ERICA KUHL: So I took the opportunity to step back and figure out the value proposition for organizations like marketing, for organizations like the product organization, for organizations like support and organizations like customer success. And they’re different, because the community offers value for maybe building loyalty and driving down attrition for customer success. Whereas for support, it might be case deflection, and for product it might be delivering the very best product and insights into the product. And for marketing, it might be incredible brand awareness and growth in that sense. So I needed to be able to show that. And once I was able to show that it became a lot easier to gain mind share, to make the community start, the momentum start really going up and to the right.
DAMON KLOTZ: So imagine you’re listening to this and you’re saying, “Yeah, I definitely want to be part of a more beloved organizational model. I want to better understand the people that we’re doing this work for.” What advice do you have for a manager of a team that’s actually looking to build a stronger sense of connection to a customer base or a community who might feel like they’re currently lacking in that?
ERICA KUHL: I think there’s some critical elements that people forget about, and I just recently did a talk on this. I’m very passionate about this personally and professionally, is about listening. I think that people are really terrible listeners, and they do a lot of talking and they don’t listen. Or they don’t just shut up and take a step back, and listen and let the passion bubble out. They think they know best. And I think that that’s a core element that makes connection to your customers a lot easier, is when you truly want to hear what to have to say. And you’re not just paying lip service, but you ask them what they want. And then you sit back and you close your mouth, and you listen. Then once you hear the excitement and the passion bubble up, you then become their conduit to make it happen within the company.
ERICA KUHL: And so there’s some critical elements obviously that have to be there. You have to take action, you have to listen to them. You have to have a portion dedicated to what they have to say. Because then that’s 100% the way to go a different direction, is to listen to what they have to say and then do something totally different. So you have to have a culture in which you’re going to listen and then act on that. So I think those are some critical things that people could do to be more customer focused. And if they’re struggling with it, it’s an easy way to try to shift focus is to ask, be curious, and sit back and listen and shut up.
DAMON KLOTZ: In many ways the idea of self-organizing teams also plays out in communities where you’re actually trusting local groups of people online, offline to self organize, to create a sense of meaning. So considering your world class expertise in building community, what’s one piece of advice that you’ve learned from the community world that could translate to the idea of a self-organizing team inside of a company?
ERICA KUHL: I think one of the things I learned the most and that I battle the most when people are trying to create these environments of self organized teams is control and trust. So there is a sense of control that has to have to be a little bit out of control. And not in the sense that everything’s going crazy, but a sense that you don’t get to necessarily control every single element. So it’s a matter of, the example I always use is, when you have a bowling alley and when you want to create some sort of control, you put bumpers down the gutters to create a sense of the ball should be going eventually down at the end. It’s usually used with kids or people learning how to bowl. And the ball doesn’t take a straight shot down. It bumps off of the sides of these bumpers along the bowling alley.
ERICA KUHL: But eventually everybody’s going towards the end goal. And everybody’s path’s a little bit different. But I looked at my job in the community as creating those bumpers down the side, but allowing people to still have their own way of getting to the end goal, providing those loose frameworks and guidelines. So I think the same thing goes with self-forming teams inside, is that you don’t get to control every little element. But having a clear vision and goal and knowing that everybody’s going towards that, and then letting them arrive at that in the own unique way that makes sense for them.
DAMON KLOTZ: During our conversation, Erica points out something really important about better understanding of the customers that you’re building for. It’s very simple but can often be overlooked.
ERICA KUHL: Yeah, and it’s shocking to me. We have product managers. I’d talk to them and I’d say, “Do you have any interest in coming to talk to customers about the latest release?” And they’re like, “Talk to customers, talk to actual customers?” Yes, talk to them. And I was like, “Where do you live?” You live in Wichita, Kansas. You live in Nebraska or you live in India, you live in Seattle, wherever. And wherever you live you have an opportunity to go talk to customers. And it is amazing to me that they maybe had not talked to customers before, and they’re building a product. It’s shocking to me.
ERICA KUHL: And then you start doing that, it starts filtering through the organization like, “Oh, I’m an engineer and I’ve never talked to customers before.” And it’s amazing, and it’s so empowering to give them an opportunity to connect with people and to watch the mutual light bulbs going off between the… Customer is getting a chance to talk to a Salesforce product manager. They’re like Gods, so exciting. And then see the product manager talk to this customer, give them this little tidbit of advice that they never even thought of, because they hadn’t ever talked directly to a customer. It just creates this incredible win-win situation.
DAMON KLOTZ: Reminds me of a time that we were going out and just interviewing some of our customers and going to some of the different locations that Culture Amp has offices in. And this story has stuck with me for so long, because we were there, we were just asking around. It was a two person human resource team, and they were supporting this fast growing company. And I was like, “Ultimately, is there any stories that you wanted to share with us just around the impact of working with Culture Amp and what it’s had for your customer base?” And what they shared back was, ultimately the power and the impact that Culture Amp has had on them is that it has actually made their two person HR team feel like a three person team.
DAMON KLOTZ: And then I was like, wow. And I’m like, “What do you mean by that?” They were like, “From the platform, the support, the community, all the different ways that you support us outside of just when we need support, has always made it feel like we have access to this third person.” I’m like, “Wow, a whole full time employee in value has been given to them.” And there was no question that you could ask, that would ever get that story out potentially in any kind of formal thing. But when you open up the chance to talk to your customers in that way, you’re like, “Wow, that’s who we’re building for.”
ERICA KUHL: That’s incredible. I love that. It just gave me the chills.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah, it still gives me the chills to this day. Are organizations with a strong mission, in your opinion, automatically people, culture and customer first? And what differences do you see between those three approaches? Or is there even a difference between those?
ERICA KUHL: I don’t think anything’s automatic. I think that this takes work. It takes mindfulness and focus. And sometimes I think about it often, and people often ask me about Salesforce. They’re like, “How did you create this momentum, and how is it possible that there’s this rabid ecosystem of fans around really just an enterprise piece of software?” Even just recently someone was making comparison to a hard time they were having building their community. And they said, “Oh, you wouldn’t understand because the people around the Salesforce ecosystem, they’re just different.” And they’re not. It takes work. It takes focus, and it takes energy and dedication to make a culture, to really drive what a culture looks like. And you can never take your eyes off the ball. You need to be passionately just addicted to it, or else it’s going to take on a different path.
ERICA KUHL: That’s why it’s critically important that every person on my team shared that same personality trait when it came to just being a servant leader, and being the success of others was way more important than the success of us as a team. I think it takes work. And I think it’s important who you put in these positions to be the face of it and the personality of it. And it takes on that personality. So no, I don’t think even if you’re mission-driven, you still have to work, work toward it and really create the behaviors together that you want. And then you think about, it’s nice to have it. It’s nice to be mission, have that mission. And at Salesforce we grew up with a a foundation where we had a culture of one, one, one. One percent of our employees’ time went to volunteerism, 1% of our product was given to non-profits for free, and 1% of our equity was offset. So we are also mission driven, but it still takes work and still takes passion and focus.
DAMON KLOTZ: One of the things that I took away from my conversation with Chinedu, one of the many things that I took away from my conversation, was how do we take complex things like subway systems, organizational structures, or a group of starling birds and break them down to understand how we can actually maximize the flow of people, information, or better understand how these birds are flying together. Now when we try to step back and look at all of these examples from afar, they can all look quite complex to navigate and understand. I know standing in front of a foreign subway system for the first time and trying to understand how you’re going to get from A to B on your own can be really confronting.
DAMON KLOTZ: I might be speaking from personal experience. So what we heard Chinedu speak about was this idea that ideal teams should be about six or seven people. He then references this group of starling birds in flight, which looks incredible from afar. And to the naked eye, it appears that this huge group of birds actually all moving as one giant team following the same lead.
DAMON KLOTZ: Now, if you don’t know what I’m talking about here, if you can’t visualize it, I really recommend checking this out on YouTube if you’re unfamiliar with starlings, or just in need of a momentary hypnosis. I might not recommend that you do it right now while listening to this podcast. But, I do recommend that you check it out. So although it appears like hundreds of these birds are all in sync, what is actually happening here? What is happening is that starlings are actually working in small teams, where they flock together with about five to 10 neighbors to either side of them. By following the lead of a small group of birds around them, it actually allows the behaviors and patterns to look like an entire system is all moving together as one cohesive unit. So my question for you as the listener is, after listening to that, are your teams structured to work like starlings, and how are you maximizing the flow of information to help your teams move with speed?
DAMON KLOTZ: One of the things that I found fascinating about my talk with Oshoke and Chinedu is this idea of, how can we foster innovation within our organizations? It’s come up in our previous episodes, and I know it’s going to come up again. One of the Love & Magic’s three cornerstones, focuses on the idea of a decentralized self-organizing team, so I want to know a little bit more about how those teams are structured.
DAMON KLOTZ: So from Fortune 100 companies to a manufacturing manager, I think a lot of people have the ability to actually influence teams, team structures and how we sort of come together to do our work. Jeff Bezos famously said that if you can’t feed your team with two pizzas, the team is too big.
DAMON KLOTZ: Thinking about the work that you do, do you have an idea around what the ideal team structure should be in terms of size?
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Yeah. We do. And I think as part of our work, we’ve obviously spent lots of time really studying and researching this. And in our view the ideal team is somewhere between six and seven people.
DAMON KLOTZ: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
CHINEDU ECHERUO: I think there’s so much about human communication that’s bound by these very real conversations. And one of the challenges with large corporations, the teams get so big. Right? There isn’t clarity of action. There isn’t personal accountability in terms of doing the things that needs to be done. I think based on our research and our thinking, even starlings the birds we mentioned actually they are able to move with such complexity and such beauty with just really having relationships with six other starling birds around them. So that beautiful dance you see is really about just small teams of six or seven birds just doing their thing. I think that’s a great metaphor for what a modern corporation can also be.
DAMON KLOTZ: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
OSHOKE ABALU: But we don’t call them teams. We call them super friends. It’s this whole idea as well that work can be an adventure with purpose in mind and you can build when you think about the Margaret Mead quote that a group of small citizens can change the world. So what if you started a design for super friends to accomplish tasks, great tasks? That’s another thing I love about how we formulated a new model of working.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: So I think it’s time for us to really rethink human organization and almost be intentional about the design of those assistants because it has very real effect. Probably the number one stressor of most people is really just work. So I think it’s a part of a human experience that no one’s really, really been very thoughtful about and I think it’s time that we do that. That we really be designers of not just our own culture as our own products, processes, but be designers in every aspect of our lives.
DAMON KLOTZ: I want to paint a picture and I would love some sort of parting advice from the two of you on this subject. Let’s imagine you don’t have access to a world-class architect. There’s zero budget. You don’t have any say over the size of the team that you’re trying to build. What advice do you give to an aspirational leader who does want to sort of embody some of the philosophies that you have to build a team like the teams that we’ve been talking about?
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Sure. Great question. What do you want to do?
OSHOKE ABALU: I’m going to go back to our three keys. And we call them keys for a specific reason. One, a key unlocks a lot of potential. It’s not a step. There’s so much that could happen like a pebble in an ocean. And second of all, it’s musical. It’s an invitation. And the first key goes back to the beloved regardless of what you have to do, the team you’re forming. Are you an individual? Are you an organization? What is the purpose? You can do that without budget and grounding in what purpose your service, your organization, what purpose does it serve as a first and fundamental key?
OSHOKE ABALU: The second key is in how you design your teams even in how you start to bring people together.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Who are you bringing in?
OSHOKE ABALU: Who are you bringing in? Is there an alignment? Is there a friendship? Is there in these small teams, how are you doing that? And the final one, which is my favorite, is to make no assumptions. A lot of times, we move forward on projects with assumptions. This goes back to what Chinedu always talks about, maximizing the floor of information with everything out there, the newest technologies, the people on your team. How are you ensuring that you’re not blocked? You’re not making assumptions. So those three keys we share with leaders, with organizations in everything that you’re doing. Just ask yourself these additional questions and use these additional keys. Yeah.
DAMON KLOTZ: I think the idea of empathy for your customer has come up more and more, but what you’re talking about is going one step beyond that, which is not just empathy for a customer and you’re talking about any customer. It’s like what does it mean to call them your beloved? To go that little bit further, to truly understand what matters and motivates them. When you share that story, I truly think about like my beloved. What would it look like to create and design and work for them?
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Exactly. What if you were designing a product for your mother, like how would you think about it? What would you consider? Would you figure out what she wants? Would you anticipate her needs? You would treat her in a way that would make her loyal customer. Right? So, why wouldn’t you do that for your other customers? And I think what we found is that when you language this epic feat of creation in a very human way, and so then it rallies the organization. People talk about the decline in engagement rates in the US. I think our view is that one of the challenges with that is because the notion of work has been detached from the human experience.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: And what if we could recast our work as love made visible as helping another human being? I think that will do much in terms of rallying human energy, human action towards everything everybody wants.
DAMON KLOTZ: So I’ve got some rapid fire questions. Normally this is me doing it to one other person. Considering there’s two of you, would you be willing to answer the questions, thinking about the other person’s answers?
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Think about it or seeing what the other person would say?
DAMON KLOTZ: So if I was to ask you a question, you need to say it and what you think Pamela would say. So we’ll go back and forth. So Chinedu, this is asking you, answering on Pamela’s behalf. So when Pamela feels most alive, what is she doing?
CHINEDU ECHERUO: She’s giving good experiences to people.
DAMON KLOTZ: Pamela, what does Chinedu love most about what he does?
OSHOKE ABALU: Solving problems. Complex problems.
DAMON KLOTZ: Do we feel that those answers are good so far one-on-one? Okay, good stuff. Okay. So what’s one thing about this industry that really frustrates Pamela?
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Care of the customer.
DAMON KLOTZ: Mm-hmm (affirmative). A lack of care?
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Yeah. A lack of care of customer.
DAMON KLOTZ: What’s one thing that Chinedu cares about more than most people?
OSHOKE ABALU: Maximizing the flow of information. Allowing information to come through.
DAMON KLOTZ: Mm-hmm (affirmative). This one’s a little bit of a tough one. So hope you’re ready. What advice seems obviously right? It’s relatively easy to follow, but it’s usually ignored. And I want to get both of your answers for this one because I think it’s going to be fascinating.
OSHOKE ABALU: Do you want me to go first? So Chinedu say is, “Follow your curiosity.” Hmm.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Oh, I think I know what the advice is. It is, “Take the the first step in every task. Take the first step. There’s some action. Things are scary. Things are confusing, but take the first step.”
DAMON KLOTZ: It can be really hard to assess a company culture from the outside. If you’re listening to this podcast, I can maybe safely assume that you have ever applied for a job, interviewed for a job, or at least thought about getting a job at some stage in your life. Now, the rise of employer branding as its own function over the past decade, has led to some really compelling world-class stories being told and campaigns being built to actually attract candidates. So this can make it really hard to actually better understand a company culture before joining. So the question that I want you to think about that’s sitting with me after listening to this episode is, how can we actually analyze how a company interacts with their customers in the community to better understand what their culture might be like before we join?
DAMON KLOTZ: The third principle of a beloved organization is to make no assumptions. Like many of you probably do, I spent the first few days of this new decade reflecting back on some of my key learnings from 2019. Now the idea of no assumptions really stood out to me. We can do all the work in the world as leaders and as managers to foster belonging in our teams, set them up with the right team size and structure and making sure we can do everything that we can to maximize the flow of information. But all of that hard work can be blocked or stopped in its tracks if we are working with assumptions and not working with clear agreements between our team members. For me, this was a really big focus area in 2019 and I hope that this episode has helped inspire you so that we can actually start this exciting new year, removing some of those assumptions, creating really clear agreements inside of our teams and helping to maximize that flow of information.
DAMON KLOTZ: I hope that these stories have helped you to better understand how we can improve the live human experience both inside and outside of our organizations through the way that we work. Thank you for sharing your stories today. I think when I look back on the year that is 2019, I will think about the fact that I got the chance to meet both of you and spend this time together and I really wish it happened earlier in my life, but I’m building for legacy and building for my beloveds and I know that this conversation will hopefully.. It has inspired me and hopefully will inspire others. So thank you for taking the time to share your stories with us today.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Thank you.
OSHOKE ABALU: Thank you. Thank very much.
CHINEDU ECHERUO: Thank you for having us.
DAMON KLOTZ: A special thanks to Love & Magic’s Pamela Oshoke Abalu and Chinedu Echeruo. If you want to learn a little bit more about their company and the idea of a beloved organization, you can visit loveandmagic.company. And a reminder, we’ve got an incredible gift for our podcast listeners. We’re offering a playbook from them called, “How to Bring Your Idea to Life”. This playbook presents a systematic and scientific approach to organizing teams and innovating. So if you’re ready to implement some of the ideas that you’ve heard from this episode, I suggest you start right here. Head to culturefirstpodcast.com/love. I also want to say a special thanks to Erica Kuhl. She’s the definition of a trailblazer for the years that she spent at Salesforce and I had an absolute blast speaking to her. She’s now sharing her learnings around community building with the world because she’s just opened up her own consulting business and the team here at Culture Amp have really loved working with her.
DAMON KLOTZ: So if you want to learn a little bit more about her, you can head to her website, ericakuhl.com which is spelled E-R-I-C-A-K-U-H-L. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Culture First podcast. A quick reminder that this podcast is brought to you by Culture Amp. Culture Amp is the leading people in culture platform, so if you’re listening to this and you want to better understand your company culture in 2020, Culture Amp is ready to help you. Head to cultureamp.com to learn more.
DAMON KLOTZ: It’s time for a sneak peek into what’s in store for the next episode of the Culture First podcast. Episode four’s guest is going to go down as a career highlight for me. I sat down with the one and only Simon Sinek. We spoke about the idea of an infinite mindset organization as well as some of the actual traits that make for a culture first company. You’ll also hear from the CEO of a publicly traded company who’s putting culture first, as well as my own personal coach, where we speak about resilience. The next episode is jam-packed with stories and takeaways. So if you haven’t sent this podcast to the managers at your organization, now is the perfect time to do so. Head to culturefirstpodcast.com to subscribe.
DAMON KLOTZ: All right. We’ll see you in two weeks.