Your Culture Starts With You

Podcast Transcription from Find Your Voice, Season 1, Episode 2

Good morning. What is going on? It is Michael Fleming, kicking off episode number two with Find Your Voice. Thank you so much for tuning in. Still only episode two, so still looking to find my own voice, right?

But the reason I'm reaching out today is to share something I've been seeing a lot of, both in conversations with clients as well as a lot of what I've been seeing on social media including Linkedin. Obviously with Linkedin you're seeing a lot of activity from other people that are both inside your segment as well as outside. But I am seeing a big recurring theme on Linkedin right now especially with the “C” word… and what I mean by the “C” word is culture.

There's a ton of posts as well as kind of social posts, on Linkedin there's a lot more kind of, quote unquote “social activity”, where people are using it to share their experiences and what they're currently working on at work, and what's working and what's not, and best practices and so forth. Almost similar to a look and feel as Facebook has been, where it’s like a continuous feed that we're scrolling through. But it's more than just my resume and my bio, right? It's now a lot more content, and what I'm seeing more and more now is talk on culture. And what I'm seeing is… I don't even know if it's necessarily best practices that are being shared as much as maybe it's coaching that's trying to be sold, and/or programs that will help you get there. And obviously there's a buzz around that and other people are seeing that. And so they're kind of, I don't want to say jumping on the bandwagon, but really kind of maximizing that opportunity and jumping on that awareness, to talk about culture.

And that, of course, is what I want to talk with you about today, is culture. Because I came from, a very culture rich environment when I was working at Starbucks Coffee when I first got out of school. And in fact, while I was wrapping up school and going to school, I started working with Starbucks just as a Barista. And then as I finished school, I started doing management. And so whether that was like a lead assistant manager and I wound up being store manager, and multi-unit manager before I wound up leaving. And so one of the big things at Starbucks was that sense of community, that sense of service. And it was truly a culture where you were introduced to it from the very beginning, and then it was reinforced throughout your tenure or career there.

And it was always, customer focused, it was always customer centered, but as well as partner centered. In fact, I use the word partner. They didn't call their employees “employees” at Starbucks, they called them “partners”. And so everyone had a “partner number” and it was kind of fun back then. You could tell how long someone had been with the company by the length of their partner number. And so by the time I was there for seven years, my partner number was really low compared to the guys and girls that were working there at that time. And I think my partner number was still in the 20 thousands, I was still quite a bit there, but regardless, it was a great culture. One that was taught vigorously, because as part of my tenure there, not only did I do store management, but I also did a lot of training as well. So up at their corporate center, I would do training and onboarding for new individuals that would come in.

And I think I don't know if I embodied the culture, or if the culture helped develop me, and that might be a whole different rabbit hole to run down... but I was, as you can tell by my energy, I was definitely drinking the Kool-Aid, or drinking the coffee, if you will. And I did embrace the culture, I loved the culture. I loved how it was customer focused, I loved how it was partner focused, I loved how we were encouraged to take care of one another, and I loved how we were encouraged to really make sure that we understood the levity of what we were doing, which was an amazing cup of coffee to an amazing customer, and that our job was to create enthusiastically satisfied customers. And that is… probably a quote from one of the training guides! I'm not sure if they're still using that, but that was the goal at the time - to create enthusiastically satisfied customers. And it was one that may have sounded cliché at first, it may have sounded right out of a book. You might want to roll your eyes, but truly as you work there and you’re surrounded by other people that had a similar goal, it truly was our goal.

As far as my personal experience, I was up in Portland, Oregon when I worked with Starbucks Coffee, and at the time we were kind of jumping back and forth between one - I think it was the University Ave, up in Washington - that was the largest company, but down in Portland we had Pioneer Courthouse Square. So we were kind of jumping back and forth between the busiest store, and the whole company. And so, at that time it was, needless to say, a zoo. And to kind of make it even more of a zoo, there would be special events at the Pioneer Courthouse Square.

So imagine, I think we called the Pioneer Courthouse Square
the “living room of Portland”, the living room of the city where a ton of
events would be held. And I'm talking about whether it was concerts, whether it
was Bill Clinton coming in during election season, whether it was holiday
season and they would have the massive tree lighting. I mean, there would be
events there constantly, some massive, some normal. But my point being, there
would always be something on the calendar, there was always something that was
happening that was just all staff on hand and we were just moving. People are
coming in and it's hustle and it’s bustle, and people are bumping up next to
each other.

And on the other side of the counter, as a customer, it's probably less comfortable because you're around a bunch of people. And so what's coming to mind specifically is right around Thanksgiving, I think it was just after Thanksgiving where they do the tree lighting in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, and that evening is a complete zoo. And everyone's so excited to see the tree light and everyone's gotta come in and get themselves a cup of coffee or a cup of cocoa for the kids. And it's just a zoo, right? It is never ending. It's nonstop and it's go, go, go. And, and as a customer, I think it's a little unnerving, so by the time they get up to the register to order, their patience is a little tested.

And so, you know, they're spouting their order and they're getting upset. They're clearly a little short tempered and you know, inevitably we're gonna make a drink that’s not perfect. And so they'll let you know about it and they'll be upset. And at the beginning of my tenure there, I would get upset as well, where I would get, reactive. That's one of the things that I'm going to start talking about as well is that, how you're treated is how you'll treat other people. I call it the mirror. I would mirror that, and so I would get agitated and I would get short tempered and all of a sudden I would kind of get spun out.

Although a couple of years later as I started to learn, and this is one of the things that I started to teach at the district level for all new people, was to remind everyone that at the end of the day, we're trying to create enthusiastically satisfied customers, but we're trying to do it with our service, and our product, which is our cup of coffee. And at the end of the day, it's a cup of coffee, right? That's what we're giving them. And so that was what I would challenge people, the partners that were coming on board, was to remember that when it did get frustrating, when you did start to spin out a little bit, just remember it's only a cup of coffee. And what we could do with a cup of coffee was we can always make them a new one. So, that was one my learning curves, and one of my epiphanies that I had at the beginning was I would insert my ego, but at the end I would insert my willingness to serve. And so I’m kind of taking this, I kind of spun out quite a bit on the Starbucks story, but it plays well into what I'm talking about. Which is as we are looking outside the four walls of our organization to improve our culture, or as we even look outside of ourselves to improve our culture, that is now more the reason to look within. Right? And so now kind of piggybacking on what I just planted a couple seconds ago, about mirroring. It's so interesting to me how often people are looking to improve their culture. They're looking to improve their work environment, yet they themselves could potentially be part of the reason they're where they're at.

And so what I mean by that is, back to my Starbucks example, you look at that culture, you look at that willingness to serve, you look at that drive to create an enthusiastically satisfied customer, that came all the way from the top. And at the time, the CEO, Howard Schultz, was an incredibly charismatic dude that he himself had a drive to serve. And so that was truly where that message became so genuine and authentic was not because it was just coming from the top and saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah, we're here to create enthusiastically satisfied customers”. It was when you saw a video of Howard Schultz, or when you saw him talk in person, you truly believed in your heart, man, this dude is truly walking his walk... Talking the talk, walking the walk, he's walking his talk, that's what I'm looking to say! But he's the real deal, right? He's not just saying “we're here to serve and create enthusiastically satisfied customers”, he himself is trying to create enthusiastically satisfied customers. And not just outside the four walls of people that are coming in to purchase coffee, but also the internal customers, which he identified as partners; he gave them a warmer label. And of course, I don't know if it was him, but again, he surrounded himself with people that helped embody that, so he still gets credit for that.

So, back to the existing culture where you're at right now. Look to yourself, look to your leadership, which could be your CEO, your CFO, your C-level people, your directors, and look to see what are you currently modeling so that you can start to see how that affects other areas in your organization. And so back to that mirroring - this is one of the things that I talk with my kids about all the time is the way that we present ourselves is the exact same way that we ourselves are going to be treated. So, if we are in an interaction and we start to get a little frustrated, guess what's going to happen? Those people are going to get frustrated with us. If we are in an interaction and you're positive, and you're uplifting, and you are kind, guess what's going to happen, people are more likely to be positive, uplifting, and kind in turn.
So it's one of these things.

And the reason I'm saying this is I recently sat down with a DSO in the Midwest, and I was talking with their director of marketing and they were talking about onboarding new practices. And they were bringing on a couple of new practices and we started talking about, “wow, okay this is so fun” because at the DSO level it's such a land grab right now. And I'd imagine we've got another good 12 months of this land grab before all of the practices that are worth being bought up are there. And of course there's always going to be practices that are going to be rolled in. But as of right now, during this kind of a land grab, there's not a ton of inventory, if that makes sense.

And so these DSOs are gobbling up one to seven practices at a time and they're rolling them into their portfolio. And what's happening is they’re getting these dentists that are super excited to onboard because now they've got this exit strategy that they may not have had the in the past, and that's giving them some certainty, it's helping them plan for their futures. So now, okay, I'm on this two year plan, or I'm on this five year plan or whatever that plan is, and it gives them that certainty. And now they feel good and it's like “okay, now I'm on board, I'm part of this new community”. But what's happening is they've spent their life building this practice that was worthy of being purchased in the first place. So clearly it was a successful practice and it was successful enough for another company to want to purchase them. That's ultimately going be the identification of whether it's successful or not, is whether you're worthy of being purchased. So they've clearly done a great job, they get onboarded.

What's happening in six months to a year later, they're starting to spin out a little bit and they're starting to lose that enthusiasm, they're starting to just kind of become an employee. That was kind of the words that I was hearing from that director of marketing where it's like you've got that honeymoon period where everyone's just like super excited, but then it transitions to, that dentist is no longer the sole decision maker for that business anymore. That dentist is now kind of an employee, and they're part of the machine and they've kind of lost their identity.

And these are part of my words that I was putting in there as well because they were talking about how the relationship starts off so great, but then after a while it just kind of gets tepid and the dentist isn't so excited anymore, they feel more like an employee. And what's happening, the consequence is, all of the staff that have been supportive of this dentist, they start to feed off that energy and they themselves start to back off on their attitude and their effort that they're putting forth for the company and for their patients. And so the consequence of that, is production starts to either level out or, even worse, that it starts to go down. And so obviously on our end, on the marketing end, what we're trying to do is bring in as many new patients or as many new prospective patients as possible.

But what's winding up happening is on some of these practices where this culture is allowed to happen, or is happening, is they're getting these phone calls, they're getting these inbound inquiries, but they're not able to convert them into an appointment. Which ultimately leads to the treatment plan that we can now operate on, which at the end of the day equals revenue. And so that was a big “Aha” that we had, because we we’re always on the marketing, we're always trying to figure out how to get the phone to ring, how to get appointments scheduled, how to get people in the hygiene chair so that the treatment plans can be generated. And then to hear about this, it really taps back into, well, before I say it, what really closed the loop on this conversation was the director of marketing is really trying to have a culture of just say yes.

And so what I mean by that is you've got an inbound call, someone asks if you take a certain insurance, and sometimes if someone's just trying to get people off the phone, they'll say, “no, we don't take that insurance” and click, they’re hanging up. As opposed to, “even though we may not take your insurance, we may have some creative ways to help you fund this transaction. So whether it's payment options or whether we can still take your insurance, but it's out of network and so it might be billed differently”, whatever that is, right? The objective is to get them in that hygiene chair and get them to that appointment to fulfill that appointment. To a) schedule it, and then b) fulfill it. And so they're trying to create this culture of just say, “yes”. And of course I go right back to my Starbucks days where it's like, “oh great, enthusiastically satisfied customers!”, and that's where we kind of talked about, you know, culture, the C word. And it came back there.

And the reason I say this, and so much of this sounds
rudimentary and that's one of the things that I think about on the book that I
wrote, Find Your Voice is. Like so much of this stuff is basic and so much of
this stuff is rudimentary, but the magic isn't in telling you “culture is
important”. The magic of this stuff is that we do something about it. I love
the quote when - and I'm going to identify myself as a dork when I say this -
but the Si-Fi movie The Matrix, one of my favorite quotes in the whole wide
world was when Morpheus is talking to Neo and he's got that big scene, the
helicopter scene, and the shootout where he's dodging the bullet and everyone's
jaw is dropping and they're like, “oh my gosh, Neo that’s crazy!” and he was
like, “yeah, but I got shot.” and he's like, “dude, you're starting to believe.”

And the quote that he tells Neo is, “there's a difference
between knowing the path, and walking the path.”

So let that sink in a little bit. There's a difference
between knowing the path, and walking the path. And I think there's a book that
I recently read or it was on an audio book, I
know what to do, but why don't I do it?
It’s a very similar thing, right?
Where it's so many of us already know what we're supposed to be doing. So many
of us already have the tools that we need to be successful, yet we are choosing
not to be successful. Let that sink in a minute.

So much of what I'm talking about right now, you already know. If you're still listening right now, right? Hopefully you haven't clicked off this… but nothing of what I'm saying is earth shattering. Nothing is groundbreaking. Basically, I'm telling stories that hopefully you're able to relate to, but none of this is profound. But what is profound is the ability to take action on this and put legs to those ideas. It is doing what you're supposed to do. Well, hey, even backing up further, knowing what you're supposed to do. What is the result or the outcome you're looking to do?

So applying this to culture within your organization or even within your family, I mean, this doesn't have to necessarily be within your organization or within your work. Although it's absolutely relevant, but apply this to your family as well and how you behave and your family network. And so if you've got kids, this is especially relevant, but if you've got brothers and sisters, if you're the millennial that's just kicking off your career and working your way to get out of your parent’s house, or whether you've just got your first apartment, or you're living with your girlfriend or you're more like myself, that's 48 years old and you've got a wife and four kids. We all have these cultures that we are creating for ourselves, or we're all within a culture that's been created for us. And so it's different to realize “where are we?” Because we're all in a culture, and we're all in different cultures. The culture I've got at home is different than the culture I've got at work, which is different than the culture I've got at say, church, which is different to the culture I've got on the baseball field when I'm coaching, or on the softball field as a player, whatever that is.

We all have different cultures, and it's creating that awareness of, “have I helped create this culture or okay, am I just along for the ride? Am I just participating in someone else's culture? And am I okay with that?” And for the example of Starbucks, that was one where I was introduced to that culture and I embraced it and I loved it, right? So it was less of me bringing a ton to the table and more of me participating, and buying in, and believing, and that was the value that I added was being a believer. And then also putting legs to that and supporting that and modeling that and becoming the voice for that culture. And so it's just important that we have awareness of what our role is in that culture.

I'm seeing more and more people that are talking about we have to improve our culture, we have to improve our culture, we have to improve our culture. And they're right, but what I'm challenging you to do today is ask how do we improve ourselves first so that the consequence of that improvement is that we are improving the culture around us. Because it all starts with us; if you are not happy with your culture right now, I am challenging you to improve your role in that culture. Start to model the behaviors of what that ultimate culture component would look like. If you're looking for a culture that is a more deliberate, more specific culture that is more grounded then you yourself need to model that. If you're looking for a culture that's more by basis, if you're looking for a culture that's more enthusiastic, a culture that has a high energy, well then you yourself need to model that so that other people around you see what it looks like.

We can't just “do as I say, not as I do”. It's truly: here's what I'm doing and what's going to wind up happening is you're either a) going to convert people that are around you to start behaving a little more like you, cause it's just going to be - I'm not gonna say addictive - that's where I'm going, but it's going to be contagious, right? They're going to pick up on your energy and they're going to feel like, “wow, okay, I really liked this energy” and/or in addition to converting existing people, you're also going to attract people.

New hires, for example, you're going to attract people that
are like that, and it all comes back to you. And then obviously, once you've
got this deliberate mindset, see it's an enthusiastic culture, and a higher energy
culture. And as you're modeling this higher energy, you're going to start
seeing that. So as you start stepping into your staff meetings or as you start
stepping into your meetings, or as you start interacting with clients, they're
going to feel that high energy and they're going to start behaving that way. They're
going to start mirroring you. They're going to start following your lead. And
they're going to start picking up on that vibe and all of a sudden you're going
to start experiencing that culture, that, “man, this is the culture I wanted”.
Well, now you've got it because you've been doing it first. Does that make

So this is just something that I've been thinking about quite a bit as far as culture, and part of the reason I'm thinking about that is because we're just setting up the office here in Houston and we're looking at staffing up. And that was one of the things that we did back in the Portland office as well, as part of that strategic planning. And when we're onboarding, with our mission statement and our value statements it all kind of rolls into that. And, so back in my book, Dental Marketing: Find Your Voice, I talk about all of these different things and all of these different tools, but the point of this is, don't get muddled up in those tools. Those are all great tools to use, with your vision statement, with your value statements, with your mission statements; those are all critical components, those are all amazing components, but they're all just tools. What it starts with though, is you, so if you've got a shitty attitude, it doesn't matter what great tools I give you, you're going to still kind of wind up with a shitty culture.

If you've got an amazing attitude, once you use these tools, you're going to have an amazing culture. It’s kind of like that programming analogy, like garbage in, garbage out, right? It all comes down to what are you doing and what are you modeling? Let's stop looking outside of ourselves for other people to solve what we're doing. Because if you are not fulfilled, if you're not feeling good, you could bring in a consultant like myself to help run this and it doesn't matter how good I am, if you are standing on the mountaintop and you're modeling a different culture than what I'm trying to teach, it won't be congruent and it won't be authentic and it won't be genuine. Which means it'll fall short. I might be able to infuse my energy for a good one to three months, but that's not going to be sustainable because it won't be genuine and won't be coming from the top.

So I hope that helps. If you've got any questions or comments, absolutely reach out to me. My contact information is in the blog, or you can always email me at with any questions. But yeah, I hope that helps and I would love to get your feedback. Maybe you've got some stories, a or a great story that you could share, a great experience you could share that I can build on as well because I'm always looking for real life stories of how this gets applied in the real world! Again, it’s one thing to talk about what we're doing in theory, and what we can be doing, and what we should be doing, right? Those are always easy conversations to have, but where the rubber hits the road is what are we really doing? It's like we all know what we're supposed to be doing, but what are we really doing?

Well, on that note, I hope you're having an amazing day and I look forward to chatting with you soon. Take care.

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