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Book synthesis

Walk the talk

Defining grandiose values is useless if they turn out to be ineffective in the field. And yet, the question remains: how can you align team behaviors with your vision? The answer: move from words to action, because your behavior is their compass.

What defines your company culture is not its mission, its objectives, or even the values it professes. It’s the way your employees solve the day-to-day, practical problems that they face in the field, once your back is turned. To illustrate how to forge the kind of culture capable of shaping all these daily micro-behaviors, Ben Horowitzdraws on great historical figures who knew how to inspire others and build strong, singular cultures, based on concrete action.

Take notice: your actions trigger team behaviors

In late-18th-century Haiti, Toussaint Louverture led the only successful slave revolt in the history of mankind. Genghis Khan, a nomad from the steppes who became a military leader, built the largest empire in the world. Against all hope, they gathered untrained men behind them, whom they transformed into dedicated, professional, efficient troops. Their strength: implementing and embodying exacting virtues (loyalty, meritocracy), which inspired their troops. Horwitz believes that this model can be transferred to a company. In the 1960s, Robert Noyce, who invented silicon chips, laid the groundwork for employee equality and empowerment, first within Fairchild Semiconductor then Inte. He was among the first to implement policies such as no more reserved parking spaces for managers; open office spaces; stock options for all employees; delegation of power; the right to make mistakes; and so on. The sum of these actions inspired Silicon Valley

culture. Actions, even details, changes the attitude of each member of your team; for example, even the company dress code — strict, relaxed, or elegant — implicitly shapes attitudes.

But if such a culture is a powerful catalyst, it is also a complex compound to obtain. Believing that you can decree a set of rules and that will be enough for employees to follow them is a mistake. Adherence to a value system, backed by behaviors, remains a challenge, particularly given the diversity (of country, origins, personalities, motivations) of employees today.

Make an impression through audacious actions (like Toussaint Louverture)

Toussaint Louverture transformed slaves focused on their short-term survival into a united and victorious fighting force. He used several counterintuitive tactics to shape his followers and establish new behaviors in his army:

1- Establish challenging, disruptive rules to embody key values.

Toussaint Louverture banned his soldiers from taking concubines in order to promote loyalty, which he believed was essential. In any organization, “shocking” rules instantly make a deep impression. When Jeff Bezos banned PowerPoint presentations at Amazon meetings, he signaled his rejection of simplified analyses and stressed the importance of deep dives — a key value in his view.

2- Own unpopular decisions that support long-term priorities.

Excerpt from Business Digest N°303, February 2020

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Françoise Tollet
Published by Françoise Tollet
She spent 12 years in industry, working for Bolloré Technologies, among others. She co-founded Business Digest in 1992 and has been running the company since 1998. And she took the Internet plunge in 1996, even before coming on board as part of the BD team.