Make no mistake, your company has a culture, whether you’re intentional about it or not. Corporate culture is ground zero for your organization. If left to chance, corporate culture will fall to the lowest common denominator or to the loudest voice, resulting in inconsistency at best and volatility at worst. Scaling your company means, scaling your culture first, you need a clear playbook with actionable steps to foster alignment and a results-driven team of passionate stakeholders.

Most books about culture are based on theory and case studies but not this one, Scaling Culture is your tactical blueprint for aligning your organization and thriving into the future. Here’s my conversation with Ron Lovett.

Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Benji Block and today, I’m honored to be joined by Ron Lovett. He’s just come out with a new book, the book is titled, Scaling Culture: How To Build and Sustain a Resilient High-Performing Organization. Ron, it’s a pleasure to get to talk to you today.

Ron Lovett: Hey, Benji, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Benji Block: Ron, for listeners who are new to maybe you and your work, would you provide just some background and some context for us on you and the work that you do?

Ron Lovett: Sure. I’m [an] east coast Canadian boy from Halifax Nova Scotia, which is kind of like Dublin, Ireland’s little cousin, I guess. I was in the private security industry for a long time, physical guarding space. We did nightclubs, concerts, festivals, guarding services for hospitals and post-secondary education facilities, bodyguard work, that type of thing. Really challenging space and so I started the company when I was 21, which is now 21 years ago, I’m 42 now.

Started this company here in Halifax doing nightclubs, built this thing brick by brick, and in 2014, I had hit a major low point. We had scaled across the country, we had offices from Vancouver all the way to Halifax. We’re on the east coast, Vancouver’s on the west coast.

I was, what I’ll call in the “We Too” business at this point, and what I mean by that is “we too” did private security like other people did and it’s a famous line from a friend and mentor of mine, John Rizu. He says, “People are in the we too business” and as I reflect, we were in the we too business. We just — we didn’t do anything ultimately differently than anybody else, we just — we were in the category, we hire better people and we trained them a little better but what we too were in the private security business.

Anyway, in this low point, I lost almost a million dollars, I was the sole shareholder, I really had created a job for myself, I hadn’t created any wealth, my phone rang 24/7. It was hard to have any type of life. If you were a friend of mine back then, it was so annoying to spend any time with me, Benji, because my phone rang — I had a Vancouver phone, a Toronto phone, a Halifax phone, they all rang 24/7. It was horrible as you could imagine.

The security guards didn’t show up, something happened, blah-blah-blah and so at this low point over a glass of wine in 2014, close to 2015, over Christmas, the company in this — I feel bad saying this, it felt cancerous. It just felt like something had to go away.

At the time, I asked a really important question and it’s unfortunate that I had to get to such a low point of being a million dollars in the red and really wanting to get away from my company but the question that hit me in this low point, as I was staring at a — I use a lot of whiteboard in my work at this point in my life, I had a tripod. Not a tripod, what do you call it? The papers flip — flip chart. Anyway, I’ve got the blank page and I’m like, “Wow, what if I had to restart the private security industry from scratch?”

What if I had to start this thing from scratch, what if there was no borders? Not if I bought my company today, what would I do differently, which is a question I had previously asked and was helpful but what if I had to start from scratch, which is probably a similar question that Uber would have asked when they got in the ride-sharing taxi space.

Benji Block: Totally.

Ron Lovett: Right? That question was a very powerful question and it sent me on a path. Really, the two key headlines that came out of that question were, “Could I create the — what I’ll call the Starbucks, Southwest Airlines culture in private security that was command and control,
‘do what we tell you when we tell you’?” That was one question and one thing that came out of it is — the second was, “Could we decentralize, could I remove all that mid-level, bureaucratic management and push all the decision making and autonomy down to the front lines?”

Those are the two things that came out of those, really, answers to those questions and of course, just for the listeners out there which may be helpful, when you ask that question, at least from my experience, you look at all the key stakeholders. So in my business, it was me as an owner, you had the security guards as a key stakeholder, and a customer.

The question is, the micro question is, what are the bottlenecks or key challenges from each stakeholder’s perspective and can you create a model that will eliminate those? Now, fast-forward and creating culture in this industry and decentralization, really, [what] we thought were the answers to those questions, would solve those bottlenecks or challenges.

I became kind of obsessive about that. I studied Southwest Airlines, I read the book Nuts. I looked at Starbucks and I started — I would apply for their job online, I would meet with their management team and ask them how they hired. I’d watch, I’d go to Starbucks, drink coffee, watch them in the store. Actually what’s interesting, they have great culture for the most part and provide great customer service because I think they’ve got great cultural alignment.

I actually started to look at Starbucks as our competitor, not in private security but in someone who executed better than we did. Right at the end result of great customer service because that’s what our customers were looking for, that we service a shopping center wants us to service their customers and their customer’s customers. It’s a really broad customer service business. 

That’s the path that we’ve set out on, so I got it all mid-level management and became obsessive about building culture in an industry that was more challenging. I’d argue more challenging than Starbucks, more challenging than Southwest Airlines, only because it’s a 24-hour business. That’s one piece, two, our staff members didn’t work under our direction or management, they worked at a customer’s place of direction and management, right? 

If you can imagine, Benji, Brookfield owns a shopping center and the security guard who works there doesn’t come to our — my company was called Source Security — they didn’t come to our office. They went there, worked a 12-hour shift, handed the keys to someone else and off they go. Lots of challenges and not only that, just low wage, minimum wage in a lot of cases. 

We had to double down and become very strategic about how do you build culture so we, through the process, turned the company around through doubling down on culture and decentralization and removing mid-level management. Turned the company around, grew 60%, and sold at 24 times multiple to a company called Allied Universal, who are now the biggest company globally.

I wrote a book. The first book was called Outrageous Empowerment: The Incredible Story of Giving Employees Their Brains Back.

Benji Block: I love that title.

Ron Lovett: Yeah, right? Not that they didn’t have brains but nobody allowed them to use them and so I guess, fast-forward, that’s a long-winded answer to your question but I really got into two businesses, one is called, Connolly Owens, which provides learning and education on how to build culture. We have a scaling culture masterclass and of course, the Scaling Culture book which is out now and these two mirror each other. I do some speaking and then my other business is called VIDA and it provides workforce housing, we acquire multi-family workforce housing across Canada, now into the US.

Yeah, it’s been phenomenal and I think, as we mentioned before we kicked off, I also run my own podcast called The Scaling Culture Podcast.

Establishing Your Company Culture

Benji Block: Fantastic. Well, Ron, obviously you’re a busy man, so with that, when I think on taking on a project like writing a book — you knew what went into it because of Outrageous Empowerment and that first project but — what did you feel like you needed to really hone in on in the second book and how does it maybe compliment or maybe compare and contrast from the first book?

Ron Lovett: Yeah, good question. From compare and contrast, I’ll answer that first and then hone in. People ask me after Outrageous Empowerment, because look, I’m a natural storyteller, I love to tell stories, probably from my Irish roots. Outrageous Empowerment, Benji is 80/20. 80% story and 20% some breakdown of systems. 

A lot of people would say, “I love the book, it was like a roller coaster ride. I cried sometimes, I grabbed popcorn” and others like that. I was inspired by the way, through one book you probably know, Shoe Dog, The Phil Knight story.

Benji Block: For sure.

Ron Lovett: Full story, right? Full story, which I loved. There is a Canadian entrepreneur that owned a helicopter company, Craig Dobbin and he wrote a book called One Hell of a Ride. If you haven’t read it, you should. Actually, someone wrote about Craig but it’s an incredible story.

Those two books in particular inspired Outrageous Empowerment but a lot of people said, “You know, how…” My phone would ring, it was like going in the private security company — and still does today where people say, “Can you tell me more? I have a question with chapter three. You talked about this, how did you do that? Can you give me the morning to the how?”

Benji Block: Yeah, give me the practical side.

Ron Lovett: That’s it, so Scaling Culture was the answer to that question. It’s reversed, it’s 80/20: [80%] how-to, 20% story. It’s the one that you’d have your highlighter, you bend the pages, you earmark everything. It’s got some spots to make some notes in there and it is the systems and processes. It’s the playbook and not just the playbook that I wish I had, Benji, and the play that I used, it’s well moved beyond that because I’ve also, through my podcast, talked to some of the best and brightest people globally that people don’t have access to and talk to them about strategies around building culture and use those strategies in the book. 

It’s been – that’s kind of the before and after, how they connect and then I think your second question or maybe the first was, what did I have to focus in on.

Benji Block: Right, exactly.

Ron Lovett: Yeah, just that this was different, this book took more work. I didn’t think it was going to but we had to be very thoughtful because it’s more detailed, which is more challenging for me being ADHD and dyslexic. It makes it very challenging to get into the weeds and clunky and sometimes not enjoyable. It was a challenge on my brain. I’d have to be in the right mood and have the right energy and so it took a little longer, this book, because I wanted to get it right. It was almost like software, right? Because this is never-ending. The book and the solutions and systems today, they will evolve, I know that.

It’s like when you build software at some point. We were just adding, adding, and adding. The book could have been 80 million pages if we didn’t stop. Luckily, we just had to compensate. This is what we’ve got, let’s get out with this. I’ll tell you the other thing that was a challenge in writing this book was the balance between companies that what I would [say] Benji, are well advanced in their culture. So somebody that has defined values, screened for those values, onboard based on those values, coaches people and holds them accountable and celebrates based on those values. That would be well advanced, right?

A lot of companies aren’t there and so, we had to find the balance because I would argue that 10% maybe are there on that path that I just described. 90% are still trying to figure it out, they are not advanced in building a culture. It’s not strategic, it’s by default not by design. I didn’t want the book to be too advanced. We wanted to help those companies to build out and not lose sight of the fact that maybe we’re advanced in this and let’s not take that for granted because I wasn’t always advanced. This took me a long time and let’s not forget the lessons that I learned in that process, which will be very important to some. So, we try to cover the full spectrum.

Benji Block: I think you did a really good job of that because there is such a vast array of experiences for different companies and situations that people are in. You’re having to speak to a multitude but that comes across, you know? Assume things and you cover a lot of ground in this book.

As we dive in, I’ll start right where the book starts. You say, every company has a culture, whether it’s shaped intentionally or not. I just wonder when the first time you really felt that was. “We have a culture and I don’t like it or something needs to shift”, was it just that moment where your phone’s ringing all the time or do you remember someone coming to you and having a moment where they were experiencing it in their culture? Tell me a little bit about when you realize like, “Oh yeah, everyone has a culture.”

Ron Lovett: Look, I know exactly the time. It was building my security company and back then, Benji, in the office of Halifax Nova Scotia, our culture was not defined, right? I would say plus or minus, for the most part. Those who worked around me, the culture permeated for me and so I would argue that the culture here, anybody at arm’s length, it was working-ish but as I went to our different offices — I remember being in Vancouver, okay?

Vancouver’s across the country, that’s seven hours by flight from Halifax and I remember meeting with staff and observing what was going on and meeting with the management team thinking, “This is a different company. This is not the same company, this is a totally different company that wears the same logo. And yes, I own it but this has its own culture. It has nothing to do with my vision or what I’m trying to put out in the world and achieve here at this company.” So I thought, “I’ve got a ton of work to do.”

Of course, at first, my gut reaction was, “Well, this is all wrong, this is all wrong.” What are they doing? It’s their fault and then you take a hard look in the mirror and say, “I haven’t set this up. I haven’t set it up, this is my fault.” What I’m seeing is my fault, this is — of course, logically, the culture’s going to default to the biggest or loudest voice or the most passive-aggressive person here. There’s no set of values, we’re not holding people accountable and we’re certainly not screening and onboarding, we’re not doing any of those things, so what do I expect?

That was, Benji, it’s a lot of work, you know? It was a ton of work then and I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs and leaders start to go down the path and then those voices that don’t — that might be passive-aggressive, whatever the behaviors are that don’t align with the new vision, they get very loud. And maybe there are senior staff that had been there for a long time and then there are entrepreneurs, they peel back and say, “Woah-woah-woah, this is getting a little rocky,” they don’t push through.

I became obsessive but I push through and certainly learned a lot of lessons from it. It turned the company around and gave us, it really gave us alignment. It really gave everybody a sense of passion and purpose that was connected to each other. So that was the moment though, I remember perfectly, it was I had to look in the mirror.

Benji Block: There’s so many people that are in organizations where they’re already large in size and so turning culture gets really complicated. If there’s people listening that are in startups or you’re thinking about starting a business, think about culture early. It makes things a lot more convenient for you down the road and you get to find it and scale it. Obviously [it’s] still going to have difficulty but it’s much easier than turning a large ship, right?

Ron Lovett: You couldn’t be more accurate in that statement and you’re right. I look at even purpose and values and culture as something you need to — there’s two pieces here. It needs to be established before you start your company, in a perfect world, that is. Because otherwise, to your point, you are reacting and trying to undo what’s done versus setting this up. I think as entrepreneurs, we need to start thinking about culture like we do customer strategy. We’re obsessive about the customer experience, we need to be obsessive about culture because that’s what delivers the customer experience and we miss that sometimes.

Benji Block: Yeah.

Ron Lovett: Yeah, you’re spot on.

Are The Core, Fundemtnal Values At The Center of Your Culture A Repellor or A Detractor?

Benji Block: It seems like there’s been a — I mean, there definitely has been some sort of evolution around the discussion of corporate culture because it felt a bit like a side topic for quite a while, or you describe it as it was thought of as fluffy, right? Today though, it’s becoming the foundation of a successful business, I’m stateside but we’re in the midst of this Great Resignation and all of that, so company culture becomes a huge talking point when people are considering new jobs. What do you think all has contributed to this shift that puts culture right at the forefront?

Ron Lovett: You know, I think that this was starting to move slowly and then the pandemic made this burst, right? Because if you think about what the pandemic’s done, it’s caused havoc and chaos. The command-and-control environments have just been lost. They’re just like, “Oh my god, what do we do? This is so different, we have to manage virtually and we’ve never done that. We have to hire virtually and onboard virtually and train virtually.” I mean, it’s been chaotic. 

If you didn’t have a strong foundation, you fell apart. Look, this may piss some people off but there is a lot of companies that cry and complain that they can’t find staff online and they’ll say, “It’s the industry, it’s the industry.” Well, guess what? I was in the private security industry and every one of my competitors cried all the time and I didn’t have those problems, not once I fixed the culture. So, I think the pandemic has really shined a light on this. 

My other point would be things have changed. If I had to summarize what the big shift was, what’s caused the great resignation, Benji, is that it used to be company culture for the most part. Even high-performing organizations were about, “Okay, Benji, you work with me and I care about your performance here and the culture is going to revolve around your performance,” okay? Especially if we are doing really well as a company. 

Benji Block: For sure. 

Ron Lovett: Whatever happens with you, Benji, and your home and your personal life that’s none of my business and keep that at the door. That’s really what we did before and it wasn’t kosher to cross those lines and say, “Hey, how are you doing? How is your personal life?” That was drama before, you know that was none of our business but now, things have turned to you better be looking at someone as the whole individual and how do you make them a better person, how do you add value to their life. 

If you can do that, then you should expect the best version of themselves at work and that’s how I look at it. I think that that’s where the pressure comes from but we now need to be looking at people as an individual, not as, “Benji who works here and does accounting”. 

Benji Block: Yep, the holistic view I think is better in the long run but it does complicate things as there is this transition towards it. I also think the pandemic provides some really interesting context because culture is now shifting to something that is very decentralized. You are hiring people all over the place. It exasperates all sorts of problems. I wonder for you when you think of culture, two-part question here. 

The first part, can you define in very simple terms what you feel like all flows into culture and then the second part, we’ll get there in a second, would be more COVID-related how those things are put together but answer that first part for me. What do you feel like when you really boil it down is all contained in that word culture? 

Ron Lovett: That’s a great question and I think to me, culture is about a grounded set of beliefs and essentially in the book, I actually took a quote from Howard Schultz from Starbucks and he defines it so beautifully. I don’t have it in front of me but if you get your hands in the book, I mean that quote from Howard, which kicks off the book is the definition of culture. He nails it and it is about the principles and beliefs of a collective group, right? 

It doesn’t matter. Culture to me, if you get your culture right, it is not about the – you know, because the word gets messy with the word “culture”. It’s not about where you’re from or your background, it is just about having shared beliefs. In our culture, for instance, continuous learning is a shared belief. It doesn’t matter how old, how young, where you come from, your religion, your political favorites, it doesn’t matter. 

It’s that you have a belief that if you continue to learn, you’ll be better, that you’ll take responsibility. Knowing that every time you make mistakes, and you believe you will make mistakes, but you have a belief that you want to take ownership of those mistakes. These are some foundational fundamental things that are built into our culture and I think that companies need to get there. 

They need to really define what the values, what the core values are, and the descriptive words around that. For instance, “teamwork”, you see that as a core value a lot, right? Well, what does that mean? What does that even mean? The description of these things and the behaviors that are acceptable and not acceptable are very important as you design out your culture. So, I do think it’s – you know, I talk about this in the book. 

When we talk about designing the values themselves, and this is broad Benji, but one way to think about if you are going to build out your values is really looking at what’s in front of you, the team around you, the team of the past, and looking at one of those key attributes that drove success and that you want to bring with you as you move forward, and in designing your culture and using that language and descriptions. But then the other side, what has caused pain? 

What type of behaviors have made things go in the wrong direction. Maybe it is something you’ve seen from coworkers, friends, it doesn’t matter. These are just behaviors, foundational behaviors, so we have to define those and whatever they are for you as the entrepreneur or leader, it is critically important. I will say this too, we know for instance in my culture today that it’s also — it is a repeller or a detractor. 

The manager said the same thing twice, “repel”, in my mind I think those words mean the same thing. It is either — 

Benji Block: Yeah, either tracts or detracts, right? 

Ron Lovett: Repels, yeah, right. Yeah, you got it. What I mean by that is, if you apply to come work for me, you know that this is a — and people know this. Look, there’s a few key headlines. We will make you the best version of yourself, right? Maybe I am going to your pandemic question but our culture evolved of the pandemic because as I said and I put my money where my mouth is. We looked at what were the effects on people. 

For instance, we had unlimited vacation, education, health and wellness allowance and these types of things before the pandemic. As the pandemic kicked off, we said, “Okay, let’s put in not just health and wellness, let’s give everyone access to a personal trainer and two sessions a month either by Zoom or in-home or at our office. Let’s give everybody monthly leadership and training and access to that.” 

Then things got blurry because unlimited vacation got blurry for us during the pandemic. I am a father of three kids under five and it got extremely blurry for me, so what we had to instill was mandatory, what we call life dates. You work for VIDA for instance, you have to take a mandatory life date once a month where you just shut down, go clean your garage, go hang out with your grandparents, do whatever you need to do, catch up with some friends but get to be a better version of yourself. 

These are things that we’ve evolved to. I think the key thing, I’ll go back to my point earlier, Benji, on we have to be looking at culture like strategy. It needs to evolve. What your culture today, my culture today is going to have to evolve. It needs to be upgraded and we need to be thinking strategically whether that’s a quarterly, when you do your planning, you need to check in on your culture. 

Maybe all of a sudden you fired someone that exude a really horrible behavior and now you need to adjust your culture or you have hired someone that is just doing something so incredible that you know you need to have more of this as you build your company and you build it into your values. So you have to be very purposeful about it. 

Benji Block: Yep, I love that and you did, you answered my pandemic question because the evolution is really where I ultimately wanted to take that question. I think the evolution of what happened when the pandemic happened, man, all sorts of decisions had to be made quickly and now you just continue to evolve and iterate to make sure that that grounded set of beliefs is instilled in the people that are in your company. 

I think it’s Seth Godin, he says people like us do things like this and he is applying it to marketing and I always think about it when it comes to core values. That is ultimately what core values are for our company. Hey, people like us do things like this. 

Ron Lovett: Right. 

Benji Block: I love that. Well, let me ask you this, when you think of reinforcing those core values, let’s say you have them but there’s got to be some specific ways that you call people back to that vision, what are the most helpful ways to reinforce that culture and those core values? 

Ron Lovett: Well, another thing that we started to do during the pandemic, we have a daily huddle. It’s common practice with a lot of groups. We have a daily huddle at 11:52 every day. 

Benji Block: I love the odd time of it. 

Ron Lovett: Yeah and the odd time just for those who are curious, it’s because people show up when you have an odd time. If it’s at 12:00, people show up at two minutes after 12 . If it’s odd, you know, “Okay, it’s 12:15” you watch the clock and that’s the strategy behind that and I’ll tell you it works. So, what we started to implement during the pandemic too is two different things. On Fridays, we do two things. One, you have to talk about a high from the week and why there was a moment; maybe it was a moment with a coworker, a customer, whatever it was that really brought you some happiness and brightness. We have people go through that and then, back to your question on values, there’s a shout out and the shout outs are typically to a coworker that did something that aligned with our values or did something for you. 

That typically goes back to our values anyhow so we spend Fridays really giving gratitude to the team and that’s one piece that’s quite helpful. The other one that we constantly use is when we do our quarterly planning session, we start — and we do this every quarter, we don’t miss a beat even during the pandemic, which a lot of companies stopped doing, which I can’t get my head wrapped around but anyhow, so we do them — we’ll start with our values. 

Look, I think people say it seemed cultish in some cases but we’ll start, I’ll read off the values or have the team members going to read off certain parts of them, and then we’ll have an exercise. We’ll say, “Okay, take a few minutes and I am going to kick us off. I’d like to know where do you feel as individuals that work at this company that you are completely aligned and you’re really living a part of these values and where do you think you’re off. Where do you think you need work?” and I kick us off. 

I am the leader, I’ve got to go first. I’ve got to say, “I’m doing great here, I am missing the mark over here. I’ve dropped the ball a few times.” I have to set up the play — but these type of actions really start to reinforce and I have to tell a quick story, which is just music to my ears. We’ve recently hired a chief operating officer. Shari Perez, she’s wrote the forward for Southwest Airlines. She’s a senior HR executive there and became a — she is an incredible adviser and friend. 

She talks, I believe it was her. I don’t know if it’s in her foreword but she certainly has talked about culture isn’t sustainable until it’s moved its way from the leader to the organization, right? 

Benji Block: For sure. 

Ron Lovett: That means if the leader’s gone, is it going to live on and that’s really tough, right? It’s really tough. I mean, I’ve fought long and hard and had conversations with our team to even say, “We’d let someone go but look everybody, we cannot scale that on the culture police. We have to be holding each other, that means each other accountable. You have to hold me accountable to our values. Call me out if I am not aligned,” you know? 

They are up on the wall, it is not something I am mansplaining to everybody. So, recently we hired a COO and we were having a debate about something. This is just two weeks ago, music to my ears, so what happened was we said, “Yeah, I don’t know if we need to do this thing.” It was a strategy meeting and everyone was like, “Yeah, I don’t think we need to that type of…” — I can’t remember the situation. 

We were going to check in on a certain project or push the envelope on something and our new COO who’d been working for us for under a month rips out our core values on the call with everybody, which I am certainly is leading this call and he says, “I have to disagree because our values say this” continuous improvement and not having to be told what to do and hitting our targets on time and over exceeding. He just threw to the entire group, brand new staff member, our values in our face and I laughed. I said, “This is music, of course. Thank you man, we are going to do this now.” 

Benji Block: Yeah, love that. 

Ron Lovett: This is music to my ears like, you couldn’t make me as a founder/CEO prouder that the values are that sticky in the organization. I mean, that is just, to me, is beautiful. 

Benji Block: Great example there and easy for those listening that are, I mean, [in] any space in the organization revisit your core values and take that idea and run with it in your organization so that to make sure the meetings you’re in, the situations you’re in, you are living out to culture and the people around you are to a beautiful picture of it, so I love that. 

Ron Lovett: Yeah. 

Give Employees Their Brains Back

Benji Block: Ron, for you, when you think of the best decision you’ve ever made when it comes to culture, I wonder what comes to mind? Maybe it’s a certain structure you set up or implemented, a meeting, a tool but what has helped like been a catalyst to the culture you’ve created? 

Ron Lovett: I love this question and I don’t know if I’ve had it asked this way before but certainly, the answer is quite simply this: As I was scaling the private security company, we had heavy policies and procedures, right? If you would imagine, Benji, we’d have our own policies and procedures, our customers have policies and procedures, we had to reconcile those. I mean, it was a disaster. I hated them. 

I am not going to swear on your podcast but I hated it. I was at a conference and I had read a book, kind of mashed some stuff I learned at a guy named John DiJulius’ conference at a customer revolution and this book called Maverick. I took these strategies and mashed them together, I believe, and what we came up with was look, we can’t get rid of our customer’s policies, right? 

That’s fine but for our own internal policies, why don’t we throw out the book and why don’t we create a decision-making process? Now of course, as I was thinking about this at the time, my HR manager thought I was out to lunch. He said, “You’ll never be able to pull that off, this is crazy. We need to update policies, have everybody sign them.” I just said, “We can’t scale that, this is not sustainable.” 

“A big book that gets bigger, that collects dust, come on. It just doesn’t make sense.” Back to what I’m about to tell you, connects back and was the encouraged, the subtitle, which is give employees their brains back and what we did, Benji, is said, “Look, at the end of the day, if you have a decision to make on something that you’re not comfortable, you didn’t do yesterday, you haven’t been trained on, it’s something that you haven’t dealt with before—” which happens all the time by the way to all of us — “then what we want you to do is ask yourself three simple questions before you make a decision.” 

“We want you to make the decision, we want you to feel safe to do it but we want you to ask three simple questions. Question number one, is the decision you’re about to make, is it the right thing for the customer? Yes or no. Decision number two, does the decision” — or, sorry, “Question number two, does the decision align with our purpose?” And back then it was of changing the private security industry and our core values? Yes or no. 

“Question number three, are you willing to be accountable for this decision? If it’s yes, yes, yes, don’t ever ask anybody, just do it and we’ll always have your back and if it goes aside, if it goes awry, we’ll coach you on it. We’ll have a discussion but we’ll have your back.” This allowed everybody — this is where giving employees their brains back came from because it was that decision-making process that allowed people to flourish and quite frankly make better decisions than I would. 

They were closer to the information, closer to the bottleneck, closer to the source of pain. They had more information and so it allowed us to really set people free in the organization and that also reinforced our values because of question number two, did it align with our values? 

Benji Block: Wow, I love that because when you teach somebody or try to teach somebody I should say exactly what to do, it’s almost impossible because you are not teaching mindset right? Once you started getting into, “Can I help someone ask better questions?” that’s actually what I find intriguing about podcasting. 

I don’t know if you feel the same but something about asking questions and knowing people can listen and understand Ron’s mindset by listening to this and then they can, not apply the exact same things you did per se step-by-step, but they can take on a different mentality, it can be a complete game-changer and you have a completely different approach and mindset, so I appreciate that answer. 

I think those questions are extremely valuable. Let me ask you one more and then we’ll wrap up but, what’s one question you think organizational leaders working to improve their culture should be asking but maybe they aren’t? Like a blind spot potentially, an area that’s easy to overlook or ignore? 

Ron Lovett: I think a question — and I think of that because I like tough questions that slap you in the face or make you excited, wake you up — the question for me is knowing what your employees know about your workplace today, okay? If they were applying for jobs, would they be excited to reapply here? 

Benji Block: Great question. 

Ron Lovett: The key thing is excited. If they wouldn’t be excited to reapply for this job and this organization, Houston, you have a problem. 

Benji Block: That’s a really succinct way of saying that and a great question I think to leave people with as they consider their company culture. I appreciate your time, Ron. For those that want to stay connected to you, obviously, we’re pushing people to go check out the book but where can they find you online and your work? 

Ron Lovett: Well, you can come visit me at Halifax, it’s a beautiful place. Jump on a plane, get on a boat, however you have to get here, this is a beautiful place. No, but I’m on LinkedIn, I’m active on LinkedIn and then I’ve got a website, ronlovett.ca, so we’ll provide our content through as well as speaking opportunities and so yeah, those are probably the two best ways to connect. 

Benji Block: Fantastic. Well, the book again is called, Scaling Culture: How To Build and Sustain a Resilient High-Performing Organization. Ron, thank you for being on Author Hour today. 

Ron Lovett: Hey man, it’s a playbook that I wish I had and you’re welcome. Thanks for having me.