From Time-Teller To Clockmaker: Make A Culture That Lasts

From time-teller to clockmaker: Creating a company culture that lasts

Kasasa CEO Gabe Krajicek was recently a guest on the “For You Leaders" podcast hosted by Kirk Dando and Chip Hanna. In part one, Gabe discusses how he learned from mistakes made in his first role as a CEO and went on to create a powerful culture at Kasasa.

Click to listen to this portion of the podcast, and follow along with the transcript. If you'd prefer to listen to the blog in its entirety, it's available on both iTunes and Google Play.

 

Core Values: How to Develop Company Values That Deliver Results – Part 1
 

Chip Hanna:

 

I'm Chip Hanna, and this is the “For You Leaders” podcast, featuring Kirk Dando, where we truly go beyond the veneer. You'll experience the raw and the real of leadership. You'll see your feet nine miles away from the top.

Would you get a tattoo of your company's core values? Probably not, but you probably don't work at Kasasa.

Kirk Dando: Chip, you know what? I do not have a Kasasa tattoo, I will admit, but I've seen lots of them, and guess what? Kasasa will even pay for it.
Chip: What would possess someone to get a tattoo of their company's core values?
Kirk: Chip, that's a really great question. You know what? To understand the motivation, you really have to understand the culture of Kasasa. It is not only unique, it is truly inspiring and engaging. People that work there love it. However, if you're an outsider hearing about some of the stories or the fables of it, you might even think it's cultish. I assure you, I have been in the middle of it, and it is not cultish at all. It might be the reason why they are so successful.

Today, we're going to talk with Gabe Krajicek, the CEO of Kasasa.

In today's episode, you'll hear why Gabe is so obsessed with culture, and how he operationalizes their values into the culture.

Gabe Krajicek: To understand the story, you've got to go back to when I was in high school, and my father, who was very, very sick with brain cancer had just had to retire from his job. He was CEO of a relatively large company in the oil refinery services industry, so a really roughneck group of people. I remember my whole life, as I was growing up, my dad was obsessed with culture. We'd, at the dinner table, talk about how you've got to love your employees, and how there might be ten percent wrong with them but there's 90 percent right. Focus on the right.

I would hear these lessons as I was growing up. Then I went to his retirement party when I was in high school and saw these guys that got up there with tears in their eyes saying how Dad changed their life.

I remember Mac Bozart, who I'm still friends with today, giving a speech crying, saying because of Mike, my dad, he was able to leave the field where he was turning a wrench, work his way up to vice president, and now his daughter's going to college. That just really impressed the heck out of me.

When I was 22, I took over Dealerskins, which was the first company that I ran, and I didn't really know at all what I was doing. The circumstances that allowed me to become the CEO of that company are just so lucky. It's ridiculous. There's no way I can take credit for it. It just fell in my lap. I had a zoology degree from LSU, I'm 22 years old, I don't know anything about technology. I don't know anything about the car business. I don't know how to run a business. The only thing I knew that I could do, because I had learned it from my dad and seen the impact, was to try to build great culture.

At Dealerskins, I think that we did that. By the time that we sold the business, I was so proud of that culture. It just hummed, and I thought that I knew what I was doing. After we sold the business, I moved over to BancVue. I stayed in touch with the people at Dealerskins, and I called up Vennesa Van Ameyde, who runs operations here at Kasasa, but she worked at Dealerskins at the time.

I called her up and I said, "Tell me how the culture is doing; I just want to make sure it's still good." She said, "Oh God, it's horrible." I said, "Well, does anybody still talk about the Dealerskins spirit of love?" She said, "Nobody would even know what those words mean."

I remember being genuinely crestfallen. This wasn't like, "Oh darn, the culture's not what it used to be." My dad had passed away by this time; this was my kind of homage to what he had taught me. I thought I could create something great like he had created, and I realized that what I created was so ephemeral that six months after I left the business, it had evaporated.

There's a line that I have associated with this experience from Jim Collins' “Built to Last.” Basically, the great leaders are clockmakers; they're not time-tellers. What I realized I had done at Dealerskins was be the time-teller. I was the culture. I mean that not at all egotistically, I mean that in a self-deprecating way, because I would go out there and do the rah-rah speeches. I would talk about culture, I'd ask everybody how they're doing, I would smooth over conflicts, but once I left, I just thought somebody else would go do those things. But I had done nothing to operationalize them, and clearly, no one went and did it, and the culture was gone as soon as it was there. I was determined not to let that happen at BancVue. The first thing I wanted to do was make sure that the culture would never get associated with me again.

We created this symbol for our values called the “Patch," but the idea behind it was, the Patch is inanimate. It's not a person. It is the representation of the values. We have a $10,000 bronze sculpture of the Patch in our lobby, so it's not going anywhere. It's something that people can point at and say, "That's what we stand for," but it also, by using a symbol, taps into more of the emotional side of a person.

I remember one day I was driving to go see a bank in Iowa, and the meeting was going to be Saturday morning. This was late Friday night. The sun was setting over a cornfield, and there was this big, big old rustic barn, and it had a tattered American flag painted on it that said "In God We Trust." I got chills. There was just something about the Americana-ness of it; the sun setting, the cornfield, the barn, the big American flag, and I got chills. I started thinking, if that had just said "freedom," it wouldn't have been the same. There's something about seeing a symbol that you emotionally connect with, so part of the reason we wanted to create that Patch was to have something that would be able to speak more to people's right brain, and just instantly, when you see it, you don't even have to think about it; you know the feeling that you associate with that.

Since then, we didn't stop at just building the Patch, we infuse the Patch values into every aspect of how we evaluate employees, how we hire employees, how we onboard employees. I, as the CEO, am subjected to Patch reviews by every single employee in the company, so they can review my performance and tell me what I'm doing wrong. Every manager that gets reviewed by their employees on Patch values has to present an after-action review to say, "Here's what you said I'm doing right, here's what you said I'm doing wrong, here's what I commit to do better over the next period.” And they have to bring that back to their employees in the next six months and say, "here's what I improved, here's where I did worse, here's what I'm going to try to do again next time," so it really creates a sense of accountability, both from the top down and the bottom up, to live up to those values. I'm relatively confident now that if I got hit by a truck, this engine will keep running, which is really what I wanted to do. I wanted to create a culture that would sustain without me having to be here.

 

Check out Part Two where Gabe discusses how Kasasa’s culture evolved as the company grew, and also Part Three where he describes each of the Patch values.

 

Additional Links:

–Blog, 4 steps to engineering a great culture

–Blog, Kasasa runs on passion

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