Excellent Beats Best: Why Your Company Culture Matters Most

By David Hassell

An Interview with Jason Calacanis

Several weeks ago, I caught up with Jason Calacanis, a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and valued advisor. His reputation precedes him, but among many successful endeavors, Jason was CEO of Weblogs, Inc. which was acquired by AOL in 2005. He also founded LAUNCH Media which attracts thousands of industry leaders to the annual Launch Festival.

Those of you who have been following 15five from inception and through our recent launch of version 2.0, know that we believe culture to be the cornerstone of our success. Jason believes that culture provides higher purpose and that’s how the best companies acquire the best talent.

Generation Y Is Concerned About The Why, The High-Level Purpose

Company culture has really transformed. In the 80’s, workers were motivated by the ability to provide food and shelter. In the 90’s, “culture” was about winning and achieving goals. Generation Y doesn’t have the same needs. They feel they don’t need to work unless they truly love their workplace and the company mission.

The workplace responded. Look at Zappos for example. Tony Hsieh’s brilliant move was to re-contextualize being a shoe salesman. “They said it’s not about the shoes, it’s about the service.” And it worked! People started staying at the company longer. Other companies learned something and created their own cultures around higher purpose.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

In his own companies like Mahalo, Jason struggled with applying his work ethic to Gen-Y’ers who didn’t want to work long, hard hours. The greatest challenge was getting honest feedback from his employees. Jason discovered that young people usually won’t volunteer information face-to-face. They are intimidated by leadership, don’t want to seem like complainers, and worry about being fired for telling the truth.

Active soliciting and active listening made all the difference. And also happens to be the value of 15Five. When people respond in writing to solicited questions, they tend to be more frank. Ask “What’s frustrating?” and employees will respond with brutal honesty. “What’s frustrating? You. You changing your mind constantly. People wrote stuff like that to me.”

The 15Five reports led to productive discussions about how to tailor flexible employment schedules so that these employees could do what they loved on their own time. Jason quickly realized who he could rely on, who didn’t want to be there, and who he could convert into joining the culture.

YOLO: You only live once, once

Gen Y doesn’t realize that most of the great things that occur in the world are 99% hard work and 1% joy. Building a building? That’s 2 years of hard work for the joy of a 20-minute ribbon cutting.

But the joyful experience is what drives them. YOLO is the millennial battle cry. Enjoying life is so critical that people will quit their jobs to go to the Coachella music festival for 2 weeks. Jason’s company, like many others, saw high absenteeism during this time, the “Coachella flu” so to speak.

Inspiring Day to Day Excellence

You don’t easily make people who are good, great or people who are great, excellent. Jason likes to start with excellent. He recommends firing the good people and raise your benchmark.

Jason says that today we have to be cutthroat, because whatever is the best is spread immediately. The market picks a winner instantly now. Failures get propagated through social media and the truth cannot be stopped. “There are only two buckets. There’s Excellent and there’s everything else”.

How does your company culture impact your workforce and their productivity? We would love to hear from you.


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