Culture Counts: Scribe’s Principles And Core Values with Tucker Max | Ep. 167

BDD 167 | Company Culture

Some leaders lead and some serve. Some of them had their vision turned into a success story and took full credit for it since it was their idea all along anyway, but some never bother because they knew deep inside they weren’t the right person to lead. One such person is Tucker Max, Scribe Media’s Co-Founder and Director of Product, who fired himself from his vision and gave the CEO title to the person he knew is worthy. As he shares the full story behind this, Tucker dives into their ten company principles and core values found in their Culture Bible. On the side, he drops ways on how to make sure your business is scaling and how to avoid bad hiring.

Listen to the podcast here:

Culture Counts: Scribe’s Principles And Core Values with Tucker Max

I’m pumped to have Tucker Max on the show. Tucker is the Cofounder of Scribe, a company that helps people share their story and turn their ideas into books. His company has published thousands of books, including numerous bestsellers and one book about a guy in a yellow tux. Tucker has personally written four New York Times bestselling books and sold over four million copies. I’m pumped to dive deep into his experience building Scribe into the number one company culture in America by Entrepreneur Magazine. They’re doing amazing things with their people. I’m pumped to hear some of the secrets. Tucker, welcome to the show. First, I’ve got to get a little backstory. You started this company and you fired yourself. Share a little bit background because you realize what you were good for and what you were terrible at.

That was one of those really painful hard decisions. As soon as I made it, I knew it was the right thing. We started off gang busters. We did $200,000 our first month before we even had a business. When people were writing you checks for something that you’re not even trying to sell, that’s the definition of product market fit. We did $2.5 million in the first eighteen months or something like that. We got to $1 million, $1.5 million and things were amazing. Everything was smooth sailing. Our hires were all working out. We were business geniuses. Then we got to $2.5 million and everything broke, once you pass different benchmarks in different businesses. For us, $2.5 million was when we passed eight people full time. We’ve got to about twelve. That’s when the wheels came off. All of the flaws and errors we made came; all the technical debt, all the process debt, all the operational debt. The bill came due.

We went from all of our customers loving us thinking we’re the greatest things ever. All of these authors are telling us amazing stories, it seemed overnight half of our clients hated our guts. It was like, “What just happened?” It wasn’t overnight. About that time, one of our clients was this guy name JT McCormick, who was the President of a software company in town called Headspring. They had a $100 million valuation or so. They were basically a B2B enterprise software. They had some huge clients: 3M, Koch Brothers, McCoy’s Lumber. They were a big deal in Austin. He was doing a book about his crazy life story. He came from nothing, the projects. His mom was an orphan.

I was doing this life story book. I told him because I went to his office to do the sales call, I was like, “You seem like you’ve got the CEO thing down.” He was like, “I’m doing a few things all right, I hope.” I was like, “You’ve got to teach me how to do this,” because we were about $2 million, not quite $2.5 million. We’re about to hit the wheels come off, but I can start to feel it here. Jokingly, I was like, “You’ve got to teach me how to do this right.” He stops, he looks at me and he goes, “Are you serious?” I was like, “I’d love that.” He was like, “I’ll tell you when I give you feedback, it’s going to hurt. I won’t be mean but it’s going to hurt.” I was like, “Come on and try and hurt me. I’ve got this amazing company. It’s doing amazing. I’m the business genius.”

Two weeks later, he does his onboarding call with the team and then I get a call. It pops up, “JT McCormick.” I get on like, “What’s up?” because I’m feeling hot. He was like, “Tucker, you wanted feedback. I got it for you.” He tells me two things we did well and then it goes into a 30-minute diatribe on everything we screwed up. When someone calls you out but every single thing is absolutely correct, it’s just a total gut punch and you have nothing to say. That’s what the call was like. He wasn’t mean about it, but it was so brutally honest. Then it got to the point where I started dreading his name coming up, not because he was mean or bad. All of his feedback was amazing. I can’t believe we’re getting this much stuff wrong.

I asked him if he wants to be an advisor to the company. He was like, “I don’t know. I’m not sure.” I was like, “What? Everyone wants to be an advisor, free equity.” He was like, “I don’t know. Let me come to an executive meeting.” I was like, “Of course.” He comes in the executive meeting. I’ll spare you the whole details. Honestly, by the end of the meeting, he was running the meeting. It was me and JT and I’m Director of Operations and this dude who no one else knew was running our meeting. He didn’t take it over. He wasn’t one of those jackasses that come in and acts like he runs the place. It was just the most natural thing on earth. After that I was like, “We need more help.” He goes, “I know. You guys need me.” I was like, “I know but we’ve got to get to $10 million before we can afford you.” He goes, “You’re not going to make it to $10 million without me.”

He started detailing. We basically got in a conversation. I was like, “What do we do?” He was like, “Make me an offer.” I was like, “Our revenue was your salary. We’re not in your level.” It turns out he didn’t find the company he was at. The guy who did found it wasn’t a fan of giving up equity. He was paying JT a lot but haven’t given him any ownership or whatever. I painted a picture of JT of where we were going and the vision for the company. JT was sold. I gave him a piece and he came on board. Now we’re $20 million in sales. It is all because of him.

I give credit like Jordan’s dad gets credit but Jordan, he’s the star. That’s what we are. I’m almost like the dad and JT is the kid. It’s not that I’m his dad, but JT is the star. I’m the one who started the company. I didn’t start JT, but we are who we are because I fired. Here’s the crazy thing. He comes on and such a humble dude. He was like, “I’ll come on as president. You stay as the CEO if you want.” I was like, “I thought about it and I was so close to saying yes.” Then I was like, “That would be BS. That would be a lie because everyone in the company would know that you were in charge and you were running stuff and I’m not going to live a lie. I will be the most embarrassed of that. I will have to get up in the morning and look at myself and know I’m not the CEO in this company, you are. Let’s just not lie to ourselves and make you the CEO.” I told him, “You don’t even realize how much of a star you are. Your book’s going to come out and we’re going to start doing content on you. Everyone’s going to want you.”

When someone calls you out and every single thing is absolutely correct, it's a total gut punch and you have nothing to say. Click To Tweet

Three years later, he’s this amazing speaker. He signed onto keynote a 4,500-person conference, the Raymond James conference for all their advisers. There are 4,500 people and they’re paying him $25,000. It’s not a huge fee but a good solid keynote fee. He called me up and I’m going to embarrass him. He was like, “How did you know this is going to happen?” I was like, “I know a star when I see one. You are a star. I didn’t make you any of this. You just needed the opportunity. I know how to get stuff out there.” My role in the company is I’m the Head of Guided Author, which is our $12,000 product. When you come to Austin and you want to write the book yourself or you want our structure, guidance, support and then publishing help, you go into Guided Author for $12,000. When you do the workshop, I lead the workshop and I teach it. I’m good at that. People think, “You’re the Founder and you’re running this.” I’m like, “No, I’m the figurehead. JT is the guy who runs it. I just talk a lot at the workshop.” I don’t even go to keynote. He is the one that keynotes, not even me.

It’s clear talk. You’re given a lot of credit. You found a star in JT, but why the company has grown so much is it’s the culture that’s been built with JT with you that’s doing it. I see so many similarities and we’re just steps behind. We started $1 million, next year $2 million, the next year $3 million growing steadily. I don’t know if you knew this but it was myself, my wife, our 24-year-old president and three 22-year-olds. We are working on an abandoned storage building on a picnic table. That’s how we started here. We figured it out and then we grew; we went to six people, eight people, ten people, twelve people, fifteen people. We had zero turnovers in our first three years.

These past two months we’ve had four people leave. It was interesting, they came from the outside. You realize that there was a ceiling with you as a leader and now we’re like, “We have an actual ceiling. We can’t sell any more tickets. We’re looking for that next step.” It’s okay. You have to be very clear on who you are and what you stand for and like, “I want to get into this because it’s the culture.” You are all about the tribe and I want to talk about the difference because there’s family and there’s tribe. People are very bullish on one or the other. Why are you about the tribe? Everything you talk about is the tribe.

The number two principle. First is we before me. Second in our company is bringing your whole self to work. We actually explicitly talk about this in our Culture Bible. We talked about how families should always be first for you, however you define family. It doesn’t that have to be like a mom and a dad and two kids. Family is first because you cannot get fired from your family. You can leave your family, you can be disconnected from then, that’s fine. You couldn’t get fired from family. You get fired from this job, from a tribe, from a career. You can. I hate people who try and say, “Our company is like a family.” My first question always is how many people have you fired?” “What? I don’t know.” “Who have you fired in your family?” “None.” “Shut up. That’s a lie.” I hate that.

You say a business can’t be a family?

Absolutely cannot be. You can love people you work with. You can think of them as a family. You can get so close to them that they basically become family, but they are not the same thing. If you pretend they are, you are lying to yourself. I can’t fire my kids from being my kids. Not necessarily that I want to, although my two and a half-year-old is getting close and she’s pushing me. They’re always going to be my kids. Brittany who is our Director of Operations now, it’s inconceivable that she won’t be the Director of Operations next year. They’re not the same thing and saying they are is a lie. That’s the only way you control people is to lie to them. That’s the fifth principle. Tell me you’re telling the truth. We will not lie here. Absolutely, unequivocally not. To get to your question, I don’t believe so. Here’s the thing, you’re right. Most people were talking about either family or tribe. I don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive. The way that we talked about this here is that for all of us, we have three circles. First is family, second is self. Some people may put self first in front of family and there’s a good argument for that. Either way, family and self are first and second, in either order.

Where’s tribe?

Never higher than third. It is so good you brought this up. This is in the Culture Bible. When you are operating in your role as a tribe member, then it’s we before me. In the context of your life, you are always the star of your own life and should always be the star of your own life. You should never put the tribe in front of yourself in your own life. When you’re doing tribe business, you put tribe first. It does. It seems like a paradox. Most great wisdom, most life lessons are paradoxes that are very cool. We always talk about that. In your role in the tribe, you’re always putting tribe first, but this is still your life. You come first in your own life and you should never ever put anything ahead of your own life outside of your own family and how you define that. Then that still is a very personal decision on how you deal with that.

BDD 167 | Company Culture

Company Culture: Family is first because you cannot get fired from your family. You can leave your family and you can be disconnected from then but you couldn’t get fired.

 

The Culture Bible, obviously we’ve got to get into that. You told me something at MMT, “We’re going to be a company that people don’t leave.” That’s such a fascinating argument because I think every company wants that. Then you’ve got arguments like The Alliance and Reid Hoffman who says you form an alliance for two years with your people and then they leave and you help them. Why do you believe people will never leave you?

What Reid is doing is very different than what we’re doing. I don’t even necessarily disagree with Reid. It’s like pizza is fine and burgers are fine. They are just different. Although, I will tell you in the long one, what Reid is doing is polishing a turd. What he advocates is he’s trying to take a system that is at its core dysfunctional, broken, hateful and dehumanizing and trying to make it as good as possible for people. I disagree with the entire system. What we’re trying to build is something totally different. I don’t believe in reforming systems. I believe in building new systems. We’re trying to build a company that literally completely upends the way we look at humans, that humans come first, that people come first. The entire point of business is to serve people, both clients and its authors and for you, it’s fans and spectators. I don’t like the word stakeholder, but I can understand why people use it. For us, the whole point is people, whether it’s the people who pay us, the people that work here and the people that we pay like freelancers.

Everything is about people whereas Reid is operating in a system. I’m capitalist to the core too. I absolutely believe in free markets. He’s operating in a corporate system that is at its core dehumanizing. This is my favorite thing to talk about and no one wants to talk about this. Do you know where Western corporate structures got their roots from? Where they develop out of? Do you know the lineage of thought? You can look in the twentieth century and see Peter Drucker and people like that. Peter Drucker was great. He started from W. Edwards Deming or other people who came out of the industrial era. If you look at the industrial thinkers, who do they look to for inspiration on how to organize work in an industrial setting? Do you know?

No. I’m very intrigued though.

Slaveholders, plantations, Google Harvard Business Review plantations and see what comes up. It’s the first article. You’ve got to remember, America has a long history of slavery, but we actually have a very short history of slavery compared to most places that have thousands of years of history of slavery. You go to India, China, all kinds of places. There is a long-documented history of not just slavery, but the economics of running a plantation. When you had a 5,000-acre 400-slave plantation in Georgia, that’s a major business. You don’t run that willy-nilly. You bring in people. I’m not talking about overseers in the field; the dude with the whip was that thug and an idiot.

I’m talking about the guy in the house with the abacus at the time and the ledger. Those guys had to know what they were doing and they did. There was a very clear formula on how to run a plantation. It has basically become the framework that first factories were run on and then corporations. At the core of the framework is humans are a resource. What do you call the people department? Human resources. Are humans the coal or iron? No, humans are the points and companies are not built and run so that humans are the point. This is not a capitalist thing. It’s not a socialist. God knows no one treats humans worse than socialists. Just look at Venezuela or the entire Cold War. It’s not capitalism versus socialism. This boils down to how are you structuring power and who is serving her. I have never met anyone. That’s why JT came, one of the big reasons why. He is the true embodiment of servant leadership. The vision that I laid out was the absolute apotheosis of servant leadership. The reality was I was the wrong guy to lead it. I had a vision. He’s the right guy to lead it.

I never thought we’d be talking about slavery on this episode going in about employee experience, but you went there. It’s a full circle because you are so driven. You have such purpose and passion behind this that obviously you sold the vision to JT, you’ve sold it to your team. That’s a huge step as a leader. You have to be so convicted in your beliefs. That’s why I Love Walt Disney and what he did. He could get up and do a performance in front of people and they would be in, and they don’t even know what they bought or what they were doing. I think you call it the Culture Bible, the Culture Document. You put it out for everyone to see it. It’s brilliant. It has 30 pages and everyone can add to it. One of the biggest things in there that you’ve talked about is you have the values of the principles, but it’s the whole self. I think this, “Bring the whole self to work,” is fascinating. No one’s doing it. They’re not their real self when they show up to work. They go home and they become this person they want to be.

It’s a core tenet of modern American work is personal and worker are separate.

Most great wisdom and most life lessons are paradoxes that are very cool. Click To Tweet

How are you doing it?

This might be the first podcast I ever truly talked about this on. Honestly, we haven’t talked about this a lot publicly. It’s in the Culture Bible. I just did five interviews with potential new tribe members. I deeply talked about with all of them. We don’t talk about a lot publicly. It’s not to hide it. It’s because there’s all the fear. We can talk about fear and creation if you want, but the reason we don’t talk about this publicly is that it’s hard to explain. I’m afraid that we’re going to explain it wrong. We’re still small enough and we’re still new enough. We’re not even 40 people yet.

This is still a delicate little thing that has not fully become what we hope it will be. It’s like, “You’ve got your cute $20 million business.” In the scale of American business, we are fully on a dog’s ass. Just because of what we do in books and stuff like that and we’ve worked with people like David Goggins, Tiffany Haddish, Joey Coleman and people like you in your bubble have gotten a lot of attention. We get a lot more attention than most $20 million businesses. I’ll talk about it. I’m going to warn you and your audience, this is going to sound crazy. It’s going to sound weird and it’s going to sound like something from an alien planet or hippy dippy or whatever. I’ll talk about it.

What do we do? First, it starts at the top. This is not a policy to write up and put in your user manual in no way, shape or form. This starts at the very top with the two founders and the CEO. The three of us when we show up here, we show up in all ways. Not just working hard. I’ll give you an example of what it means to show up fully. It started with me. In our off sites, we would do this thing and we still do it. It’s called Strengths and Obstacles where we would sit and in a circle and the person who we’re talking about, let’s say it’s me, everyone would talk about. They’d tell me, “Tucker, you’re really good at seeing the core of issues. You cut through all the crap and you can figure out what’s going on immediately.” Then you tell them what their strength is and you give an example, like a story. “I remember when X showed me Y.” You tell it to them, you don’t say it about them. We go around until everyone’s said their things about you and your strengths. lt’s almost what you would say about someone at their funeral, but you’re saying it about them when they’re alive to their face. Most people have never ever heard this in their life. That alone is a deeply moving experience. Then that person has to talk about their job objectives.

First, they start with what are your real self-objectives? What do you want for yourself? Then what do you want for your relationships? Then what do you want from your work? Work is third because like I said, self, relationships and then work. We talk about that and get clear about what you want. Everyone tells you what the obstacles they see to you getting what you want. If I want to be a great leader, they would say things like, “Your anger consumes you. You get too angry. It frightens me.” We started just Zach and I doing this to each other. Then the early people we hired were like, “That’s amazing. Can I do that too?” We would do it with them.

It was the culture here. They would see Zach say razor sharp, almost hurtful things to me. I’d be like, “I think I can see it.” I would argue with them and we’d figure it out. They’re like, “This is a place where I can be honest and vulnerable.” They are all doing it. That’s where it starts at the top. Once we got into it, then we started going deeper. We dive into what our objectives are. It’s like, “I want to be closer to my wife.” What does that mean? How are you not close to her? We would start to open up and talk about this stuff. I’ll tell you when it cracked open. The CEO and JT, we were about 25, 28 when this happened. It was an appropriate moment. We were all talking. He was the guy. I forgot what the objective was. I said, “Why?” I dug him.

Have you ever seen someone emotionally shift? He shifted. He told us a story about how he had been sexually assaulted as an eight-year-old. You could have heard a mouse fart in that room. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t back off. It’s like, “We’re going to sit with this and we’re going to deal with it and talk about it.” This was not a raw thing for him. He processed it. He dealt with it but he never shared it. He said he never shared it with anyone, but his wife. I shared it with the whole company. It was this incredible cathartic moment. After that, then it became the standard now that the people who want to share stuff share. After that speech, I’ll never forget it. We have a guy who was an ex-Marine Force Recon. He’s a badass Marine. There are no Marines who are not badass, but he is an extra badass Marine. He came to me and he said, “I’ve never seen any crap like this in my life. Forget work. I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere.” He was like, “I would follow that man into hell.”

I almost cried thinking about it because we were already close. Then it became a different thing. Not a family, but do you know what it became at that moment? Imagine that you work with people who saw you for who you are, accepted you for who you are, cared about you and wanted you to get better. That was what we created, but the only way to do it is at the very top. You have got to do that first. You have got to take all those steps first. You’ve got to love your people, you got to care about them. You’ve got to be vulnerable. You’ve got to go into your hard places in front of them authentically and real so that they see it and then they feel like, “Yes, I can do this as well. If he’s doing it, how can I not do?” If you don’t do that, you can’t expect anyone else to do it. That’s how we bring whole self is we the leaders show up with it and then everyone else feels safe to do it.

BDD 167 | Company Culture

Company Culture: You can love people you work with, think of them as family, and get so close to them that they basically become family, but they are not the same thing.

 

I love that because it’s the root of everything. You have your ten principles, you have your values and everyone can see the culture document. We’ll share it. It’s the root of the top guy baring it all. I’ll tell you my first experience at MMT. I heard Philip McKernan talk. I came back, read it the whole night and came to him and I told him later. I flew from MMT to a conference. I was a keynote speaker. I opened up and shared how when I was a kid and my parents were divorced when I was eight years old. My mother had a drug problem and I was alone. My dad fought for me, got me custody but I was alone all the time. He would ask, “Jesse, how was the day?” I would lie and say, “I rode my bike to Alex’s house or John’s house.” I lied. I shared it on that stage in front of that group how that made me want to belong and be a part of people and be together. I came back that Monday and shared it to my staff. That’s how I opened the staff meeting. It’s a tough way to start a Monday morning staff meeting. The reality was I watched Marie, our Fans First director, a few other people get emotional. They were like, “We never knew that about you. It makes so much sense why you care so much about creating this love at the ballpark and making people feel they belong. That’s why you do everything.” It happened because of that conference and realizing that. Then we did that crazy exercise they did in jail where we were hugging each other and telling the truth.

That is the core and everything. You can have principles, you can have guides, but if you’re not a leader and you’re not throwing yourself out there and doing it from a place of, “This is me,” your people won’t do it as well. That’s probably the most important piece from this whole talk. It starts there. It’s funny you bring up McKernan. We did his book. I agree with him, One Last Talk is an amazing thing. One Last Talk is like TED for emotions. It’s a very simple speech prompt. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you say and who would you say it to? Go say it now. As soon as you hear that, you get goosebumps. We just added One Last Talk to our repertoire, to our off sites. Philip, we passed the book out, everyone in the company brought it. A bunch of people volunteered to do theirs and we had four people go. Philip came in, flew in and facilitated it.

What I just described, strengths and obstacles, was amazing and that is amazing. It is a profound emotional experience for people to have everyone that knows them so we’ll tell them the strengths and then tell them the things that they think they have to improve to get what they want. Souls are open but there is a different thing and when you give your one last talk. We have four people do it. The whole company was in tears the whole time and it was all for those people’s lives fundamentally changed. We had a girl, she’s black and she talked about basically all the self-loathing that came from that because she went to rich white private boarding schools. All the issues she’s dealt with that she never talked about that in public before. Another guy talked about growing up without a dad and the way his mom gaslighted him all this stuff. It was mind-blowing. There’s just an element about that. We don’t do it for this reason. All four of those people do great good jobs. They’re rocketing through in their jobs now. They’re way better at their jobs. Their personal lives have already opened up. We’re doing this the least every six months and everyone in the company is probably going to end up doing one.

They don’t hold them back. You look at everyone. All of us, even as leaders, we’re still holding back. Once you take that off, you rip that Band-Aid. I told you at MMT, “You need to put your book out.” You’re like, “We’re still a small company. We’re growing.” This needs to be shared, Tucker. I’m so glad that you’re sharing it because every company needs to do it, but it’s scary as hell. I’ll tell you that exercise that we did that I share briefly, the prison exercise where you step forward and back. I got the questions from her and I was like, “We’ve got to do this.” Emily, my wife is like, “Jesse, our group is not ready for that yet.” That’s deep. This fear holds you back. What would happen if you didn’t do it? Some people may say this company is not for me. Maybe some people will say they will be here now like you said. I don’t know. It’s powerful stuff.

Let me tell you how you do it in your company. You’ve already taken the first step standing on that stage and talking about that stuff. Everyone’s a sheep. No sheep will be the first through the gate, but all of them will be second. What you need to do is go through that gate first. You’ve already done it a little bit with your speech. I actually think One Last Talk might be a better framework for most companies. What we do are strengths and obstacles.

It’s funny, Zach facilitated another company doing it with buddies of his. They did a little bit of a paired down version and it blew the doors off the company. All of these conversations that they weren’t having all of a sudden, the next week the whole company changed everyone started talking. There were all these unsaid things that helped. We’re going to formalize our framework a little bit so we can teach it to others. Either one of the two things or maybe both combined, you might want to do One Last Talk with your company and what you talked about and really do it. Maybe even bring Philip in but you go first. You’ve got to go first and maybe your wife goes second. When the whole team sees our two leaders, when they stand up and they have that much courage, it’s like how do I not? What is the number one maximum every military leader knows? Lead from the front. Everyone wants to do that but most people need to see someone else first to know it’s safe. If you go over first, I bet you, your team is going to follow.

A powerful thing that I have seen as soon as I started sharing that, whether it’s in speeches, whether it’s people, they immediately come to me. “I went through something similar. I had this happen.” When you give people permission to share, everything comes off. I know we’re going deep on it, started with slavery then ended up the whole self. A great transition for you, Tucker. I’m going to a question. Marie is our Fans First director and she’s focused on internal people, our culture. We map the experience for people just similar to what you do. Her question is, “How do you ensure that the best aspects of our culture scale?” That’s a big concern for her. As we’re growing, how do you make sure it scales?

We’re at 40 people, I don’t want to act like I’m an expert. I hate people who are like, “Let me tell you how to build $1 billion business,” and you live in your car. You don’t know what you’re talking about. We have scaled to 40 very successfully and I’m sure we’re going to get to 75 smoothly. Above that, we’ll see. There are a couple of things we’ve learned. The first thing is you must write down what you believe. You can do it a million different ways. There are a lot of ways to write about culture and talk about culture and to put it down. I am hesitant telling them how to do it because I just did it. I’m a writer. I started writing and our Culture Bible evolved over 40 years, but I’ve always been the author. You read it as one voice. It is not a corporate amalgamation. You can tell I wrote it which I actually think is important. Your culture has a voice. Your document has a voice, but what it needs to be, it’s very simple.

What you tolerate is your culture, not what you say your culture is. Click To Tweet

We have a 30-page doc, but all of our people can tell you exactly what our core values and our ten principles are because it’s very simple to remember all of them. Your glass is already broken and always tell your tribe the truth. We before me. Bring your whole self to work. Work like an owner. They can name them all because they’re all memorable and they’ll understand what they mean, how they apply to their life. Write it all down, make it deeply applicable. All of them need to be tied to stories so that people understand. These are all basic narrative techniques. That’s a part of it. Simplify it. Have a record of what you believe, and it’s got to be easily memorable and applicable. Those are the first two of how you get it to scale. Then the leaders must embody all of that culture or it’s all crap, all of it. Every company has a culture. Whether it’s explicit or implicit, you have it. Every company’s culture is what the leader tolerates, every single one. What you tolerate is your culture, not what you say your culture is. It is what you tolerate. It is the lowest common denominator of what you tolerate. There are so many things. There’s no tolerance for here because we cannot have any of that in our culture.

Give some examples. What are some things you don’t tolerate?

“That’s not my job.” Get out. I’m serious, you’re fired now. Don’t get me wrong, people also need to stay in their lanes and not step on other people. If you see trash on the floor, you don’t pick it up and you say, “That’s not my job.” Get out. If everything’s about you, we don’t tolerate it. Literally, the only thing you have to agree on if you work here if you’re a part of the tribe, is you’re signing up that you live by the Culture Bible. If you don’t, you’re gone. We have zero tolerance for that.

Just quickly go through the onboarding. Where does the Culture Bible come into the process when you’re starting?

The first thing is onboarding. When you start with our company, you have a full day of onboarding that has nothing to do with your job. It is the culture. It is the backstory. It is the lay of the land. We learned this the hard way. We had to deprogram corporate trauma out of people who came from corporate jobs. I’m not kidding, I can send you the deck. We have the Corporate Trauma Rehab Course. I run it and I run people through the fifteen things they’re going to see. You’re going to see people crying in meetings. That’s not a bad thing usually. Sometimes it is but usually, it’s not. You’re going to see people sharing deep emotional stuff that you might think is awkward. That’s normal here. We don’t tell anyone to believe the culture on faith. We tell them, don’t believe it until you feel it. Not just see it, but you feel it. You don’t have to take any of this on faith. We tell them if you see us being hypocrites, your job is to call it out. If you don’t call it out, you’re actually violating the culture.

Here’s what I learned and I’ll share this with you. The four people that left all came from the outside. Everyone else started as interns, including me, including our president. They started as interns. They got to know the culture for three to six months and they bought it. We had someone come in from the top cruise line in the country. They had all this structure. It doesn’t work. We’re learning. We’re just going to build our intern program and keep building it so they can understand the culture.

The next point though is hiring. You can build the greatest culture, you can get everyone on board, they can all be living in. If you hire a bunch of crap ones, all hell will break loose. I’ll tell you that if you have a great culture, your culture acts as an immune system against bad hiring. I know this is true because for a good two years we had a great culture and poor hiring practices. JT fired nine of the eleven that were here when he got here. He was right to fire them all. Zach was wrong to hire them. Half of the people that we’ve hired since he came, we had to get rid of. It’s not so much because the culture evolved. It’s because we do a pretty decent job messaging our culture.

We had to learn how to do this. We had to improve our hiring process because everyone wants to work here. It’s like a huge thing that work here. People will lie. I don’t see them consciously lying, they’re lying to themselves. They’ll do anything to come on because getting hired is a finish line. Getting hired is not the end of the beginning. It’s the beginning. That’s what I always tell people now is what do you know what the catch the culture is. They’re trying to figure it out. The catch of that is real. When you get here you have to do all of this. You have to live this and you have to show up fully. You have to bring your whole self to work. I don’t mean that your first day, we’re going to start asking you about your mom and dad and make you cry or something. It’s not like that at all. What happens when you’re around all these people who are vulnerable and who are open about their stuff and who are doing great job at work but also trying to improve their lives and talking about that openly.

BDD 167 | Company Culture

Company Culture: You can have principles and guides, but if you’re not a leader and you’re not throwing yourself out there and doing it from a place of “this is me,” your people won’t do it as well.

 

We have a channel on Slack called Therapy, Lessons Learned, all this sort of stuff. When you’re around that, if you’re not doing it, that is a mirror that you’re holding up to your soul. You’re going to have to face just by definition of being around people who are facing their demons and dealing with them, not beating them. Dealing with them because you can’t beat it. You deal with it. If you’re not doing that with yours, that cognitive dissonance will break you. We have a huge number of people who come in. Skillfit-wise, they are killers. They are amazing. They are overqualified. They come in and they are gone in six months or three months or nine months because they don’t know how to actually connect with themselves, they don’t know how to take care of themselves, they don’t know how to love themselves, they don’t know how to be loved. They aren’t willing to face hard truths about themselves. It’s not like I’m going around and be like, “Let me tell you what’s wrong with you.” We don’t even do Strengths and Obstacles now until someone’s been with the tribe for a year and a half. You have to be here.

How often do you do the retreats though?

Every six months.

You mentioned the whole self-guide. Doesn’t everyone have an accountability partner as well?

We started because everyone loves strengths and obstacles. They wanted more. What you do now is after you’ve been with the tribe for six months and you’ve been to a summit, like an offsite. You said you know people and we know. Then you get to pick three people and they’re what we call a whole-self guy. It’s like mini strengths and obstacles. They pick you. It’s a double opt-in. If we work together and you picked me and I said, “I love Jesse, let’s do it.” Then every month we would sit together for about 90 minutes and you would go over what are your goals, self-relationships, work. We have basically four questions. What do you want? Why do you want that? What’s it going to look like when you have it? What’s your plan to get it?

My job as your guide is not to give you advice. My job is to be the mirror, to make sure everything makes sense. It’s aligned. I hold you accountable and make sure you’re being realistic and authentic. It’s not therapy. It’s almost like having a life coach but your life coach is never your boss. That’s the only rule. We don’t say we have bosses. We say direct support. It can never be the person you report to or your direct support. It can be anyone else in the company except me or JT. We’re the only ones that you can’t. It would be unfair people have us and other people don’t. We want this to be more peer-to-peer. What’s ended up emerging then is that people’s lives when they come here, if you’re willing to face your crap even slowly, it’s fine. Super slowly, no problem. If you’re willing to step up and fix your crap, you basically transform your life here.

I think here’s a good test to test if a company has a good culture. Will their leaders talk about their culture of people over and over again? If they won’t, if they go more to their products or more to their business and not so much people, they don’t have a good culture. That’s just a realization right now.

I’ll tell you the other test, talk to the team and see what they said. People who know culture know that. There’s a reason why we interviewed all the different tribe members. We’ve got fifteen or twenty with extended two-hour interviews. Put the interviews on YouTube. These are all real people. Go watch the interviews and you can see the emotion, you can see the real in them. You’ll also notice they basically all say not the exact same thing like this isn’t a cult. They hit the same points which tell you two things; we message well internally and it’s real.

The way to stand out in life is to work hard, do a good job, and do what you say. Click To Tweet

We also did a great video, which we copied from you. I hope you appreciate us copying your stuff. It’s how we build a business. Why should people not work for your company? We’ve interviewed all our people doing that, starting now. Tucker, we appreciate this. We just put an ad out. “I wrote do not apply for this job.” I gave all the reasons why people should not apply. Of course, I’ve got a ton of traction, but we push people out. You have to do a future resume with us. You have to do a video cover letter and how you fit to the Fans First way. We have hundreds of applicants but only a handful does the three steps because we’re pushing people out. It’s fascinating. Tucker, I’ve been grilling you. I’m going to let you flip the script. You are the host of Business Done Differently. You can ask me one question.

I’ve got to ask you this because this annoys me. This is going to seem petty. I’ll just admit straight up it’s petty. I have to ask. I get the yellow suit and bananas and all that. I think it’s great. It’s a great schtick and you should totally keep doing it. It fits you. Your hat is all old and ratty and it’s filled up. Can’t you buy a new one that’s smooth?

I just want to confirm. This is the question, “Can I get a new hat?”

Why not? Here’s my question. There are two questions. Why don’t you tailor the yellow suit? I like the yellow suit. Two, why don’t you have lots of those because they can’t be expensive? Buy lots of the hats so that way you can sub them out.

Here’s the deal. I have seven of them. I bought all the cheap ones at BrightColoredTuxedos.com. They went out of business. They’re no longer there. My staff got one tailored. They found my size. It’s got a local tailor to custom make one for me because they said, “We don’t want you looking like a clown anymore when you’re out speaking.” This is why I didn’t have any speaking engagements. This is the going around the ballpark day. When I’m speaking, I wear the custom one and during the summer, because it’s 100 degrees out, I wear this one. What’s interesting, Tucker, you talk about whole self and I shared this. I interviewed Jayson Gaignard I was nervous. I wear this every day wherever I go. When I went to MMT, I talked to a few of the people that went and they said, “No, don’t wear that. Just be regular.” This is my whole self. This is what I wear all the time. I was scared to it. I wear it at airports. That was one of the mistakes I made because I wasn’t bringing my whole self. This is my whole self. At Cabo the next MMT, I’m coming as this. I don’t care if you’re like, “You didn’t wear it last year.” That’s me.

I have a question. Why don’t you wear a Bananas jersey or Savannah Banana white shirt beneath instead of the yellow thing in the middle, the button-down? Then people will know why you have a yellow outfit on. Whereas I see you in the airport like, “What’s wrong with this dude? Is it Dumb and Dumber day?”

I get a lot of those. I’ve been wearing this for a couple of years before there were the Bananas. We had another team and I believed in the show. My whole thing is standing out and being different. I’ll get a better hat. I’ll work on that. There’s some Bananas brand and we could do.

I would just put the t-shirt underneath the Savannah Bananas. I get it. The dude is talking to his book. It’s great. Then it’s like I get it. Seriously, I did. At MMT, I never followed through. I had it in my notes. I’ve got to go and buy Jesse a yellow hat that’s not peeled up.

BDD 167 | Company Culture

Company Culture: If you have a great culture, your culture acts as an immune system against bad hiring.

 

I’m going to work on it. I usually finish the final four, one thing I just want to ask is, what would you tell people? What’s the best thing you would say as far as how do you stand out in business and in life?

This is going to sound simplistic but it’s true. The way to stand out on life is to work hard. Do a good job. Do what you say. Automatically if you do those things, it puts you in the top 5% and 10%.

Finally, we’ve talked a lot about people and I can see where your heart is, which is amazing because people probably judge people different on the outside. That happens a lot with me too. They’re like, “What is wrong with this guy?” At the root of it, you know who you are and people that are close to know who you are. How do you want to be remembered?

One of my favorite sayings is that no man is better than the judgment of his children. The thing I care the most about is what is my relationship like with my children and my wife. To me, I don’t want to say everything else is insignificant. Everything else is dust in the wind. All I want is when I die and hopefully I’m well into my 80s, is I want to be surrounded by my kids and my wife and a lot of other people who are sad to see me go. It would feel like my death leaves a hole. If that’s the case, then that means I will have done my job.

As someone who just had a son, I know exactly where you’re coming from. Thank you, Tucker. What’s amazing about you on your website is you share as much about becoming an author and working through Scribe as about joining the tribe. Very few companies do that and it’s focused on people both ways. How else can people learn more about what you’re doing?

If you want to work with us to write a book or you need someone to help you write a book, you actually get in there and there are different sites. Go to ScribeWriting.com. If you want to potentially work with us, it’s ScribeMedia.com.

Tucker, thanks so much.

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About Tucker Max

BDD 167 | Company CultureBecause I’m a writer (I’ve written four #1 NY Times Best Sellers), I get some version of this question on a nearly daily basis, and I had a canned answer to get out of these conversations as quickly as possible.

I’d usually tell people that sitting down to write the book is not an optional part of the process—in fact, it’s the very point of the process—and that they can’t have something (a book) without doing the work necessary to create it (write it).

I said it in a disdainful tone, sneering at the laziness of people who presume that books are something they can just “get” without having to do the hard work. I’d often throw in some version of the snide “everyone wants to be a star, but no one wants to do the work” remark.

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