Q&A with Featured Speaker & Moderator Robert Richman

Robert Richman will join us on the Mainstage, Tuesday, May 19 at 2:30 pm, to discuss fostering a culture of innovation and moderate the Insights from the C-Suite Panel.

Robert Richman
Former Culture Strategist at Zappos.com

Can you give a preview of a few of the techniques involved in culture hacking—making big changes quickly?

Culture hacking is all about looking at culture as a network, like a computer network. But rather than trying to change the whole thing, we look at vulnerabilities in the system that can be exploited. Hackers use this maliciously, but one can use the same techniques for good. For instance, the interview is a time that is very vulnerable. You could get the best person ever, or someone who would bring down the company. Hacking the questions to see right through people is incredibly valuable.

Over the past year, what has been a memorable experience or ah-ha moment for you that embodied your approaches to corporate culture?

It was a memorable experience to lead a speech on disruption and talk about how I disrupted myself by intentionally causing panic attacks so that I could work through them. I was surprised how many people could relate to the fear and anxiety. I believe there’s a big opportunity for people to share more stories and relate based on what they’ve been through and how they identify themselves.

One of the great strengths in senior living is its workplace culture—people feel a sense of purpose in what they do, at all levels. But many workers are part-time and hold several jobs. Are there some ways managers could further improve culture for them?

The number 1 rule of culture is to co-create it. That’s why I lead open space events, so that people can crowdsource the solutions. People want to feel seen and heard above all else. And small changes can make a big difference. I went to one company where they complained about the chairs at the front desk for years. It wasn’t until the CEO sat there for a full day that he finally got it, and gave them nice chairs. The service scores went up after that.

Senior living is a hybrid of several industries—health care, hospitality, lifestyle, real estate, wellness and recreation, dining…what’s one of your ideas that works across all these diverse fields? Or do they all?

What relates all of those together is that a person’s experience will always be more important than anything, and if they have a negative experience, they are 5x more likely to actively speak against it. Defending against this is absolutely key. And you do that by assuming most people are good, and being very lenient rather than protecting the systems too much from possible abuse. An example of that is how Zappos would take back shoes even when used, because only a very small percentage of people would do it. So the rules were created assuming most customers have good will.

Developing leaders is another big concern in senior living. Can you tell us about one of your surprising approaches to leadership?

The true test of leadership is do you have followers. Not direct reports but people who look up to you, learn from you, and want to model you. And to get that requires getting results and mastery of skills, and that can’t be taught. It must be practiced and done. What I think most people put in a position of leadership don’t understand is that they’re under a microscope, and any time they’re not modelling what they’re saying, they’re losing trust.