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How to create a fantastic work culture: “Leaders need to do their inner work” with Shane Metcalf and Chaya Weiner

Leaders need to do their inner work. I’m not sure who said it but I love this quote, “An organization can only grow to the extent of the founder’s shadow”. What this means to me is that founders, leaders, and managers all have a disproportionate impact on their people. We can no longer pretend that […]


Leaders need to do their inner work. I’m not sure who said it but I love this quote, “An organization can only grow to the extent of the founder’s shadow”. What this means to me is that founders, leaders, and managers all have a disproportionate impact on their people. We can no longer pretend that someone’s attachment style, unprocessed childhood trauma, and personal care routines don’t spill over into our leadership.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Shane Metcalf, Co-founder and Chief Culture Officer, 15Five. Shane Metcalf is a seasoned executive coach and speaker who is obsessed with building healthy organizations, and creating the opportunity for people to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships. Driven by his deep belief in the potential of our species, Shane co-founded 15Five, industry-leading performance management software that is unlocking the potential of the global workforce. As Chief Culture Officer, Shane understands what fundamentally motivates people, how to architect high performance, and which principles and rituals create “self-organizing cultures”. Shane has been featured in XConomy, LingoLive, and the Association for Talent Development. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIN.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My high school, Chamisa Mesa, was perhaps the greatest educational experience of my life. While skills like critical thinking and writing were heavily emphasized, it’s only now that I also realize that the creators of the school were master culture architects. We had a 4 day school week and took our shoes off before coming into the building. Each new school-year was kicked off with wilderness camping trips and study at Zen retreat centers. We circled up everyday for “Morning Meeting”, which was entirely run by students. Every Thursday we played “Goofido” the sacred art of goofiness. These cultural touchstones created such a positive and engaged student body that we all were all in love with the subject matter and, more importantly, we fell in love with learning in community. From these experiences, I learned that doing things differently than the mainstream may look a bit weird, but tapping into our intrinsic motivation gets extraordinary results.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now we’re focused on a movement we call Best-Self Management. The basic idea is that if you expand beyond just measuring performance and start helping each human in your company to grow and develop into their best-selves, you’ll get unprecedented levels of engagement and high performance. It’s so exciting to me because my whole life I’ve been fascinated by human development and how we reach our full potential. I pinch myself that I get to help create a company that is bringing in the best research in the world about human potential and showing how companies can leverage this to create win-win dynamics with their people. We’ve got some seriously big challenges as a species, and solving them starts with unlocking human creativity and genius.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I like to think of this as a work in progress. I’m certain that if we had numbers from 100 years ago those numbers would be much worse, let alone overall happiness statistics from 500 years ago! While feudal societies may have had higher compliance than the average modern business, they certainly weren’t going to be getting high marks on employee net promoter scores (NPS).

I think we’re heading in the right direction when it comes to creating more human-centric cultures. As Dan Pink wrote, “Companies are finally realizing that we’re full fledged human beings, not single minded economic robots.” As we create cultures that fulfill the basic human need for belonging and growth and not just economic gain, we’ll see our companies become places where people come to realize their full potential and gain skills that benefit them in all areas of their life, not just to earn a paycheck. These lead people to thrive in all areas of life, which generates goodwill that then comes back into the office. That good is then passed on to customers and creates a virtuous cycle, where those customers become genuine brand-advocates rather than mere patrons. It’s really quite simple and also happens to be more profitable. I believe it’s the profit factor that will prove to be why capitalism ultimately embraces a People-First model.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Let me count the ways!

Starting with the pure fact that people are suffering and aren’t reaching their potential, that alone should break our hearts. Half-hearted employees lack commitment, which creates a drag on the entire energy of the company. Nothing gets done as fast or as well as it does when someone is fully committed. There are all sorts of statistics linking low morale to low productivity, and in-turn the impact on the bottom line, but you can probably just use your imagination.

The impact to employee health and well-being is likewise rather intuitive. The stress of being half-in and dissatisfied causes enormous health problems which then create downward spirals in all areas of life. And studies show that happiness can strengthen your immune system, reduce stress, lower physical pain, and increase longevity.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1) Create opportunities for people to connect on a human level. Every Friday we ask a non-work related question that everyone in the company answers (via video conference). People share incredible stories about their lives and unique perspectives and experiences. It creates instant empathy and insight into why people are the way they are.

2) Begin to value internal emotional states as much as external productivity. We’re all complete and whole human beings, and our internal states of being ALWAYS lead to the quality of our doing. If you make it safe to acknowledge the internal, you’ll have people feel valued and seen. An easy way to do this is to start every meeting with a one word or phrase check in about each person’s internal state.

3) Create asynchronous weekly check-ins. Ask questions about the wins and challenges that each person experienced during the previous week. We’re all more comfortable writing a challenge down than we are bringing it up to our manager in-person. (And when it’s solicited that’s even more inviting!) This leads to better 1-on-1 meetings and more truthful conversations in person.

4) Set personal development objectives for yourself and your team. Work should be a place where we’re learning and growing every single day. Make it explicit that you want your team to set learning goals even if what they are learning doesn’t have immediate business value. The act of continuous learning has been shown to improve performance and cultivate a growth mindset, which are critical factors influencing high engagement.

5) Express appreciation. Many managers think that if they appreciate their people for doing something, they will spoil them and create a culture of entitlement. That’s just not true. Appreciation is one of the highest leverage and inexpensive things you can do to have someone feel seen and recognized for the value they bring to the table. Make appreciations specific and meaningful, and offer them more often than feels comfortable.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Leaders need to do their inner work. I’m not sure who said it but I love this quote, “An organization can only grow to the extent of the founder’s shadow”. What this means to me is that founders, leaders, and managers all have a disproportionate impact on their people. We can no longer pretend that someone’s attachment style, unprocessed childhood trauma, and personal care routines don’t spill over into our leadership.

Learn to meditate, find a skilled therapist, spend more time in nature, cultivate your EQ (emotional intelligence). Culture is just an expression of the consciousness and level of development of the people who make it up, and the only person we really have any control over is ourselves. In the immortal words of Michael Jackson…

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer.

If you want to make the world a better place,

Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I like to paint the ideal and then invite people to aspire towards it. I know that we’ll likely fall short, but without an ideal to strive for, we aren’t going to aim higher — we’ll succumb to the mediocre standards set by the mainstream.

Without the ideal, we won’t challenge ourselves to push a little harder and to try things a little differently. I aim to give people the power to make decisions on their own to expect them to do a great job. If they screw-up, celebrate and mine for the pearls of wisdom from the experience. I truly do believe that how we see someone influences how they then show-up and ultimately who they become. We have more power in the intentions and expectations we hold for someone than we realize.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My co-founder and CEO David Hassell. He believed in me way more than I believed in myself. He continued to grant me trust and encouraged me to run with my craziest ideas about building a culture of high vulnerability and high trust by bringing in all the weirdest social technologies that I’d picked up in my personal development journey. When I screwed up early on, he reassured me by sharing that he pays me to make mistakes. He continues to inspire me with the sincerity of his mission and purpose to help bring out the greatness in others and to do so in a way that isn’t a compromise to the lives we truly want to live.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We impact the world everyday by the energy we bring to each interaction. Are we leading with kindness, courtesy and respect or are we leading with anger, entitlement and resentment? Every day I try to remember that this whole thing could go up in a puff of smoke from a single stray asteroid or Yellowstone popping its cork. Life is a gift and no amount of money makes any person more worthy of respect than another. We’re all just walking each other home, and this reminds me to stay humble and to find ways to serve and contribute to whoever is in front of me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would inspire companies to stop treating their people as resources and instead start treating them as the incredible human geniuses that they are, with vast amounts of potential to be unlocked and tender hearts to be cared for.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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