Community//

How to create a fantastic work culture: “Values, accolades, mission, process — all of it needs to have the culture at its core to be effective.” with Matt Erickson and Chaya Weiner

We need to stop thinking of “perks” as “culture.” The rise of the tech industry gave rise to the idea of culture, but as a trend. “Look at their culture: unlimited time off, open work spaces, bring your pet to work days…what a great culture!” But these are just features of the workplace — they do not […]


We need to stop thinking of “perks” as “culture.” The rise of the tech industry gave rise to the idea of culture, but as a trend. “Look at their culture: unlimited time off, open work spaces, bring your pet to work days…what a great culture!” But these are just features of the workplace — they do not add up to a “company culture.” You can paint rust whatever color you want — it’s still rust. Companies need to understand that a culture is the intrinsic value that inspires the workforce to be there and give the best of themselves. Values, accolades, mission, process — all of it needs to have the culture at its core to be effective. Then if you want to throw a ping pong table into the mix for a bit of fun, go ahead!

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Erickson, the Marketing Director for National Positions, an SEO and digital marketing agency in Westlake Village, CA. He completed his undergraduate studies in Business Marketing and International Business in addition to earning his MBA from CSU Sacramento. His main areas of expertise include online strategies, content development, design, social media, and integrated marketing.


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 path into marketing began backwards from most people (I think). Early in my education, I took a “Basics of Graphic Design” course and became addicted to the capabilities of Adobe Photoshop. So much so in fact that two of my three jobs during that time allowed me to use my graphic design skills. After finishing my undergraduate degree in Business Marketing and International Business, I combined my knowledge of design and business education to start my marketing career. Completing my MBA only solidified my desire to continue this path into the marketing industry.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Moving from smaller companies to our mid-size company, I was used to performing every aspect of whatever project I was involved in. Planning, design, research, execution, etc. — everything was on my shoulders and I could only trust myself to get things done (so I thought). Moving into this larger team, I quickly discovered in order to succeed, I had to change my tune. I had to learn to delegate, openly ask for feedback, and trust in the skills of those around me. The web designers, graphic designers, writers, and SEO experts all knew more than I did in their respective roles. So, I learned to take a step back and realize that I can chart the course and steer the ship and trust everyone to do their part.

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

For the past couple of months, my team and I have been working on a company rebranding project. From our content and business cultural approach, all the way to our website structure and design — everything is getting a makeover as we move deeper into 2019. I think this helps perspective clients understand how we are different and what we stand for. Plus, our internal teams can rest assured that we are keeping up with the times and have a solid set of core values that are guiding us.

Ok, let’s 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?

There is a lot to unpack with that question. Besides the usual suspects (like salary levels) I think there are a couple of key areas. The first being the focus of this interview — company culture. We live in a time where just clocking in and out and doing repetitive tasks are not as fulfilling as they once might have been. The days of joining a company and staying there for 30+ years is all but gone as businesses grow faster, fall faster, priorities change, etc. So, people want to know that they are part of something, part of a company that is thinking past (just) the bottom line. We are spending more and more of our lives in the workplace, so deep down, team members are connecting their careers with who they are as individuals. Their career is part of their identity. Company culture works like any relationship and if that relationship feels one-sided — this only fuels unhappiness with the workplace.

Then there’s stress. We are living in a time where people are waiting longer to have families, postponing marriage (if that’s their thing), and not purchasing homes as young. These are life aspirations that many of us have been taught were part of success. But this greater focus on career can push other “life desires” away, so many are in constant fear of needing to catch up. Combine this stress with a poor company culture and an employee’s identity and future feel as if they are in limbo.

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

Based on previous experience, an unhappy workforce will impact all these areas, often in a domino fashion.

Company Productivity

If a workforce does not feel inspired or part of a greater whole — unhappiness can swell, impacting morale and, in turn, productivity. Outside forces can greatly impact the motivation of a team, negatively affecting how time is spent, level of focus, attention to detail, and overall productivity. If people are unhappy and don’t really feel as if anyone cares or is impressed, the company and clients will suffer. No matter the level of personal drive an individual has, outside forces can have a huge impact on self-esteem, energy, and mental state.

Company Profitability

If productivity suffers, so do profits — they go hand in hand. Beyond this there is the longer-term effect on profitability. If a workforce is unhappy, turnover will be higher, which results in additional time spent interviewing, hiring, training, etc. — all of which eat into company profits. This is where most companies with an unhappy workforce falter. They see profits dropping and think the problem is just sales numbers. In actuality, lower profits may come from lower productivity, stemming from an unhappy workforce.

Employee Health and Wellbeing

A little stress can be a good thing. It can be a positive motivator. But too much stress, daily, can lead to physical and mental health issues. I don’t know about you but when I am in a good mood and excited my stress level is lower and my health is generally better. I believe this to be the case with most people. A positive work environment where people feel respected, rewarded, and part of a greater mission provides an overall more positive place to flourish. If the work environment is full of negativity and overworked/overstressed employees, what kind of message does this send to other workers and clients?

While we all have different core motivations and pushing too hard can burn us out and make us sick, generally a happier workforce will be a healthier one. This state of mental and physical wellness can help fuel productivity and greater company profits.

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?

Care and Gratitude

Expressing care and gratitude goes beyond giving a “good job” when a project is complete. The small interactions through the day amount to a lot when it comes to showing that you care for your team. I strive to find any place to interject care and gratitude to provide emotional and intrinsic value to my team. Whether it’s an interesting idea, a process solution, or they present me with a question, (I hope) I show gratitude for everything.

Respect and Trust

Everyone in the workplace is a professional in some shape or form. After all, they are here for a reason. With that said, we need to openly respect and trust their skills. Often this includes taking a step back and not micromanaging. If my team knows that their skills are respected and they are given the freedom to utilize them (and even show off a little) and I respect their efforts, our team members are more likely to keep improving and advancing their skills.

Encourage Solutions Over Problems

We all know when something is not working — but focusing (only) on the problems will not solve them. As much as possible I ask for solutions: What would make this easier? Better? Faster? Less confusing? Attacking issues in this fashion has helped me inspire more open collaboration with my team and fosters the reality that we need to work together to provide the best solutions.

Openly Acknowledge Wins

If great work is done or a collaborative project is completed, it is important that gratitude for this win is expressed openly. A company-wide email, an all-hands meeting — whatever the delivery system is I want everyone to know that a member of our team has done something great. It doesn’t matter if this is just “part of their job” — if they care enough to give their best, we need to care enough to show everyone how much we value them.

Check Your Ego

At one point or another, managers or executives can let their ego get the best of them. Sooner or later, the “I’m the Director so I must know what’s best” attitude is just going to foster resentment. For our team to be great, we need to be active members of that team. Remember, you are a single person. You are not going to have every solution or every great idea. You are human. I had to learn this as a Director. Listen more than you speak (still working on this), keep the bigger picture in mind, and check your ego at the door.

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?

We need to stop thinking of “perks” as “culture.” The rise of the tech industry gave rise to the idea of culture, but as a trend. “Look at their culture: unlimited time off, open work spaces, bring your pet to work days…what a great culture!” But these are just features of the workplace — they do not add up to a “company culture.” You can paint rust whatever color you want — it’s still rust. Companies need to understand that a culture is the intrinsic value that inspires the workforce to be there and give the best of themselves. Values, accolades, mission, process — all of it needs to have the culture at its core to be effective. Then if you want to throw a ping pong table into the mix for a bit of fun, go ahead!

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

My style is continuously evolving. However, if I had to pin it down, I would say I am micro-detailed with a macro-focus. The bigger picture is always in the back of my mind, but I know that the current details, no matter how small, will affect the big picture down the road.

Interviews like this, for example. Expanding our message as a company is a process — like eating an elephant, it happens one bite at a time. It would be easier to rinse and repeat the same content and the same answers I have provided in the past — with a twist. But then myself and my team are not providing real value, now or for the reader a year from now. Giving every ounce that I can to help the members of my team perform to the best of their ability now is only going to help us grow at a larger scale down the road.

Another example would be when I am working with a new product we are bringing to market. My job may be to express the values of that product in the best way possible, but I know that marketing touches more teams than my own. So, I will connect with any team this service will touch, including content creators, designers, or web developers, to see if they have what they need to deliver when the time comes. Is this “my job”? No. But those teams need to know that management is thinking about them. These micro-interactions will help improve the macro-impact.

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?

This is one question where my answer never changes: my dad. He was not a marketing guy. In fact, he wasn’t even a business guy. He was a lifelong state and government worker. As a kid, I watched him get up at 4 a.m. to commute an hour and a half one way, every day. There was never a man more dedicated to working his tail off to provide something great for his family.

He showed me that to succeed there was no halfway, it was all or nothing. As a Marketing Director, there are days or weeks where I can feel burn-out coming — like a dark winter cloud. My dad would always say one of two things (always with a sing-song smile on his face): “Take it easy” or “Hey, it will be ok.” Basically, it was his way of saying, “Relax, you will get through it.” So, in the burn-out times, these words keep me going. Without him, I would have quit a long time ago.

We still speak every day.

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

Over the years I have had many friends or acquaintances that have started their own businesses. Whenever I can (and am asked) I will provide advice, insight, or just generally help mentor them as best I can. My dad used to say, “We all need a little help sometimes,” and I believe in karma. So, my hope is that if freely sharing the knowledge I have can help others, and they can help others, then I am doing my part.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You’re only given a little spark of madness, and if you lose that, you’re nothing. From me to you, don’t every lose that because it keeps you alive.” — Robin Williams

At points along the way, you will have those who doubt, hate, or question your path, sometimes this person is you. Everyone has that spark that sets them apart, and very few try to start a fire with it. Even if you have to get out of your own way — do it. Do you. If you are not willing to foster what you feel in your soul as truth and excitement, you might spend the rest of your life searching and finding nothing. Wherever you go, light a fire.

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. 🙂

Look at more faces than screens. We are in the greatest age of connectivity ever… but at the same time, we’re just as socially disconnected. Give yourself time to really disconnect once in a while, so you can remind yourself what it’s like to reconnect. Meet up in person and foster the relationships that matter most. Let your face-to-face time exceed your face-to-screen time.

How can our readers reach out to you?

You can find and add me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. My handle on all of them is @MattEricksonLA . You can also connect with me via National Positions’ social profiles:

LinkedIn: National-Positions

FB: @NationalPositions

IG: @National_Positions

Twitter: @Natl_Positions

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

    The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    How to create a fantastic work culture : “Raise the ceiling” with Brian Conyer and Chaya Weiner

    by Yitzi Weiner at Authority Magazine
    Community//

    How to create a fantastic work culture, with Tom Smith and Chaya Weiner

    by Yitzi Weiner at Authority Magazine
    Community//

    How to create a fantastic work culture: “When we’re aware of our behavior — how we interact with our colleagues, how we manage our team or organization, what’s driving our behavior — that’s the place to start.” with Mike Zani and Chaya Weiner

    by Yitzi Weiner at Authority Magazine

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.