Recently I had the opportunity to interview Natasha Miller from Entire Productions for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.
Natasha Miller sits at the helm of Entire Productions, but she isn’t your average CEO — She is a hyphenate entrepreneur who began her career in entertainment as a celebrated jazz artist with seven records released on her own label, Poignant Records. Having founded Entire Productions in 2000, when she was still performing, this single mother and Des Moines, IA native single-handedly built a multi-million dollar company.
She recently spoke at the Smart Woman Summit in Chicago for the Top 100 women in the Event Industry. My talk is called, “From Concert Master to CEO- the Accidental Entrepreneur”.
Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?
Excellence– We understand that perfection does not exist and to pretend that it does is not realistic. Excellence is a mindset, a goal and the bar we set for ourselves as a team.
Positive Attitude– We walk in with an authentic smile and address each other througout the day with a “high-five” mentality. We don’t make room for anything less than positive.
Honesty Honesty amoung our team, honesy to our clients and vendors is an absolute must- we expect it of them and are proud that it starts with us.
Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”
Natasha: We expect this group of people to perhaps think of jobs in this early part of their career as short-term. We ask up front how long they see themselves in the role they’re interviewing for and let them know that the expectation in our organization is 2 years minimum. That begins the mindset of how our company works and can inform the candidate of what they’re about to encounter if they’re offered and accept a position with us. I think they’re burned by the media’s vantage point of their age group and want to buck the negative connotations that are associated with them.
Krish: What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why.
Natasha: Trust your employees! This is one of the most important aspects of our company culture and our success. Employees do not have to “clock in” or work in the office. They’re expected to be leaders in their role and excel, not just hit basic benchmarks. They aren’t micro-managed but have a good structure to work within. They love it and end up producing a lot more than I ever expected.
Celebrate the Small Wins, not just The Big Wins. We have a Slack channel called “Milestones” where everyone is encouraged to lift one another up with wins and also themselves. This channel comes to life and allows us all to high-five each other when something wonderful happens. When someone has a break-through with a challenging client or when a new Account Executive closes their first deal no matter how much it was for. But also for the bigs ones. Which we typically follow up with lunch for the whole team.
Team Bonding In our company, each person gets to plan an experience for the whole team. These events happen every other month and have been everything from a Krav Maga self-defense class followed by smoothies, a trip to the Color Museum, to wine tasting and lunch in the Napa Valley. Our employees get excited to plan their outing and everyone looks forward to it. We get to experience something cool and unusual and also let loose and get to know each other in a different light than at work.
Unlimited Time Off Our employees exceed expectations, and limiting them to what they can do on their own time and when, as well as tracking it is an archaic method. An employee just took a week off to move, will take time off for their wedding and honeymoon as well. How amazing is it to feel the freedom of not having to count the minutes you get “PTO” and just do your job and enjoy your life? I think our team LOVES their job because of so many reasons, but this might be icing on the cake.
Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?
Natasha: I can speak to this in the San Francisco Bay area where there are so many companies trying to emulate the Google campus mentality. With games, cafes, in-house services such as dry cleaning and concierge, etc. It’s hard to keep up and it’s hard to implement as a smaller business. To have these perks is sometimes considered “culture”. But I believe believing in your employees, letting them be the leader they want to be and allowing them to help shape the company and its future is a much deeper connection to culture. We do have some of the “campus” perks, but I would bet that if interviewed those things wouldn’t make the top 8 things they enjoy the most.
Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?
Natasha: I think start-ups work with the mentality of using talent until they burn out- not necessarily developing them and caring for them. They also might spend money on what they consider “culture” and burn through funding. Keeping a conservative eye on funds as well as understanding what’s most important (and not get caught up with their biggest competitors offerings) would be my advice to young founders.
Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?
Natasha: CEO’s can off-load the culture to the team. Ask them what’s important to them, have them implement the ideas and plans that are approved and have them manage it. If the culture is moving in the wrong direction, gather them up and have them “right their own ship.”
Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?
Natasha: My biggest influence on company culture has been the jobs I had before owning this company. Working for Becker Media I had an incredible schedule- Tue-Thur from 10a-4p. I got an immense amount of work done and we billed $6m/annual- it was just me and the owner at that time. He showed me that if you just focus on what you have to do, you don’t have to work the typical 8 hour/5 days a week schedule. Also, incredibly influential was the 4-hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. I had already carved out this thought process before reading it, but it cemented what I had already learned and continues to inform how I run my company today. I want my employees to feel the power to do what’s right for their position and book of business within my company and for their own lives and schedule. I’m a committed reader to Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc. FastCompany and love to see what other companies are doing do develop a work culture that works for everyone.
Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?
Natasha: Sometimes a “bad boss” was really a challenge in relating and communicating. Sometimes it’s a personality conflict. Of course, sometimes it’s just bad. Controlling and improving starts with communication and confidence in your own skills and output and presenting to this “Bad Boss” a desire to kick over the elephant in the room and move forward in a positive manner. If could also be time to cut ties with that person, department or company if there isn’t a resolution that’s satisfactory for both sides.
Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?
Natasha: We give everyone on their one year anniversary a Farmgirl Flowers bouquet (they’re so lovely). We celebrate everyone’s birthday with a team lunch, and we have random surprise lunches after our Monday Monday all-hands meetings.
Our every-other month team bonding events curated by each staffer is REALLY powerful.
A note to the readers: Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization. If you learned one thing in this interview, please share this with someone close to you.
A special thanks to Natasha Miller again!
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Originally published at medium.com