Share stories. All human cultures are built on shared stories. By sharing stories of successful and unsuccessful employees, customers, and people, you’ll connect on a much deeper level with your team. Everyone wants to be a hero, but most of us don’t feel like we can actually become one. That’s why you need to share stories of people who felt the same way but stepped up and became heroes. The stories your team tells will determine how far they’ll go and what kind of culture they’ll create.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Corson-Knowles, the international bestselling author of 27 books including The Kindle Publishing Bible and founder of TCK Publishing, an independent publishing company specializing in digital marketing. Tom has taught more than 100,000 authors how to write, publish, and market their books like professionals through his online training courses, including Ebook Publishing School, a free training program that shows authors how to publish and launch their first book.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started writing my first poem when I was 12 years old, but I never thought writing would become a career for me. That changed when I went to business school and realized I would rather die or go broke than work 100 hours per week in a cubicle on Wall Street.
That’s when I decided to write my first book and pursue a traditional publishing deal. I never got the deal, so eventually I decided to self-publish my book. It took off, and a year later I had dozens of people asking me to publish, distribute, and market their books for them. That’s how I started TCK Publishing.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, we have several life-changing books we’re working on, but one of them really sticks out to me right now. It teaches you how to retrain your nervous system and muscle memory in order to get out of chronic pain, avoid injuries, and take back control of your body.
I’ve been practicing the exercises in that book for about 3 months now, and the results have been unbelievable. I’m faster, stronger, and more in control of my body than ever before. I’m training to become a professional Spikeball athlete right now, and I’ve noticed huge improvements in my serves and ability to retrain my muscle memory.
In the past, I had always injured myself when competing in sports, and some injuries were so bad I couldn’t play for years at a time. Now, I still get small injuries from time to time, but I’m able to recover so much more quickly and address the underlying issues to prevent those injuries from coming back in the future.
I think this book will help many other people prevent and reduce their pain, especially athletes and those who suffer from chronic pain.
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 think it’s pretty clear most people are unhappy in their jobs because they’re not getting the recognition they think they deserve, they don’t have good relationships with their bosses and co-workers, and they’re often either not being challenged or being overloaded with responsibilities without being given the resources they need to handle it.
In other words, most company cultures suck, and leave employees feeling like there’s nothing they can do to make it better of fix the many problems they face at work. Nothing will make you unhappier than feeling like you can’t fix the problems in your life or change things for the better.
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?
It’s clear that unhappy people are less productive and less healthy. Obviously, company profits go down when their workforce is less productive and less healthy.
But the root problem isn’t that people are unhappy. That’s just a symptom of the real underlying problem which is that people aren’t getting their needs met. We all need to feel like we’re part of a community or tribe that supports us and accepts us, that we’re acknowledged and respected when we contribute, and that we’re working towards a meaningful mission or purpose in life.
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. Schedule one-on-one meetings
You should schedule one-on-one meetings with your direct reports regularly, not just for performance reviews. Ask your team about their professional and personal goals, mentor them, and support them. Challenge them to step up when they fall short.
2. Tell the truth especially when it hurts
We live in a sick culture where we encourage each other to use the “sandwich technique” and not provide clear feedback when someone makes a mistake. You need to tell the truth, always, especially when someone makes a mistake. Without clear, direct feedback, we can’t learn, and without learning we can’t grow, and without growth we can’t be truly fulfilled.
By covering up people’s mistakes or avoiding uncomfortable conversations at work, you’re depriving everyone around you of the opportunity to learn, grow, and be fulfilled in their work.
3. Share stories
All human cultures are built on shared stories. By sharing stories of successful and unsuccessful employees, customers, and people, you’ll connect on a much deeper level with your team. Everyone wants to be a hero, but most of us don’t feel like we can actually become one. That’s why you need to share stories of people who felt the same way but stepped up and became heroes.
The stories your team tells will determine how far they’ll go and what kind of culture they’ll create.
4. Ask questions and listen
Managers and leaders should spend more time asking questions and listening than they do talking. Ask your employees what they would do differently if they were in charge. Ask them what they think the big problems are that need to be solved. And ask them how they would solve a challenging problem you’re working on.
Great leaders aren’t great because they perform well. They’re great because they help others perform better.
5. Schedule a non-business meeting
Schedule a weekly 1-hour meeting to just get to know each other. Talk about big issues, personal development, personal goals, or the news. Talk about something other than business that’s meaningful to you and everyone else on the team.
These non-business meetings will do more to build your company culture than just about anything else, and the return on investment can be huge.
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?
Change starts one person at a time. If you want to change the culture in the US, start by changing yourself, then your family, then your company, etc. It all starts with you. There is no broad sweeping policy change that will change all the world’s problems. You are the solution to the problem, if you choose to step up and make a change in your own life first and foremost.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I try to lead like Tony Hsieh. He said, he doesn’t want to be the biggest plant in the greenhouse. He wants to be the architect that builds the best greenhouse and creates the environment where all the other plants can grow as big and tall as possible.
I used to talk all the time at meetings and give directions to everyone. Now, I sit back and listen, I ask questions, and I only step in and take over if things get off track or if I’m the only one in the room who can answer a question or give important information about an issue we’re working on.
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?
I never had a real job or worked in an office before starting TCK Publishing, so I didn’t have many mentors in person. I did have access to books though, and I’ve read countless self-help and personal development books.
One of the books that had the biggest impact in my life when it comes to creating a better culture at work is The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of my mottos in business is that long-term success comes from long-term relationships. I don’t remember where I first heard that phrase, but it has always stuck with me. I’ve tried to implement that in every area of my life. That’s why I’ve always invested so heavily in my team and those I work with. I want to help them grow and succeed as much as possible.
I don’t think you can become truly successful in life without lifting up those around you and helping them become successful as well.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is short.”
Far too many people make decisions in life as if they’re going to live forever. You’re not. You will die someday, and you only get one life to live as far as we know. Reminding myself of my mortality helps me put things in perspective so I can make better decisions and not let fear rule my life. What is there to be afraid of in life if you’re going to die some day anyway?
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’d love to inspire people to read great books and have more deep conversations with the people in your life. Don’t be afraid to ask deep questions or have big conversations. You’ll find those can often become the turning points of your life, and you’ll have a lasting positive impact on those who know you.
You could be just one deep conversation away from a new level of success.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!