Culture Over Coffee

Tracing a Company's Culture Journey with Rich Barone

March 02, 2023 Beth Sunshine Season 2 Episode 8
Culture Over Coffee
Tracing a Company's Culture Journey with Rich Barone
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we’re breaking down an individual company’s culture journey. Where did they begin? What were the challenges they faced along the way? What results have they experienced on the other side?  

Joining me today to answer questions like those and more, is the amazing Rich Barone, VP at Cox Media Arizona 

Rich shares so many valuable thoughts, like: 

  • When you make quick decisions to fulfill numbers in the short term, your organization suffers in the long term 
  • How any successful company culture initiative always starts at the top 
  • And, lastly, how even those who believe their organization to have a “great” company culture could stand to still take a look under the hood and do the work.  

The Four Engagement Elevators eBook:

Rich Barone:

Beth Sunshine:

Up Your Culture:

(02:59) What would you say are, are some of the biggest pain points you've encountered related to company culture and employee engagement?
(05:16) Playing the infinite game
(08:12) Your people have to really wanna do it
(09:57) What hurdles have you run into along the way that were hard to overcome?
(13:49) Look under the hood
(14:52) You're either progressing or regressing

Beth Sunshine: (00:15)
Hello and welcome to Culture Over Coffee, a podcast focused on improving company culture and fostering employee engagement. Every week we chat with experts and thought leaders about the latest information and proven practices you can use to reduce regrettable turnover, increase productivity on your team, and retain key customers. So, pour a cup of your favorite brew and join us. I'm your host, Beth Sunshine, SVP at Up Your Culture in the Center for Sales Strategy.

Beth Sunshine: (00:48)
In this episode, we're breaking down an individual company's culture journey. Where did they begin? What were the challenges they faced along the way, and what results have they experienced on the other side? Joining me today to answer questions like those and more is the amazing Rich Barone VP at Cox Media, Arizona. Rich shares so many valuable thoughts, like when you make quick decisions to fulfill numbers in the short term, your organization suffers in the long term, how any successful company culture initiative always starts at the top. And lastly, how even those who believe their organization to have a great company culture could stand to still take a look under the hood and do the work. Welcome, rich, and uh, thank you so much for joining me today for a little culture over coffee.

Rich Barone: (01:43)
Yeah, an honor to be here, Beth. Thanks for having me.

Beth Sunshine: (01:47)
Yeah, it's gonna be fun. Cox Media, Arizona has been an active participant in the Up Your Culture program for the last year, so I've been really excited to talk to you. We've been able to, to work together for quite a bit. And, um, today we're gonna do something we haven't done before on the culture of our coffee podcast. We're gonna talk really specifically about your culture journey. Um, talk about your experiences over the last year or in general, and the strides you've made in increasing the engagement level of your people. So I'm, I'm excited to get into the nitty gritty of this.

Rich Barone: (02:20)
So we're gonna bear it all Beth in the curtain, so we're gonna, it's a, it's a, a bear all conversation. I'm looking forward to

Beth Sunshine: (02:27)
It. Those are my favorite. All right. So you ready to get started?

Rich Barone: (02:31)
I'm ready.

Beth Sunshine: (02:32)
Let's do it. Let's do it. All right. So my first question that I'm, I wanna ask you is, you have always been a people first kind of manager, and that's actually, that, that's language that you use in Cox Media uses as well, people first. Um, and I really associate you with that. I know you have a, uh, a passion for having a strong company culture that's important to you. Thinking through all of your experiences in the business world, either recently or, or not, what would you say are, are some of the biggest pain points you've encountered related to company culture and employee engagement?

Rich Barone: (03:08)
Yes, people first is, um, is something that, that Cox has lived for the 11 years that I've been here, and, and really it, uh, it starts at the top. And I know that sounds cliche. No, that's true, but I just, I just saw our, our company results that are done outside of up your culture just came out. And, um, as a part of the presentation, there's a quote from Alex Taylor, who is a family of fifth generation, uh, to Governor Cox. And his quote was, it's all it, it, the people in this organization make it happen was basically, and I'm, I'm, don't quote me, but I'm, I'm summarizing what said. So, um, it's been, I don't wanna say easy, but it's been easy at Cox because they, from the top down, it starts with our people. And, and that's really, um, really made it easy to lead lead people first.

Rich Barone: (03:53)
But, uh, to your question, the, the, the things that were pain points when it comes to kind of company culture, I guess the, the, the things that I've suffered from have really been before Cox, and when it's a bottom line first organization, um, mm-hmm. , you know, uh, for many years I've worked for a privately held companies, or excuse me, publicly held companies where, you know, come, uh, toward the end of first quarter. It was not about people , it was about, uh, profits, and it was about, uh, the people who owned our stocks, if you will. Um, to, to see that inverse has been just, just wonderful. The decisions I've seen companies make when it is a pub, when it, when there's, um, something besides the people that matter have, um, um, are a lot different than companies that are, that are privately held. So, um, I, I've really seen that, and that was always, uh, would always give me angst, the, the hustle bustle, the hurry, the, the, let's get it all in, in this timeframe as opposed to kind of the longer term approach. And, and when you think about your people, um, you know, our people are gonna be here hopefully with us for years and years to come. So making decisions that, that stretch out as opposed to short-term decisions is, that was always a pain point for me.

Beth Sunshine: (05:03)
Mm-hmm. . Yeah, I think a lot, a lot of listeners can probably relate to what you're saying there. Sure. Yeah. Yeah. So biggest pain point would be when the numbers become more important than the,

Rich Barone: (05:15)
I think when you, when you make, uh, rash decision or quick decisions, uh, in order to, to fulfill numbers in the short term as opposed to kind of playing the, the infinite game, I think as, as Simon Sinek had put it in, in his book, but just thinking longer term as opposed to short term.

Beth Sunshine: (05:30)
Great. I love that in the infinite game, because that's exactly what it is. Nicely then. Yeah. Yeah. All right. So when you reflect on the work that you've done without your culture program and the ways in which you've worked to strengthen your company culture to improve engagement in your markets, what positive impacts have you been able to make on this journey?

Rich Barone: (05:54)
Well, it is a barrier soul type of exercise. You know, we, we do, um, we do the survey to start to baseline and, um, you know, every leader has a perception of how they lead and how the, the group sees, you know, the culture. And, um, you know, our initial results were okay, I think is a fair way to say 'em. You know, they were, weren't setting the world on fire, but they were, we thought we were in an okay place. Um, but there were certain things that stood out that really, um, I think impacted myself and also, uh, our leadership team. So I think the, the, the positive impacts I've been able to make is, is getting buy-in from my team. And then that kind of cascades down almost like the, you know, it starts at the top with Alex, as I mentioned in Cox's culture.

Rich Barone: (06:41)
Um, it really starts with the leader who who is interacting every day with, uh, with the employee. And if they, if they aren't bought into it and it's not that kind of cascade effect, then it, that tends to fall flat. So I, I think the positive impact just this program has done, and I don't want to take any credit for this, the, the program has done, has really been just a kind of a cascade waterfall, if you will, of everybody saying the same thing. So whether it be myself or any of our leaders, um, you know, they, they'd say the same without say the same thing. Mm-hmm. , and a lot of the questions that come up, Beth, were, well, why do we need to work on culture? You know, our culture's great,

Beth Sunshine: (07:17)
Good culture, right?

Rich Barone: (07:18)
Great's a strong word through discovering our culture was good, but, um, through this, it, it, yeah, it got a lot better. So, um, I, I think that's one of my, my most positive, uh, takeaways was everybody was pulling in the same direction. We all had one goal, or you see our mantra in the background that we had a chance to really, yeah, fine tune. Everybody knows it. Everybody signed that paper. That's not a legal legally binding document. I swear

Beth Sunshine: (07:43)

Rich Barone: (07:44)
We signed it, bought into it. And I think just, um, everybody pulling in the same direction has been the most positive impact, I think with up your culture.

Beth Sunshine: (07:52)
It's a really interesting point that you make because what over time, what we've learned with up your culture, when we're talking to prospective new clients, people wondering if we might be able to help them. What we've learned to do over the years is say upfront that we're gonna give you all the tools, we're gonna bring you everything you need, but your people have to really wanna do it. You know, it can't just be the person at the top. And it can't be just the employees who are reporting up. It has to be everyone. And, and all of the leaders there have to really own it and, and have buy-in. And so we'll say that upfront. Like, if your leaders don't wanna do this, it's not gonna work. So I, I think it's interesting that you landed right on that and you have a group of leaders who really rolled their sleeves up and wanted to do this.

Rich Barone: (08:43)
Yeah. Uh, putting great, great people around, uh, around you and just in, in, in leadership roles has really, I think, opened our eyes to, um, yeah, the positive impacts that.

Beth Sunshine: (08:54)
I agree. And I also have to say, I, I do remember from the very beginning when we were talking with you before this was rolled out, it was really important to you that you not it, that it wasn't a mandate, that things weren't just shoved down people's throats. You wanted their buy-in from the beginning. And I really liked that, that that way of handling it, I think paid off.

Rich Barone: (09:14)
Yep, yep. And it wasn't, uh, uh, I wouldn't say it was a hundred percent on board, right. As soon as we opened the door, it was, um, I think through the process and through the program, everybody eventually got got on board,

Beth Sunshine: (09:26)
But yeah. Yeah. One, it is a great group. Yeah. And I, I, you know, I also like the point you made. I don't wanna dwell on it too long and use up all our time cuz I have other questions for you, but I like the point you made about just kinda speaking the same language. Um, you pointed to your mantra. We sometimes call that a reason for being your core values. The words, the language you use, it allows everybody to be pulling in the same direction. I am glad you shared that. Thank you. Yeah,

Rich Barone: (09:53)
You bet.

Beth Sunshine: (09:54)
So going from the positive to the trickier, what hurdles have you run into along the way that were hard to overcome? And did you overcome them? And if so, how did you overcome them?

Rich Barone: (10:07)
Yes, no, it's perfect. Smooth through the, from start to vent no, um, problems, right, right. Like anything, the hard is kind of what, what makes it, uh, great or turn out well for us. Um, I'll, I'll personally, the, the I'd say a hurdle that I had to overcome was with the mantra or a reason for being, we had the mon, we've had the mantra established for about five years now. And through up your culture, we had a chance to kind, I guess battle test the mantra. And it's something that I have held very close to my heart and, and tried very hard to cascade. And going through that process hurt  because they were, you know, they, we were, we were saying something that, um, who I, I thought we were, we were picking it apart and we actually changed it. One of the pieces, um, that I know it's hard to see, but the last piece we never had and the last piece on there, strength in our communities.

Rich Barone: (10:58)
Yeah. And, uh, we never had that on our mantra. We talk about, um, uh, supporting each other and serving our clients, but then we added, um, uh, strengthening our communities and, um, that was a piece that, you know, if I'm being completely honest, I was in the minority of, of, of, uh, changing because I thought it was perfect the way it was, but through a lot of feedback, um, it was eye-opening and, and it was a hurdle that, that I had to get over. But, um, the team spoke very, um, yeah, they were very loud about it and very precise and I thought it made great sense. And so, but that was, uh, kind of exposing, you know, I felt very exposed and, and a hurdle that I had to get over. And I think others too. Um, I think that's hurdles that, that others had too. They had a perception of what the culture was or what we were doing that it was, you know, perfect. And then to kind of have the results come back that, you know, yeah. It wasn't all in green. So Yeah.

Beth Sunshine: (11:52)
it is, is color coded, so green, green, uh, is good for sure. Um, yeah, you know, I remember coming, going through that exercise with you and your team and you mentioned Simon Sinick earlier. And, um, you know, he's also a, a great believer in the power of why that people need that sense of purpose, that they need to show up every day, really feeling like they know why they are there, there's meaning in them being there, and that we're all sort of on this shared mission together. And so it's interesting to hear, I mean, there were people who really wanted that community aspect in them in there, that was their why, your why. And I loved the debate and the discussion. And you took, uh, probably a week or so where you met on, on your own and then came back. I mean, you had really, you guys had really thrown yourself into this project and, and hopefully in the end, that debate, that conversation that helped everybody really land on something that they now believed in

Rich Barone: (12:55)
It, it absolutely did. And, and it built a lot of trust inside our leadership team that, that, to hear, um, everybody speak freely. I think that was one of the, one of the another, I guess, um, another benefit of this project too was just the trust that everybody built to be able to come out and say, no, this is not how I feel. Um, I don't, you know, this may be a statement, but I don't think we're living it. I mean, there's a lot of power in that, so.

Beth Sunshine: (13:20)
Hmm. Very, very cool. Okay, so for any organizations that are currently struggling with company culture and employee engagement, and Sure. And even there are plenty that are good, that wanna go to great, there are plenty where they are truly struggling right now for a variety of reasons. So it's, it's a broad question, but if you had to come up with one piece of advice, and if you, if you have more, that's fine too, but what's one piece of advice that you would give them?

Rich Barone: (13:49)
Look, under the hood, I, um, I, I would challenge anybody and everybody who says that they have a great culture to look under the hood. And, and what I mean by that is, is it is, um, almost like a, a break yourselves down to build yourselves up mentality. Um, again, I I, my advice would be even though you feel that you are, you know, maybe best in class and culture and how you do culture, take a chance to survey all your employees to really get an understanding of, of how your culture is. And, um, I, that was eye-opening for myself as well too. I, I would've said our culture would've rivaled any organization, which I still firmly, well now, of course we firmly believe it, but, um, but the things that came out of it helped us kind of, kind of tweak our culture to get to, to where we are today. So, um, I

Beth Sunshine: (14:40)
Like that.

Rich Barone: (14:41)
And Beth, I dunno if you said this, there was a quote to start up your culture, if you're not working on culture, you're, you know, your culture's fa there's something around that that you should always be working on Culture.

Beth Sunshine: (14:50)
Yeah, yeah. The, the concept is you're either progressing or regressing that no organization ever stays static. You with every hire you make, with every decision you make, everything will either advance your culture or you'll regress. And so even companies with outstanding cultures, they have to keep their eye on the ball. They, two things need to happen really related to what you're saying. One is they need to always be, um, ensuring that they are progressing. Um, but secondly, they need to show their people that, so as you were talking about surveying, you thought you had a good culture, you did have a good culture, and yet you still wanted to focus on that culture by putting that survey out there, by letting people chime in. You're just demonstrating to them that the reason they joined your organization, because you're a good place to work, is the, you know, pointing to their future as well. And not just in the past, but even moving forward, you're going to continue to, to tighten things up.

Rich Barone: (15:52)
That's a great point, Beth. Yeah. It, I truly feel that it made a difference in our, um, after a year's o year's worth of work. I truly feel like that made a, made a difference in, in our final, uh, our our most recent survey. So,

Beth Sunshine: (16:05)
Good. Good. Yeah. Okay. So last question for sure. Today, if you could wave a magic wand and make one thing easier to, to accomplish when it comes to company culture or employee engagement, what would that be?

Rich Barone: (16:21)
Magic wand question.

Beth Sunshine: (16:23)

Rich Barone: (16:26)

Beth Sunshine: (16:27)
with three wishes. Yeah.

Rich Barone: (16:29)
You know, I, I think the thing that I'd, I'd wanna make easier is how, how we're, how we bring people back together. Hmm. Um, and what I mean by that we were a, a organization or culture, like I'm sure many that were together every day of the week, then of course we're not. And now as we come back, there is a lot of power and, um, a lot to be said about, uh, about being remote in order to do our work. Productivity. There's no doubt about it. There's a lot to be said about that. There's also a lot to be said about bringing people back together and, and, you know, there's, there was a social aspect of, of work that, uh, for better or worse, you know, really, um, really helped with engagement or I guess hurt engagement depending how you look at it. And I think one of the things that, that, that I struggle with that, that I'd love a magic wand to help solve this is what is that magic formula? Is it, you know, two days in the office? Is one day in the office, is it never in the office, uh, events quarterly that bring people back together socially? So that's a piece that, that I, and I don't know if anybody has figured it out. I think you've seen a lot of announcements in the, in the news lately, you know, bringing people back together four days a week or three days a week or, or whatever. But, um, I'd love to figure that out. That'd be my magic wand.

Beth Sunshine: (17:42)
Yeah. I I think that'd be a really popular magic wand. I don't know. You'd have to really guard that because everyone wants it. Um, it is, it seems to be a real mystery. As a matter of fact, we have another episode of this podcast where we are focusing very, very specifically on that. I don't know that there is one minute.

Rich Barone: (18:01)
There's no answer. You don't have an answer. I was told you had an answer.

Beth Sunshine: (18:04)
Oh, well, here's the one answer I will tell you that we all have kind of come to, to agree on, even though there are the work from home work remotely people and the work from the office people in the hybrid and the various forms of hybrid. The one thing that I think, um, is sort of commonly agreed upon is if you are going to be hybrid, then the times you bring your people back into the office, whether it's three days a week, two days a week, whatever it is, there needs to be something going on in the office that couldn't be going on if they were working remotely. So bringing people back just to sit at their desk and make phone calls, that is, you know, commonly seen as a no-no, bringing them back because you have a speaker or a training event or a team building event or a client coming in. If there's reasons for it, it seems to be more positive now how that plays out in your market, I'm gonna be really interested to see, but does that sound like what you're hearing on your end?

Rich Barone: (19:09)
So it does spot on Beth bringing people back together for a reason as opposed to the reason to just sit at their, at their desk and, and make fun. It's, that's not reason enough. So,

Beth Sunshine: (19:18)
No. Yeah. Yeah. Well, if anyone can figure it out, I know it's you. I'll be excited to see what the future brings.

Rich Barone: (19:24)
I'll tune into the podcast and, and you some things to take away.

Beth Sunshine: (19:29)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's a good one. All right. Well thank you Rich, for the time you've spent today talking about culture over Coffee with me. You have as always shared a lot of good information and ideas and insights. I know our listeners are gonna be able to really relate to you. Um, because of that, for those listening, I love to drop your LinkedIn information in the show notes so they can connect with you. Is that okay?

Rich Barone: (19:52)
I'd love that. Please feel free to reach out

Beth Sunshine: (19:54)
With you. Perfect. Great. And I'm also going to add the link for, um, we have a, uh, free ebook on the four engagement elevators, which kind of made up that program that we took you through. I'll add that link as well so that our listeners can, uh, learn more about specific ways in those four elevators that they can elevate engagement in their organizations. So thank you Rich, and thank you to everyone who's listening. It is a journey to up your culture and elevate employee engagement. Enjoy that journey. Thanks so much for spending time with us on Culture Over Coffee. If you've enjoyed the conversation, be sure to subscribe and join us for every episode. For more helpful information on the topics of company culture and employee engagement, visit

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