Episode 10

How Leaders Build Company Culture

Laura Mindorff is the brilliant COO at Wicket. Laura has developed years of experience under her belt and shares her very tactical advice on how to create effective culture through things like rituals, culture champions, and what metrics to watch out for to check-in on your progress.

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I think that rituals, they're what they are activities that are gonna strengthen a relationship. And it's all about creating relationships at work. That is what it has nothing to do with the actual work people are doing. It has to do with people that feel like they're working with other people that they like. And so rituals help create that bond. They help create that relationship with people. And that's all about engagement. So just fostering any type of activity where people feel that they can engage with each other.

In this episode

I’m so happy to bring you this conversation because of Laura’s purposeful and relentless approach to constantly prioritizing culture and fostering relationships in her own team and how you can borrow her practices to do the same.

When things pile up for leaders, it’s easy to push things that facilitate healthy and positive culture by the wayside. But this episode inspired me on the importance to stay consistent, because that basis, that foundation is also the springboard for good work. For impactful work. For employee happiness. Give it a listen and share your ways on how you work to create a positive culture at work.

Time Stamps

10:21 How to Create Culture

12:26 Intentional Rituals

13:46 Healthy Culture Behaviours: What to Look For

17:26 Creating Relationships for Engagement

22:17 Juggling Burnout and Rituals

26:11 Remote Cultures and Retreats

28:35 Laura's Journey

30:40 Highs and Lows

35:17 Culture: Behaviours to Rituals

37:49 What Not to Do

42:08 ROI of Good Culture

45:54 Strategies to Move Things Forward

Laura Mindorff

COO at Wicket

Guest Bio

Laura Mindorff has always been compelled to advocate for clarity and simplicity. Professionally, she designs the values, culture and operational efficiencies as the COO at both Industrial and Wicket. Industrial is one of Ottawa’s top digital agencies that specialize in designing and building websites for professional associations and large organizations, which Laura has been a part of leading for eight years. More recently, in 2017 she co-founded Wicket, a SaaS company that offers Associations a refreshing alternative to their membership management software, as the World's First Member Data Platform. Through Wicket, Laura is an active member of the Invest Ottawa Accelerator community, alongside several of Canada’s fastest-growing tech companies. As an Ottawa native, Laura holds degrees from both the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College. Laura is passionate about sharing her company culture stories through writing and speaking about bringing focus and clarity to chaos (she has five kids and two dogs after all). She will inspire you to create the culture your team needs.


Laura (00:00):

I think that rituals, they're what they are activities that are gonna strengthen a relationship. And it's all about creating relationships at work. That is what it has nothing to do with the actual work people are doing. It has to do with people that feel like they're working with other people that they like. And so rituals help create that bond. They help create that relationship with people. And that's all about engagement. So just fostering any type of activity where people feel that they can engage with each other.

Fahd (00:53):

Hello and welcome back to the Unicorn Leadership Podcast, where we interview leaders on how they create high performing unstoppable teams that scale and in their journey of being a leader that creates those teams, their journey of being a manager. My name's Fahd Alhattab. I'm your host and our goal is to bring you the insights, the tools, the stories on the mistakes that we've made along the way in building these teams and creating these rituals and so that you can learn from them and you can bring them back to your team. This podcast is brought to you by Unicorn Labs where we help transform managers into leaders that create high performing teams that help businesses scale. And you can check us out at unicornlabs.ca. Today's guest is Laura Mindorff and she is the brilliant COO at Wicked and developed years of experience under her belt and shares some very tactical advice.

And I really like this episode cause it gets very, very practical on how we create culture. So culture can feel very, I don't know, it feels in the clouds. You're like, what is culture and how do we create it? But she brings it and focuses it really into about rituals, about culture champions, what metrics to watch out for, to check on your progress within your culture. And I'm so happy to bring you this conversation cuz Laura's purposeful and relentless approach to consistently and constantly prioritizing culture and fostering relationships in her own team and how you can start to do that and what practices you can do to bring the same. When things pile up for leaders, it's easy to push things away that facilitate healthy and positive cultures by the wayside cuz we're so busy just trying to produce and get the next thing done and get the next priority done.

But this episode really inspired me on the importance of staying consistent, creating a routine, creating a foundation that is a springboard for culture and a springboard for good work, for impactful work for employee happiness, to give it a listen and share your ways on how you can create positive workplace culture. See, upon reflecting from Laura's episode here, I really started to reflect on the rituals and the rhythms of my own team. And how do we check in with each other? How do we make sure things are going well? What is our consistent routines? We have our daily standups, we have our weekly project meetings, we have our one-on-ones that happen biweekly. We have all these little things that when they're missed, you can almost feel it in the team that, Hey, I didn't have our standup today. I kind of missed it cuz I was busy with something else.

I wonder how the team's doing in a hybrid world more than ever, where we're trying to create culture between distances, the rituals and rhythms are super important. And one ritual and rhythm that Unicorn Labs has been really involved in is company retreats and team retreats. This has been something that we've gotten a lot of requests for over this past summer and even into the fall where teams wanna find a way to get people together. They wanna get, get everyone together and have some fun, eat some food together, play some games, do some activities, and really build out an offsite, build out a team retreat. And so we've been doing these team retreats for a number of years now, four or five years before the pandemic, we were doing a significant amount of retreats that obviously slowed down and now it's picking back up. And what I wanted to share is that because this has become a big ritual for teams to do retreats every quarter or once a year, some people twice a year, I wanted to give a few insights on if you're planning your team retreat here, a few things I want you to really think about cuz we've kind of gotten this down to a science and we're really happy to share some thoughts on this.

So one of the things you want to think about are the different buckets that happen during a team retreat. Often when people put people together and say, oh, let's just play sports together, we're doing team building, they mischaracterize team building. So I want you to kind of think of the different buckets. The first bucket is team bonding. That's the play sports together, play board games, have some drinks together. Really just enjoy spending time together. The laughter, the inside jokes that develop the silliness that happens from just working beside one another and just enjoying each other's presence. That's team bonding. You've gotta have an element of team bonding because relationships fundamentally shift how we work. They shift whether we have trust, they shift, whether we're willing to empower each other and they shift on how we communicate and engage in conflict. So team bonding is super important.

You gotta make time for that. And so if a lot of our silly games and our fun games that we do are team bonding, then we gotta shift over to actual team building. What's team building? Well, team building is the intentional design and creation of what your team looks like. That's about talking about values, talking about behaviors, it's about doing problem solving and engaging in conflict. We had one team retreat where we really unpacked the challenges and the debates that were not being had at the office and at the meetings. And we had them at the retreat with people who were face to face and were able to actually deal with the emotional challenges behind some of the key problems they were having. So team building is the intentional creation. So this is when you do a team canvas exercise or you do an activity that leads to a thoughtful reflection as to whether we're dealing with conflict or whether we have good recognition or whether we have psychological safety or whether a process is going well.

And it really is about not working in the team. You're not working on campaigns or products, you're not working on what the team has to achieve, you're working on the team, how the team itself works. The third part you want to really consider during retreats is team strategy. So you got team bonding, team building and team strategy, team strategies. When you start to look at aligning the pieces and the company strategy and the business strategy, does our team have a roadmap that aligns with the larger organization roadmap? What does our roadmap look like? Is everyone aligned on that roadmap? Are our goals clear? Are the roles clear? Is the vision clear? What problems are we about to face and how do we unpack it? And so whenever we design a team retreat, we make plenty of time for bonding early to break the eyes, to get everyone to get to know each other.

Day one is really, really about bonding and having fun. Day two is about building. We're gonna start pushing and then trying to challenge each other. And then day three is about team strategy. Now that we've uncovered how we need to be as a team, where are we pointing that energy and where are we going? And so if you're planning a retreat, really think about those things. Think about how they can be part of your rituals and your rhythms throughout the entire organization at life the entire year and how that works and how that comes together. It definitely drives employee happiness. And this is one of the things that Laura was super focused on as we talked about her journey through creating culture at her organization. Let's hear another clip from Laura here and get us going.

Laura (07:58):

Culture is the sum of all the behaviors you champion minus the ones you tolerate. And that is it right there. And you were just talking about behaviors. You don't have to have a rule book. It's becomes clear in what you tolerate and what you do not tolerate. So that stays true to raising a family with children, whatever, but also running a business how people know what behaviors are tied to positive culture. And it's just what you choose to tolerate and what you choose to celebrate.

Fahd (08:42):

In this episode 10 of unicorn leadership, Laura offers us practical tips to create rituals of your own or you can also borrow hers and you can borrow some of mine and what metrics you can measure to ensure culture isn't failing. She shares her personal practical examples of how she intentionally supports culture at her organization through various rituals from non-work related slack channels to how inviting inter-team sharing can go a long way toward making a positive culture stick. Her biggest piece of advice in terms of changes that you can do today is have an internal champion for culture that can create buy-in and that has decision making. Stay agile but yet relentless in your pursuit of creative ideas to keep up company culture while maintaining a good pulse on what is and isn't working. Let's tune in to hear all about how large champions culture herself, why this needs to be a priority for you at your company and what you can start doing today to be competitive in the war for talent by creating a high performing culture. Hello Laura, how are you today?

Laura (09:54):

I'm good, how are you?

Fahd (09:56):

Good. Welcome to our Unicorn Labs podcast. I'm excited to introduce you to our audience and I'm excited to have you share your ideas, your experience. You come from such a brilliant background. You do some really cool work and honestly, you're just such a fun person to be around. And I wanted to start off with that, just let the audience know that, hear your laugh and hear your smile through your words. But I am gonna kick us off with the big question of why everyone's gonna be listening to this episode. It's gonna be about trying to understand and figure out how do we actually create culture. And I'm using the word actually here cuz you're in this world of culture and there's a lot of talk of values and things that we have to do. It feels like a lot of fluff at times when you talk about culture. It feels like a lot of feelings and emotions and it's hard to be tangible if I'm a manager, if I'm a CEO or I'm a VP of culture and I'm trying to figure out how to do that in my own organization, what does it actually take?

Laura (10:58):

Yeah, for sure. Well first of all, thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here. I think that culture is something that will be created whether you like it or not, but there are definitely things that you can do to be intentional about it. And what I wanna talk about that I think is what is the heartbeat of culture are the rituals that a company fosters and facilitates in order to inspire and maintain. Because cult, like I said, culture's gonna be created whether you like it or not, there will be something that will emerge, but the rituals are something that a company can do to in try to intentionally create the culture that they want.

Fahd (11:52):

I really, I really like that Laura said culture will be created no matter, no matter what, right? As when you put a group of people together, you put a team together, there's culture kind of the expectations start to layer around the behaviors. And so what you're saying is that these rituals are ways for us to be more intentional around some of the behaviors that are already happening. I really like that. Let's get tangible there. What's an example of a ritual that intentionally creates culture for you right now in your team?

Laura (12:26):

So just to keep it simple, anybody, any team that PR practices agile will know that rituals, like a daily standup, for example, a daily scrum, a retrospective, those types of things, those are rituals. Those are something that happens at a frequency that you decide is best for your team. And the key to it is that they happen every time no matter what. They never not happen. Once you decide this is something that your team is doing, of course, you know have to leave room for experimentation and failing and okay, this didn't work, let's try something else. But something becomes a ritual. You do it every single time.

Fahd (13:15):

Okay, so rituals, the consistency of rituals is extremely important. So we have to be intentional in the culture that we create and then we bring them alive through these rituals. And then the consistency of these rituals are extremely important's. Great. So then describe to me an effective culture that I, what does that look like? So if that's how we actually create culture, we do it intentionally, we do it through rituals that are consistent now, what kind of culture should we be creating? What sort of behaviors are we looking at through these rituals? What does that look like for you?

Laura (13:52):

Okay, that's a good question. So I think engagement is a really key indicator of a healthy culture personally. And there's a whole other podcast we could talk about around this whole quiet quitting thing. And that's just lack of engagement basically. And I don't think that's a healthy culture. So I think that rituals, they're what they are, activities that are gonna strengthen a relationship. And it's all about creating relationships at work. That is what it has nothing to do with the actual work people are doing. It has to do with people that feel like they're working with other people that they like. And so rituals help create that bond. They help create that relationship with people. And that's all about engagement. So just fostering any type of activity where people feel that they can engage with each other.

Fahd (15:02):

I like that. I like that. So it comes down to relationships. Now Laura, your team is fully remote.

Laura (15:08):

Yes. Yeah,

Fahd (15:09):

Tell us, actually, tell a little bit about what Wicked Industrial, what your team does. Maybe that'll be a good kind of grounding moment.

Laura (15:18):

Yeah, for sure. So Wicked is a SaaS company. We are the world's first member data platform. So we have created a new software category, which is fun and we sell to the association space. So we work with a lot of not-for-profits, member-based organizations and we help them with a better alternative for their software to engage with their members. You mentioned industrial Industrial's been around for over 22 years. Industrial started as a web design and development agency, also building and designing amazing websites for the association space. And that's where Wicked was born. So Wicked was spun out of industrial, it's the classic kind of services, services to product story. And then to make our story even more full circle, we've actually decided recently that we are going to be amalgamating the two companies back into one, all as Wicked. So we are going to be still this member data platform, this product company with a services component, still building and designing websites for associations that integrate with Wicked. So that is what we do. We're 30 people all remote, all within Canada.

Fahd (16:51):

Awesome, awesome. I love that. I love that. Okay, so Wicked. We're gonna call in it. We're calling it all Wicked. And so Wicked's, fully remote and just other remote teams. I'm sure that this pandemic has been extremely challenging in specifically around relationship building. I know from our own data at Unicorn Labs we use it, we've created a team dynamic survey that we use across all our clients. And one of the number one questions that has seen the biggest variance in dropping is I have a best friend at work. That question has dropped more than any other question in terms of engagement. So if you're telling me that that culture is created through rituals and the purpose of some of these rituals is to create relationships, to create engagement, but yet we're struggling with relationships more than ever. I don't expect you to have a magic bullet answer Laura at all. But what are you doing about it? What should we all be doing about it? If it's very apparent that this is a problem for many of our leaders and many of our teams,

Laura (17:51):

It is, it's so hard. It is a problem, it is a challenge. And that's why you see this quiet quitting stuff out there. And that's why so many companies are struggling with the remote and the hybrid and what do we do and how do we get people back into the office or how do we get people engaged it it is hard. And I don't have all the answers, but I do wanna share a story with you about something that we did last week that is totally related to this question around rituals and creating the relationships and that kind of thing. So one of the rituals that we have at Wicked is, and we've been doing this for since the pandemic started and we went remote every Friday, we've got that three o'clock company call. I know a lot of people are sick of this company call where we all have to, I don't know each other, whatever. But still at least

Fahd (18:57):

You're calling it out. There's a lot of pushback. And

Laura (19:01):

I will admit the engagement has dropped off a little bit, but it's at three o'clock and it's not mandatory. But people that wanna join join and we try and have some sort of theme or game, something that we all come together and do and there's always a winner at the end. And whoever wins gets to order takeout for them and their families. And so what we did last week, and this idea was inspired by another podcast that I was listening to somebody that I really like in the culture space, his name's Josh. And he was talking about this very thing about how do you create these relationships and all this stuff. And he was basically kind of summarized it to Slack channels. You gotta have these Slack channels. So what I did was I made everybody answer the question, if you could create any Slack channel within the Wicked account, that has nothing to do with work at all.

Nothing. And we have some, we've got one called t-shirt slogans and one call that we post pictures of our dogs and cats and all that stuff. But outside of that, just anything that you could create, what would you create? And people started talking about music and food and the general things, and then of course what to watch on Netflix and podcasts and books and all these topics that are obviously important to people as human beings, not employees. And at the end of the call, I told everybody, I want everybody to go and create these Slack channels and I want everybody to feel like they can just join one of these Slack channels and create these relationships with each other because it has nothing to do with work, it has to do with wanting to work with the people that you are creating these relationships with and that leads to you actually doing better work. And so that's what we did. And we've got a bunch of these fun slack channels now floating around. I definitely didn't join the hockey one, the no Canadian Tire flyer

Fahd (21:20):

Slack. Oh no .

Laura (21:22):

But the point is be who you were, create relationships with other people who want to talk about that stuff that you want to talk about that has nothing to do with work.

Fahd (21:33):

Yeah, I love that. I love it. And the cynic in me cynic and me Laura, is the challenging piece of, I love all this culture stuff. So I always say we gotta drink the Kool-Aid sometimes and just kind of jump into it and be enthusiastic about it. Cuz a little hint of enthusiasm can go all the way. But you're trying to constantly be creative in how you approach your 3:00 PM kind of Friday calls. Cause people are sick and tired of it. They're like, I don't want another company call or I have to do two truth Andi, I don't want another company call. I, I'd rather take that time. And especially where we're seeing people are burnt out right across the board where we keep hearing people are burnt out, people are burnt out. And I don't know how to answer this question either. And we get a lot of our clients are asking this question, what do we do if all our staff are burnt out?

We still need people working. We still need to accomplish goals, but people are tired and people are burnt out, and how much of that is on us and how much is it on their own routines? And oh, should we just cut out some of our playtime? So if we remove our 3:00 PM calls and we stop doing as many daily standups and we stop doing all of these things, could we give them back their time and avoid their burnout? And I find this interesting because the first thing that we try and cut out when people are burnt out are the social pieces, but aren't the social pieces the things that truly actually energize us and recreate that thrive? Why is that the first thing we cut up? I don't know, I'm just talking out loud here. Laura, what do you say to those people who are facing company burnout and at the moment of maybe we should give up on some of these Friday calls or little rituals that we put into place in the beginning of the pandemic when we thought it was gonna last two to three weeks? .

Laura (23:36):

Yeah, I know. I remember going, okay, it's week four, we made it to week five. Oh my god, this is never gonna end. I don't know, it's a really good question. I don't know if I have the answer to it other than our call was at three and we end, or we invite everyone to end their work day, their work week as when that call is over. So, we're not asking people to do social stuff outside of the work hours. It's also not mandatory. Show up if you want. And it's funny because even the people that lean more on the introverted side of things who don't want to be social whenever we do surveying internally to find out what people are looking for, what they like, what they don't like, all that kind of stuff, those people still see value in it and still understand that in a remote environment it's still important that we see each other's faces and that we take the time to interact outside of work meetings all the time. It's still important that we create those little bonds and you don't have to participate. You can just be a fly on the wall too and just kind of listen.

But also if you don't want to come, you don't have to come. So it's a balance I think that we're all trying to figure out right now because full remote is still new for a lot of companies. Hybrid is new for a lot of companies and I think we're all just trying to figure it out right now.

Fahd (25:23):

. But I like that. I like that during work hours, show up if you can. And the fact that you keep showing up with it every week, right? We're here. Yeah, trying. We're looking at career relationships. That consistency I think makes a difference. That's how you win some of the cynics of, okay, well they're showing up all the, okay, I guess I'll show up this time. I haven't shown up to three calls and I'll do this one. And they participate. Now there's another fun ritual that I know you have started to practice these quarterly retreats where you're bringing your teams together. Tell me a little bit about that.

Laura (26:04):

Well, we can't quite afford it to be quarterly yet, bi-annually, two times a year. So because we're remote, we still want to be able to see everybody in person two times a year. So that's kind of the promise that we've made to our team. So we do it once in June and then once in November. So we have our second one of the year coming up in November, fly people in from wherever they are. We do it in Ottawa because originally we were based in Ottawa, so most of our staff is still somewhat centered in the Ottawa area. Put people up in hotels and come together for a couple days of fun and learning and team building. And because you helped facilitate one of the days in June for us, which was just absolutely incredible. And we eat together, we take everybody out for a nice meal, we drink and we just have a good time.

And I know a lot of, we're not unique in this, A lot of companies are doing this. It's a key part of success with remote cultures, I think now is like, okay, we gotta figure out a way to actually see each other at least once or twice a year. And I don't know, when we were finished, we were absolutely exhausted because you're just not used to being that social for that long in person . But it energized us so much at the same time, it was just so valuable. So we can't wait to do it again in November.

Fahd (27:45):

I love that. I love that. And I think what I'm hearing is the result of some of these rituals that you take on to build culture are energizing, right? Yeah. Building relationship is energizing. It finds that same motivation, it brings us back. I really like that. So we've gone down the rabbit hole a little bit here, Laura. I'm gonna pull us back out and say, okay, weren't always this brilliant people and culture person who's consistent, showing up, doing the rituals, trying to create culture, understanding that culture is something to be intentional about, otherwise it will be created based on what we tolerate. So take me back, where does your story begin? Maybe where did you grow up? Where'd you go to school? First job, let's get to know Laura A. Little bit and let's get to know how did you come to some of these insights that you're at today? So where does the story begin?

Laura (28:36):

Yeah, for sure. Well, first of all, I'm pretty much an Ottawa native. I have lived in Ottawa since sixth grade and I went to University of Ottawa, I went to Algonquin. Nice. So I now live in Carleton Place, which is a little town outside of Ottawa, but, and I have always worked in Ottawa, started out as a media buyer and then worked at a few different agencies. So started out in a print, print and design agency and then dig digital agencies. And that's kind of how I made my way into industrial 10 years ago. Also, a big part of my story and my life are my children. I have three kids and two step kids as well. So my husband and I have blended family and my husband and I are co-founders of Wicked. So Jeff is the ceo. Um, and I'm the ceo. Um, so it's a family business,

Fahd (29:50):

and that's awesome. Are your kids involved too?

Laura (29:55):

Are not involved at this point, but that's part of my story in terms of the culture and the rituals and all that kind of stuff. Because before Jeff, I was a single mom with three boys for 15 years of my life. And I think any parent knows creating routine and structure and all of that is a key part of just creating some calm but also rituals. They're a big part of family. So I've just always been a very routine oriented type of person, a little bit obsessive with that kind of stuff. And just to give you an example of something that we do as a family related to rituals is every single, we've been doing this for, I don't know, seven years now. Every single night at dinner we do highs and lows with the kids where it's basically the way of finding out how was your day today? But if you ask a kid, how was your day today? The answer is, I don't know, fine. But if you ask them what was worst part of your day and what was the best part of your day, all of a sudden everything about what happened in everybody's day. So every single night at dinner without fail, we go around the table and everybody says what their low was, and you're allowed to have a no low day. And if you have a no low day, there's a fun little chant involved. And then

Fahd (31:37):

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait a second. You're not gonna brush by that. Can I hear this chant? What's the chant?

Laura (31:43):

Okay, well first you say, I had a no low day.

Fahd (31:47):

I had a no low day.

Laura (31:49):

Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey

Laura (31:54):


Fahd (31:55):

I actually love that. Yeah,

Laura (31:57):

We stole it from the New York Rangers fans. We were at a ascends game one night and they were playing New York Rangers and every time New York got a goal, the fans would start going, Hey, Hey,

Laura (32:11):

Hey, hey, hey. And we're like, oh, that's kind of fun. So that's

Fahd (32:14):

Cool. Anyway, , I love that. I love that kay. Keep going, keep going.

Laura (32:19):

Yeah. And then everybody says they're high and then the next thing you know what happened in everybody's day. And it's just such a better way than just saying, how was your day today,

Fahd (32:34):


Laura (32:36):

The other funny thing about it is that whenever Jeff will go, okay, it's time to do highs and lows, you'll hear a couple of the kids be like, Ugh, not want. But then the second you go, who's got an answer? So

Fahd (32:52):

Yeah, I think just I'm reflecting at how powerful that is because it reminds me of when we did that. I was super involved in the student union at Carleton University when I was there and we ran campaigns and they got super intense and I was involved in city council campaigns later on and provincial and federal campaigns with different candidates when I was super interested in that world. And at the end of every campaign day, we used to do highs and lows and it's like drilled in my mind how amazing it was to sit down with the campaign team, all right, what went well today, what didn't like highs and lows. And everyone would go around and it was such a special time that I remember one time being so tired and I was like, okay guys, we're just gonna call a night early. I think everyone's tired.

And someone's like, wait, no highs and lows? No, we gotta do highs and lows. And it hit me that, wow, I thought letting them go home early would've been the thing that they wanted, but they're like, no way. Don't take this away from us. This is our moment to share and build. And it's so silly and funny, but I appreciate you saying it cuz it is a ritual that creates a habit that is grounding, that teaches us about each other and develops a relationship far beyond the work that we're doing. Absolutely. And I mean you do it with your kids, but imagine doing it at every standup. Make your standups five minutes longer or 10 minutes longer and do a little high and low and see what magic appears in your team's culture just through that.

Laura (34:23):

It's so true. And sometimes you don't even realize that something has become a ritual until somebody says like, wait, we're not gonna do that thing. We have to do that thing gonna do. And then all of a sudden you realize, oh wow, a ritual has emerged.

Fahd (34:39):

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it is. Yeah, it's so true. It's so true. I love that. I love that. It's really powerful, Laura, that you share your personal experience there with us. I think here around being a single mother, raising three boys, and what sort of rituals and rhythms that you had to take on in order to maintain that and continue to build your professional life in addition to all the challenges of three boys, . And I really appreciate, and I love that, I love how you carry that through to work. Now I would ask you, we went from how do you create culture? And we got into rituals, but I think there's a space in between. We have to also identify the type of behaviors we wanna see and then use maybe rituals in those behaviors. Do you think that's a piece? Do you do that for your own family? Do you talk about behaviors and values as a family? Is that part of your family culture? Yeah.

Laura (35:39):

Yeah, definitely. I mean not every day. That would

Fahd (35:42):

Be no ,

Laura (35:43):


Yeah. I mean it's just like behaviors come out in what you choose to tolerate and what you choose not to tolerate. And it's the same thing with culture, right? And it's funny, I have this post-it note on my wall here. Somebody posted on LinkedIn not too long ago, and I should have written down the person's name because I want to give them credit for it. Their definition of culture. I had to write it on a post-it note culture is the sum of all the behaviors you champion minus the ones you tolerate. And that is it right there. And you were just talking about behaviors. You don't have to have a rule book. It's becomes clear in what you tolerate and what you do not tolerate. So that stays true to raising a family with children, whatever. But also running a business how people know what behaviors are tied to positive culture. And it's just what you choose to tolerate and what you choose to celebrate.

Fahd (37:00):

Yeah. Yeah. I

Laura (37:02):

Love that. Well remember I'm not taking credit for that. We have to find

Fahd (37:04):

No, no, no, no. We have to find out who said it. If anyone knows that's listening, do a little search. That's all good that we're sharing that and I appreciate that. So then you kind of professional journey here. You were doing a lot of agency work, media buying, you're getting into this world. What sort of cultures did you come across during your time? How did some of those experiences shape the kind of culture that you're trying to create now at Wicked?

Laura (37:33):

Yeah, I mean there were some examples of what not to do.

Fahd (37:40):

Those are always key. Yeah, , like what are some things without naming names or companies, we don't have to get into that. What are some examples of what not to do? Laura , I

Laura (37:52):

Mean, just not at all listening to what your team wants or doesn't want. You have to ask and you have to then be prepared for the answers and then you have to be prepared to actually put things into place. And I think that wasn't happening a lot in some of my previous roles. And it's funny too because when I started running retrospectives, for anyone who doesn't know what a retrospective is at a certain period of time, for companies that work in sprints as an example, and they have a two week sprint, or at the end of the sprint, you have a retrospective to look back and talk about what went well, what didn't go well, and how can we make improvements for the next sprint, the next iteration, whatever period of time you decide you're doing this in. And sometimes doing retrospectives is hard because you get a lot of feedback that you don't want to hear, but if you're gonna ask, you're gonna get the feedback.

And you can't just then do nothing about it, , you have to actually take into consideration what everyone's saying and action things. So I wasn't seeing a lot of that, I think. And I think I just coming into to industrial and being put into a position to actually implement some of these things that I was just really passionate about, to be given the opportunity to be empowered, to be a champion of this stuff is so key and so critical and just not every company does that. And also just having, I am, I'm a little bit obsessive with this stuff. I take it really seriously. And I think that that's a key part of it too, is when you put rituals in place, making sure that whoever's kind of owning it, first of all, that there is somebody owning it, but that they make sure it happens every time. That's a really key part of it. So people trust that it's gonna happen, otherwise you're just kind of all talk, right?

Fahd (40:40):

I love that we're talking about here is really a culture champion , and perhaps you need several champions in order to really build it up, but you've got this champion coordinate person who's gonna make sure it happens, whose job it is to happen. So I think that's key because a lot of times it's like, okay, so you're HR and you do these 27 different things. Also, can you do some culture stuff for us? ? Right? often what's happening. So you're talking about creating a champion, carving out resources.

Laura (41:18):

Yes. Right?

Fahd (41:19):

Yes. And decision making authority around some of this

Laura (41:25):

Time and money and getting the blessing from the company that this is an investment that they want to make. All of these different meetings that we have that are basically these rituals, they're all internal, they're not billable, they're not making us money, they're taking a bunch of time from billable resources. But that's a decision, that's an investment that we've decided to make because we think that it matters. So that's a key kind of ingredient in all of this as well.

Fahd (42:05):

And it's tough. We say it's an investment in the people in the longevity. And as soon as we start using those words, you get the CFO types to say, well what's the exact ROI on it? ? And you're like, okay, yeah, we can show the surveys, we can try to document some of the measures. There are measures we can look at. But also what's the ROI of you having dinner with your kids every night like that? You don't ask for an ROI for building a relationship with your spouse. You don't ask about an ROI for spending time with your kids on Sunday playing sports because it's a good thing and stuff to develop good, strong relationships. And I find that the more I get into it, the more it's, I find it frustrating building good culture, always clear in the ROI and that that's maybe challenging unless you believe in some of it.

Laura (43:03):

Yeah, for sure. I guess if you had to talk to your CFO about that kind of stuff, you can throw around the employee net promoter score metrics and employee turnover rate, that kind of stuff.

Fahd (43:19):

So those are two big metrics you would look. Look, yeah,

Laura (43:22):

Which we look at, we measure for sure it is a data point. definitely. But then also just join one of our Slack channels and see people talking about you, how much they hate bananas and ...

Fahd (43:38):

People hate bananas.

Laura (43:40):

Well there is one person on staff who actually has a banana phobia, but then someone just got an email yesterday saying that bananas are actually very dangerous. So there was a whole conversation about bananas yesterday.

Fahd (44:01):

glad you gave me two really good metrics at Laura. So I kind of wanna go down this path. What metrics should I be looking out for? If I'm leading people and culture in my team, what are some of the metrics that I should be focused on to give me a pulse and a data point on the health of my culture?

Laura (44:22):

So I think employee net promoter score would probably be one of the big ones in the industry that HR culture performance people look at. And then also for us, we do quarterly performance reviews and as part of that, we just ask people on a scale of one to five for their happiness level. And then of course there's a whole bunch of anecdotal things that can go along with it. So we will use that happiness metric as well. Just super simple happiness metric, but that's the thing you're just measuring. So net promoter score, for those people who don't know, that's all about asking somebody how likely they would be to promote Wicked to somebody in their network. How likely are you to refer us to a friend? Would you tell a friend that they should come and work at Wicked? And companies do net promoter scores for their products as well. You can do it internally with your staff too.

Fahd (45:37):

Yeah, I love that. I love that. Awesome. So you had some not so good experiences in other teams and cultures, which gave you a bit of a vision for your own to create your own. So if I were to say what insight around culture currently drives your culture strategy, the way you think about it, what's the key insight for you that drives things forward?

Laura (46:11):

I don't know if I can just sum it up. I just love listening to podcasts, reading books, attending in person workshops or conferences and just hearing what other companies are doing. And we're Wick, its a startup, so we don't have all the money to spend on all the amazing, wonderful things you can throw at your employees and stuff like that. But I still think that you can still model yourself after some of the big companies out there. We're in Ottawa, of course, I have to mention Shopify always had my eye on . Looking at what they do and their culture over the years has been one to emulate. So I think it's just I to look at what other people are doing and get inspired from other big companies, even though we're little.

Fahd (47:17):

Yeah. And so you take a lot of that in, you see what's happening, you kind of see what kind of rituals and rhythms you can take in from them, try to make it practical. And I guess that's the journey is kind of take some of that and make it really practical. So if I'm listening to this episode and I'm ready to take Laura's advice and make some big changes, what are three big changes we should start implementing? And one of them start you off here is around really having a champion, an internal champion for culture that is either working on creating opportunities for culture, or even just spelling it out initially. What kind of culture do we wanna be intentional about? So having a champion there, that's maybe one of the first changes. What are the other big changes?

Laura (48:08):

So having that champion, but also having the buy in. So making sure that the company, if you're not the founder or owner, the company is going to empower that champion to move ahead, make the investment because there is an investment involved as well. And to make sure that you are very relentless with following the routine. That's key. If you say you're gonna do it, you gotta do it and you gotta do it every time at whatever cadence you decide is best for your company. And then also I feel like kind of a willingness to explore creative ideas. People are sick and tired of coming to the Friday call. I'm sick and tired of coming up with these ideas. It's not easy week after week. So you have to be creative. Ask your team, what do you guys wanna do? Does anybody have any ideas? Just be super creative. Yeah, I don't know. I think that I love that.

Fahd (49:21):

Yeah, I love those. I love those. Good, good. So what sort of creative, you gave us an example of one of your creative solutions recently, the Slack channels one. Where does some of your rituals and rhythms show up at Wicked? Give me a few more examples and I, I'd love to get a few that we can give the folks who are listening really practical here, try this or try that. Yeah, yeah,

Laura (49:48):

For sure. Okay. So the Friday call, within the Friday call, we do something called weekly shout outs. So that's how we start the call where anybody can just say, I just wanna shout out this person because you did this awesome thing this week. Thank you for that. And we just end up having this awesome little five, 10 minute shout out conversation. And that's become a ritual within a ritual, which is kind of fun. Of course the agile ceremonies, I can't stress them enough. The daily standups, the retrospectives, we do a monthly company demo where all 30 of us will get on a call and people will share their screens and it's like a show and tell, this is what I have done in the last month. Show off some new features that they've worked on in the product, share a design, mock up, whatever. It's a really, really good way to bring us all together and kind of celebrate the accomplishments that we've all been working on separately though remote.

So it's great to see, oh cool, that's what you've been working on. That's what that new feature looks like. We do quarterly town halls where we bring everybody together every quarter and report in to the team on how we're doing against our objectives and key results within the town hall. We do something called a values champion that we crown where we always reflect on our value, our company values. And it's a good way to bring them forward every quarter to remind everybody these are company values and it's pure driven. So the person that won the last quarter gets to pick the new values champion and it's just somebody who has displayed one of the values and a little story that goes along with it. , . So those are just some examples of some of the rituals that we do.

Fahd (51:52):

I love those. I love those. There's another very public facing one that I see you do all the time. It's on LinkedIn. Every time you've got a new hire, you've got this fun post welcoming them to the wicked family. I love it. And I'm always like, oh look, they've got another new hire. It's so cool. . I think that's a fun one. And during our chat, I think you had mentioned something that was really powerful that resonated with me, Laura, and was you said, I don't have time for this stuff either. , right? I think that's it. Been people sometimes listening to these calls, they're like, wow, she must have so much time to do all the culture stuff and like, oh, LinkedIn, I wish I had that much time. No, you don't have time for it either, but you still relentlessly make it happen. What are perhaps some of the traps that are folks who are in the people and culture world who are trying to do some of this stuff, what are some traps that they should try to avoid?

Some things that they should do? One of them that I think I'm gonna start you off with, cause I'll give you an answer to the question I'm asking you cuz you've said it earlier, is that don't start something and drop it off this kind of relentless because then it shows we're not really committed to this, we're just committed to talking about culture. So that's one of the traps which loses trust. And I think our leaders don't recognize how much trusted erodes truly when we start something and then stop, we kind of show that that's okay to start something and stop it. But I think that's one of the traps that we all fall into as leaders when we try to build culture and we don't have enough time. Right? Yeah. What are maybe some of the other traps that you've seen yourself or seen other teams fall into that maybe is a little warning some things to

Laura (53:36):

Yeah, I think I can only really think of two, and you just said one of them, so

Fahd (53:42):

That's okay, that's good .

Laura (53:44):

But let me reiterate that. It just is so important that you just keep doing them. Even when somebody's trying to buck over it in the calendar, you're the one that's gotta be like, no guys, this is a very, very important meeting. The other trap I think is if it's really not working, don't force it. Stop and do something else. So I think that it's kind of funny cuz I'm almost contradicting myself in those two traps. It's like, don't stop doing it and then stop doing it if it's not working. , yeah, it's okay to say, okay, we tried this thing and it sucks. It didn't work. It's not working, so we're not gonna do it anymore and we're gonna try something else.

Fahd (54:34):

Yeah. Yeah. I think a good way to look at it is if I would say, you look at, if you member stats class, you look at your general distribution graph. If the people on the end of it, your Kool-Aid drinkers, the ones who love this stuff, start to maybe not love what's happening. That's a good indicator. That's a good indicator. The ones who typically love it are not loving it. Yeah, okay. If the ones that always hate it on the other side are hating it, well, I'm never gonna get Steve from wherever who hates this stuff to really love it. As long as he is showing up, we're doing something right. I think that's a good way of thinking about it. I love that. Well, Laura, any final thoughts for our audience? This has been a wonderful episode. You've given us some really, I think practical advice.

I really like how we went from, we create culture by understanding the behaviors that we want minus the ones that we tolerate, quotation. We need to find out who said that, and we get the rituals to really solidify them. We're consistent with those rituals, and we make those changes by having a champion, by being relentless and by being creative in our approaches and trying many different things. So you've given us a nice little wrapped up kind of summary on how to create culture, which I really like. Any last words thoughts to share it with our folks here?

Laura (55:59):

I don't know. I don't think so. You just summarized it really, really well. I think if you're in a position to do any of this stuff, just do it. Just go and do it.

Fahd (56:10):

I don't know. Have fun with it. Make it fun. It's gotta be fun for you too, right?

Laura (56:14):

Oh yes, definitely.

Fahd (56:16):

. Awesome. Awesome. Well, Laura, thank you so much for joining us. This was wonderful. Such a pleasure to spend the hour with you to talk all about culture and discuss the rituals and rhythms that happen in our cultures and how we can make them. I'm gonna start highs and lows now at dinner. I, I'm 100% taking that. We'll do it with my team too. It's something that we used to do and I'm realizing that I was not relentless with my pursuit on it. So a nice little lesson for me to bring that back in.

Laura (56:47):

Thank you so much for having me.

Fahd (56:49):

Thank you. Thanks Laura. Thank you Laura, so much for that wonderful episode. It was great to hear everything from her personal journey to her work journey and how it all accumulated to the person that she is today and the company that she is leading and the culture that she is creating. Thank you to each and every one of you for listening all the way through. If you've got any questions, you got any topics, any ideas, you know where to reach us at, unicorn labs.ca, my email, fha unicorn labs.ca, or any of our social medias, you can find my handle for hot ala tab. One of the things I want you to reflect on that really hit me during this episode is what ritual do you have at work that if taken away, you would be upset? What ritual do you have with your team? Maybe, maybe not your team, maybe you gotta go personal life for you to really recognize it even too.

What ritual do you have in your life, work or personal that if taken away you'd be kind of upset about? I think recognizing those rituals will help us understand their importance to see if we can create some new rituals that really allow people to focus on the purpose of why you're there. I think rituals must align with our values and rituals must align with the purpose of our organization, the purpose of the startup that we're leading, and it can help us reorient oneself every day as a reminder, this is what we're doing and this is why we're doing it. And I think that's what's so key about rituals and rhythms is that they ground us. They bring us back to this moment when we get lost. And some people have their own rituals and rhythms in their life that help ground them. So think about what rituals and rhythms we can have at work to help ground us.

And that's it, folks. You can find the show notes and transcript at Unicorn labs dot the slash podcast. And if you like the content, be sure to rate it, to review it, to subscribe and get notified. You can hit the bell notifications. Is that even a thing? You can make sure to see when the next episode's coming out. Share it with a friend, do us a favor, share it with your company and if you like what you're hearing, tell everyone about it and spread the word. Thank you so much. I'm Fahd Alhattab and this is the Unicorn Leadership Podcast.

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