A humbling side effect of running a company that has some public recognition of its employee culture is that I’m sought out by founders, CEOs, HR professionals, employees, students etc. to comment on the topic of “culture.”
The problem is that many people who contact me get “good culture” confused with “motivating employees.” Or worse, “squeezing more work out of the team.” The assumption is that if their company has a great culture, people will be motivated to work longer hours and be more productive.
Here’s the thing: Great culture and high work productivity are loosely related. Sorry, your foosball table will not motivate people to work 80 hour weeks. Culture has to do with engagement and environment, not motivation.
To create exceptional company culture, provide the environment and create engagement. An engaged team in the right environment works to meet their goals because they have a sense of responsibility to the team and a clear understanding of the final outcome. The Bulu Box crew knows where the company should be in one month, six months and two years from now, and they also know how their daily tasks and responsibilities lead to accomplishing that goal.
Even tasks like taking out the trash and dusting are assigned for a reason and are the responsibility of everyone. The team knows we do those things (for now) to instill the idea that nobody will do the work for us. They get it. They understand long-term where we’re going and what it takes to get us there.
The question isn’t, “How do we create a culture that motivates employees?”What people should really be asking is “How do we promote discipline within a great, fun culture?” After all, some of the most fun I’ve ever had has happened while trying to accomplish the impossible.
Sometimes work sucks
Before I proceed, let’s be clear about two things:
This is what works for my style as a leader. After all, there’s more than one way to bake a cake.
Work isn’t always awesome. In fact, it can suck sometimes and that’s okay. It’s normal.
If anyone has spent time reading about the ‘stuff’ that turns crazy dream seekers into successful entrepreneurs or listened to me, Matt Boyd & Brian Ardinger on the Inside Outside Podcast, you know that these two traits that rise above all the rest: Risk and Grit. The best entrepreneurs get that grit should contain discipline. Discipline helps you grind through the hard times to keep making progress, even when it’s hard, boring, and stressful.
Discipline is one of the most underrated and least mentioned topics when it comes to conversations about startups yet there are thousands of articles, pics and quotes on motivation. Maybe that’s because discipline is difficult where motivation is easy. Motivation is a daydream. Discipline is the day labor.
Discipline is better than motivation and here’s why: Motivation is easy to find and lose. Motivation is selfish. When you wait around to be motivated, you’re saying, “I want some external force to compel me to accomplish a task.” Then, when you keep putting it off and binge some Netflix instead, the responsibility isn’t on you. The motivation wasn’t there and that’s an acceptable excuse.
Discipline is different. Discipline gets shit done. It can be boring, it can be repetitive, but think about who that task benefits. You can close out of Reddit and Instagram and check-off task XYZ because it’s for the team. Doing those “ugh” tasks every damn day? Doing those “ugh” tasks every day only to find out the plan is changing? Accepting failure and resetting your course no matter what — that’s discipline.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Discipline is fucking hard and easy to lose. That’s not being extreme — that’s being real. Not everyone can determine a goal, break down its steps, proceed, fail, make new steps, fail (x100), proceed, make new steps, progress, make new goals, and never stop. I’ve only met a handful of people in my lifetime that have successfully mastered this. It’s not a talent — it’s a skill. (BTW — Thanks, Coach Witulski for sending me to J. Rob Camp where I learned a lot of this at 17 years old.)
Here’s a few things that I have learned in the 5 years since founding Bulu Box that have helped me increase my discipline:
1. Ruthlessly edit
Fact: The more decisions you have to make in a day, the less effective you will be. What are you wearing today? Are you going to drink coffee this morning? What email should you get to first? Should you RSVP to that party this weekend? These are decisions we make within the first minutes of the day. If you’re running a business, you’re going to make a lot of decisions. But, the more decisions you make, the less effective you’ll be.
You need to keep your brain clear so you can reason through the big decisions without worrying about the ones that don’t matter. It’s why I love my gym (CrossFit…I know, I know). I show up and the workout is already mapped out for me — no decisions to be made. I try to make my day seem like that as much as possible. I eat the same thing every day, cycle the same predetermined outfits, and tons of other decision-saving habits. Save your brain power and decision making ability for when it matters; it will increase your willpower for better discipline. It will pay in spades for everyone around you.
2. Plan ahead
Want to get fit? Want to read more? Want to meditate? Want to start a company? Clear out your calendar and plan a recurring block of time for this task or hobby. Ruthlessly edit (#1) your calendar if you need to make space. This can even apply to relationships! I want to be a better husband, so Thursday night is “Date Night” on the calendar, repeating forever. When you become an entrepreneur, your personal and work lives merge. Take advantage of your work tools to help run your personal life. Things on the calendar get done.
3. Visualize the outcome
Start with the end. Whether it’s selling your company, losing 30 lbs, playing the piano, whatever it is, spend a considerable amount of time mentally visualizing the outcome. From there, ask yourself: Is it worth this? Will all the ruthless editing, planning, failing, etc. be worth it when you have what you want?
4. Fail, reset, fail again
Nobody wakes up and says, “I’m going to run a marathon today,” having never run before, and then runs it. There’s a long path of training, planning, pain and failure. Getting used to failure is part of discipline; you have to commit to trying again. You will fall off track. You will lose 20 lbs and gain 5 lbs back over the weekend…but will you get back on track Monday? Tuesday? Thursday? Cool! You got back on track and that’s more than what 99% of people do. And don’t forget, you’re still down 15 lbs! Good job, you!
5. Delete emotion
Focus on metrics, plans, and concrete items. What is the goal? By how much did you make or miss it? Why did you make or miss it? Great. Now, edit the plan and keep going. That’s all! You need to delete the inner voice telling you you’re tired, you deserve a break, you don’t know what you’re doing. Be kind to yourself and don’t give up. Never give up; by pushing yourself to get on track, you’re beating most humans.
Take calculated risks (and a few uncalculated). Grit through the hard times and have the discipline to reach the goals you set back when you were full of short-lived motivation. That said, my time is up and a calendar notification just popped up. So go grab another cup coffee, crank up that grind playlist, and go-ta-work for the team.
Paul Jarrett is the co-founder of Bulu Box, which helps customers realize their healthy living and weight loss goals and connects brands to qualified consumers through data-driven sampling and ecommerce technology. Paul is no stranger to vitamins and supplements. He used supplements to help him become a 307lb D1 starting defensive lineman in the Big 12, then lose over 100 pounds when his playing days were over. Paul has helped launch million dollar brands, and executed campaigns for Lowe’s and Nike. In 2010, Paul joined Complete Nutrition where he built the marketing and communications department and positioned Complete Nutrition for success in a saturated market. The company became one of the fastest growing startups in the country.
Paul would like to give props to Marcus Quevedo & Mariah Nimmich for help with this article.