In August I was scanning the radio on my drive to SFO and found Ken Rutkowski's "Business Rockstars" show and he was interviewing Robert Richman, and I was so absorbed in the conversation that I didn't want to get out of the rental car to refuel it, so I just parked in the gas station for a few minutes to listen to the remainder of the show, and actually risked missing my flight.

Robert was co-creator of Zappos Insights, a company that shares the magic of Zappos's famous employee culture. He's written a book called The Culture Blueprint, and he calls himself a culture strategist--and he truly is that.

CEO 1-2-3 features guests who have brilliant insights for CEOs and business leaders with respect to the people part of their organizations.

I got in touch with Robert and we had several fascinating phone conversations, and I'm very excited to launch this new column with him as my first guest.

Chip, CEO 1-2-3: Hello, again, Robert. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Robert: I'm a culture strategist and keynote speaker, though I sometimes have to laugh at myself as I say this because my work is all about getting people to understand they don't need me! Or any expert-guru type for that matter. The solutions are within. I love when people leave my events saying, "I can totally do this. I have everything I need."

Ah, but people need you until they no longer need you! Tell us about your book The Culture Blueprint.

The book is all about understanding what really drives culture, and then it's a reference guide for ideas on various aspects of culture that organizations can play with. My business is all about using self-organizing principles and techniques for high performance. And it's an interesting side effect that it's a lot of fun. We use open space for strategy sessions and improv comedy to build high functioning teams. It's a blast.

Would you explain what you mean by culture being a game?

Sure. The game concept comes from Jane McGonigal's work in Reality is Broken when she studied global gaming. She found that all games have four simple elements: 1) a clear goal, 2) clear rules of what is okay and what gets you out, 3) a way to keep score, and 4) that it's voluntary (i.e., people are not forced to play).

When culture breaks down it's always because of one of these four reasons--unclear goals, no clear rules (or some don't have to play by the rules while others do), no clear feedback mechanisms, or people are getting forced to do things they really don't want to do.

On the other hand, strong cultures have clear consistent goals, rules that everyone lives by (values), clear ways to keep score (such as NPS), and opportunities for people to choose which roles, tasks and meetings in which they participate.

What in your work makes you most excited?

I'm excited that group think is really emerging in a good way--it's this idea that when people really get in sync, there's a higher creative intelligence that emerges.

Why do people have such a hard time getting in sync? Why does it take someone like you to make it happen?

Have you ever witnessed an argument and noticed that the two people are not even on the same page about what it is that's being argued? It takes a detached third party to mirror back what they see and hear, and also hold the container for a safe and productive conversation. It takes the pressure off the leader. It allows people to focus on what's really important: the same way that good games bring in a referee.

Since I mentioned "Business Rockstars" earlier, how did that interview come about? Do you enjoy it as much as it sounded like you did?

It's a blast! Ken is amazing. I've known him for years through an LA networking group called MeTaL. I'm starting up my own podcast at CultureHackers.com. It combines irreverence and play.

So thank you very much for being my first guest for CEO 1-2-3. You're perfect for the launch, because you really embody the kind of thinking I want to share with other business leaders.

Let me ask the big question: what are the top three things you can share with business leaders about the people part of their business, that they really need to know?

#1 If you're stressed out and working too hard you're hurting yourself and everyone around you. It's not about how many hours you get in, it's about making really smart decisions and staying focused. You'd be surprised how productive you can get in little time. And your health is your most precious asset.

I totally agree. Yet it's so hard in corporate America to break the addiction to long hours. So what's the second point?

#2 Challenge yourself to delegate more and more. And delegate does not mean "dump." It takes great communication skills.

That's a good way to put it: delegate, don't dump. I believe most leaders don't delegate nearly enough, and it's exactly that: they don't know how! Too often, they dump instead of delegate, and mess up everything. Give a tip on how to delegate rather than to dump.

Always confirm understanding. Don't assume it. Ask people to ask questions. Try over-communicating by adding more details. Also share what level of interaction you want. Do you want them to take it and run with it? Or do you want them to check in with you through the process? If so, then how often? And what's your standard of success? How will it be evaluated?

Good points. So what's the third point?

#3 is a quote from my mentor and colleague Daniel Mezick, "Ask for help when you're on the way up. When you're on the way down, it's too late." So ask for help often! And get a mentor or a coach.

How do you suggest people go about getting a mentor?

Get clear on what you want in a mentor and ask your network if they know someone who fits it. Then really research that person, think of great questions for them, and don't ask them to be your mentor immediately. Just ask for advice. If you like it, then act on it and report back. They will be impressed you put their words into action and will be much more likely to say yes to a mentoring role.

Thank you, Robert, for helping me kick off this column. How may readers follow and get in touch with you?

Thank you! I'm at www.RobertRichman.com, and the book is at www.CultureBlueprint.com

Published on: Oct 18, 2014