On Org & Culture
A collection of (INCOMPLETE) PERSONAL thoughts

On the fundamentals of an organization, its people, culture, and incentives.

Organization & Culture

The organization is a function of people and culture where both reinforce each other.

  1. The same people will behave differently in a different culture.
  2. Different people create a different culture even if you keep all organizational structures constant.
  3. Beyond its organizational structure, processes and systems, a company is simply a collection of people coming together with a shared understanding of what they want to achieve collectively.

When we think we talk about work culture, we often actually talk about work climate:

  1. Climate is the feeling you have when you’re at work driven by mostly superficial things. It emerges from one-time initiatives, perks and happenings.
  2. Culture is the collection of forces that shape change, progress and decay. It emerges especially from continuous leadership behavior, starting at the top.


"Incentives are superpowers."
- Charlie Munger

Verbal communication of values is a superficial layer. The values embraced through hiring, firing, promoting and rewarding become the real drivers of employee behavior.

A key question permeating all functions and layers:
Are people incentivised to take risks or to play it safe?

There are only two ways to influence human behavior:
You can manipulate it or you can inspire it.

  1. If you put pressure on people, it should be for good reason (not just to hit subjectively arbitrary numbers).
  2. Passion is the not the result but the driver of hard work. Thus, making people work hard does not create passion, it requires it.


In a work context, a lack of trust can have a few different reasons. Colleagues might think that you lack:

  1. the right intentions,
  2. the right abilities,
  3. the right context,
  4. the right understanding of information.

The most common reason for mistrust is a perceived lack of context (3.) and information (4.). Much less often is it grounded in a questioning of one's abilities (2.) and even more rarely in a doubting of one's intentions (1.).

But as communication around mistrust between people is typically either clunky or avoided altogether, the true generators of mistrust don't surface.

However, if we personally feel we're not being trusted, we naturally tend to assume it's because of our intentions or our abilities. And having our abilities and intentions doubted feels a lot worse than being told we lack context or misunderstand information.


Those who invent aren’t always those who implement.

Some people have a big picture orientation while some are more detail oriented:

  1. re. Ideas: Explorers & Experts
  2. re. Process: Planners & Optimizers
  3. re. Action: Energizers & Producers
  4. re. Relationships: Connectors & Coaches

Disagreeable people who hold unpopular opinions and are strong enough to act on them are important to fight ineffective or harmful orthodoxy.

Ensure enough variety of people ein management and product teams wherever it's needed, and the right fit in particular areas.


Regardless of function and level, leadership quality feeds on similar characteristics:

  1. be approachable and available,
  2. show vulnerability (admitting mistakes and lack of knowledge),
  3. be transparent (numbers, context, reasons),
  4. have and show trust in competence (or get more competent people or coach people properly),
  5. do not borrow strength from hierarchy,
  6. communicate directly and openly,
  7. always address (or at least acknowledge) objections,
  8. be as specific as possible,
  9. focus on your people's needs (vs. not just yours),
  10. understand trade-offs (for the organization and for individuals).

Timeless principles of leadership:

  1. Good leadership requires a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.
  2. It's always about people. No one leads the legal structure of a company, but the people of it.
  3. Leaders achieve very little by themselves. They inspire people to come together for the good of the group. Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with why we need to do things. Leaders inspire action.
  4. When someone’s not performing well, first try to understand whether that’s due to capability or capacity.
  5. You don’t always have to add value to other’s ideas.
  6. Something might be the least important meeting for you, but the most important meeting for them. What’s important to you doesn’t need to be important to them and vice versa.
  7. The one mission you have is to make a positive difference, not to prove how smart or how right you are.