The Path to Startup Culture: Q&A With Raoul Davis

Raoul Davis

I saw another post today touting the great culture of a company and showcasing the office space. That's great, but a cool office does not make a culture alone. A culture is a set of values and norms that define the behavior of an organization. Sure. perks and cool chairs can be an extension of that, but you have to start with what you believe.Today we continue our series on companies not only passionate about culture but making the effort to pull that through. Our goal is to show you talent not only matters but can be the difference between success or stagnation. This week I connected with Raoul Davis, the CEO of Ascendent Group. Raoul's on a mission to amplify the message of socially conscious firms led by visionary CEOs.

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo (SL): You're in the business of people everyday. But can you describe your corporate culture in three words?

Raoul Davis, Ascendent Group (RD): Highly effective and human.

SL: Simple and clear--important for future employees to understand if they fit with your organization. I know it hasn't been easy, but when you have made an effort to understand and strengthen your culture, what did you learn the most?

RD: That people are resistant to change. Culture shifts take time 6-18 months to be exact and it is a continual process that has to be beaten into the culture. Just when you think it is going smooth you've got to further emphasize things again. Building a culture by design is a process, however; it is sure better than having a culture by default.

SL: Speaking of employees, what are the first three things you first notice about an employee?

RD: Their demeanor, willingness to contribute, and overall attitude.

SL: And how do you manage having the right talent to meet rapid growth?

RD: Don't limit your geographic area. Hire based on your cultural pillars and hire slowly.

SL: What have you learned about the importance of culture that you can apply to the work you do for your clients?

RD: That if you build culture then you give your clients a consistent experience. When you have people fall outside of the culture it creates a bumpy experience and creates unease with the clients.

SL: Tell me about a time you felt company leadership went wrong. What did you do?

RD: I'm actually going through a period now where I assumed the culture was fully embedded however I learned that isn't the case. So we are about to shrink to get things more focused and so I can spend more time on ensuring we have the right things happening. Also you have to accept that when there is a leadership issue the person to look at is the one in your mirror. When your team fails don't point the finger. Figure out what you can do better to help them continue to mature. Entrepreneurship isn't easy, people make mistakes; even the most well intentioned and experienced people make errors. Prepare to have some grace but at times you'll have to adjust or fire quickly.

SL: So at the end of the day, why does talent + culture fit matter?

RD: You can have a bunch of high performers and not win the championship. Just ask the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers or most of the NY Yankees teams over the past ten years. Despite consistently having one of the most highest payrolls in professional sports [they] have only won one championship. A team has to come together, be cohesive, and all work in the same direction with egos being put aside for the greater good. It takes culture to do that. Without culture by design you get culture by default and that doesn't win championships.

Raoul Davis is the CEO of Ascendent Group help mid size leading companies increase their top line revenue through a unique process called CEO branding. We help the CEO increase their visibility through PR, speaking engagements, book deals, social media, and strategic networking directly in front of their target audience. Learn more about Ascendent Group.

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.


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