Rita Sever: Creating a Winning Culture In Today’s Virtual World

It’s incredible how big of a role culture can play in the success of a business. But, how do we shape culture today when we just have virtual teams and virtual assistants? We spoke with an expert on the topic of Human Resources and Culture, Rita Sever, who is also the author of Leading for Justice (release date August 3, 2021).

More About Rita:

Growing up the youngest of six kids in a low-income family, Rita Sever often had the experience of feeling unseen and unheard. She became very focused on hearing and seeing others—as individuals and within the groups that we live and work in. This led her to recognize the uneven playing field that the world calls “equal.” This awareness has been part of her unified approach to human resources and organizational development for over twenty years. She worked as a staff member for nine years at an AIDS organization and another nine years at a community action agency. In her consulting practice, she works with social justice organizations throughout the United States.

Rita has an MA in Organizational Psychology and is a certified professional coach. Rita approaches supervision as a primary leadership function. In addition, she sees the function of human resources and the culture of an organization as essential components of organizational effectiveness. She works with individuals, teams, and entire organizations to help the organization to be in alignment internally as they work to achieve justice externally. Rita works as an affiliate consultant with RoadMap Consulting, a national group of consultants committed to strengthening organizations and advancing social justice. Rita lives in Sonoma County, California, with her husband, Mark, and their dog, Lacy.

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Transcription of Interview

Adam G. Force 0:03
Welcome to the Change Creator podcast where entrepreneurs come to learn how to live their truth, get rich and make a massive difference in the world. I’m your host, Adam forest co founder, Change Creator and co creator of the captivate method. Each week we talk to experts about leadership, digital marketing and sales strategies that you can implement in your business and like to go big, visit us at Change Creator comm forward slash go big to grab awesome resources that will help drive your business forward. Hey, what’s going on everybody? Welcome back to the Change Creator podcast hope everybody’s doing well. So we have a really interesting conversation today with Rita sever. And she is she has a lot of experience in the space of human resources and culture development in companies. So she’s a nonprofit and social justice organization consultant. She’s also the author of a book, which is coming out in August. So depending on when you get this, when you listen to this podcast, it’ll be August 3, and it’s called leading for justice. And she has great experience and insights around culture and what it actually means to the business. She, she is it I’m on the same page as her in believing that, you know, things like culture are essential elements of creating a very effective business, right? Even guys, like Peter Drucker said that, you know, culture eats strategy for breakfast. And it’s really true, the culture can be toxic, or it can breed greatness. So we’re going to get into a really great conversation about that, and how that all works. And, and it’s not one that you want to miss. So hang in there, we’re gonna get into that in just a few minutes. If you missed the last episode is with Michael unbroken, his name is Michael Anthony, but he goes by Michael unbroken. And he runs a company called think unbroken. So he’s a coach and does all that kind of stuff. But we talk about startup success and all kinds of other stuff. I mean, the advice in here, this guy’s full of energy, full of experience and stuff. And he got this really great grant from grant grant investment from Grant Cardone. And we get into these really cool stories and how he’s like kind of built his teams and things he’s done and all that kind of stuff. So if you missed that, definitely go back and check it out. It’s a really good combo with flow real nice, too. So I think you guys will really get a lot out of it. Um, if you are looking to ramp up your brand, guys, as you know, we have our brand studio now is in full tilt. We just went live with the pink bakery was an exciting project helping people who have like severe food allergies, get great desserts and things like that. So it’s fair trade, vegan, and allergy safe, and always really tasty. So that was a really fun project. And we built up her website and sales funnel and it’s already really picking up the pace increasing cart value, really exciting project. So if you’re looking to you know, create your sales funnel, get your website up to snuff so that you make good new first impressions, build trust, things like that, or you need your branding done. Branding is so important and overlooked by so many companies, you know, work with us reach out, just go to Change Creator calm, we actually just rebranded the site, so we have kind of a rebrand that launched quietly. And you can check that out and you can book a call with me directly and we’ll talk about your project and see how we might be able to work together. Alright guys, let’s jump into this conversation with Rita. Okay, show me the heat on No, you go. Hey, Rita, welcome to the Change Creator podcast. How are you doing today?

Rita 4:03
I’m doing great. It’s good to be here with you, Adam.

Adam G. Force 4:07
Well, I appreciate it. And I’m excited to talk to you about company culture and things like that. And I have a lot of experience in there in the HR space and, and things like that. So if you could just kind of set people up a little bit with you know, where you’re coming from I kind of like, actually I what I like to do is I like to know, like what’s going on like currently right now, and then just give a little backstory to it. Okay,

Rita 4:31
sure. So I am a consultant, coach and trainer. I work primarily with social justice organizations throughout the country. And I have a book coming out, which is called leading for justice. And the background to all that is I grew up the youngest of six children. So I felt unseen and unheard a lot of the time and I more often than not So that’s not fair. We all do. And I think probably all six of us felt that. And so I decided I wanted to make a difference in the world and really focus on how I could be supportive of social change and doing good in the world. And that led me to work with the organizations I work with. Along the way, I got my master’s in organizational psychology, and I found a career in human resources. So

Adam G. Force 5:33
yeah, I mean, gosh, human resources, you know, I used, I used to work in corporate and all that kind of stuff at web Monday, and things like that. And man, like I couldn’t imagine, like, it’s a whole other world and mindset to be in HR versus, you know, like, what I was doing in marketing and things like that. So I definitely lean on other experts to kind of help navigate the HR space, the culture development space now, for people listening, where we really are going to try to dial this conversation into because I just think it’s so important, I think, Rita agrees is there’s been a lot of change, you know, COVID or not, there’s more evolution in business today towards the online space, and digital teams, right virtual teams, you know, we have a team there all around the world from, you know, different places. And so how do we have culture when we’re not in an office, and we don’t just have like internal employees and things like that. So culture is so important. As part of a process, I remember Chris Drucker said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. And, you know, it’s a funny comment, but it’s so true, because Greek culture creates great company. So Rita, you know, just to let you chime in on your thoughts of just culture in the virtual setting today, just where are you at with your thinking and some of the challenges that people are facing, and you know, some of the stuff that you’ve been doing?

Rita 7:00
Yes, the culture conversation over the last year has been difficult, and frustrating, and incredibly important. Because when we moved to virtual reality, and that will no doubt continue in some form or fashion, the casual part of culture that happens without anybody thinking about it sort of disappeared. And so in some ways, it was a great thing, because it made people think about how do i do culture intentionally? How do I support an intentional culture, and that’s what needs to happen, whether you’re in person or not. If you want your culture to support your values, and your mission, and your purpose in the world, and in the work world, you need to build an intentional culture with your staff. And then it happens through, you know, people walking the talk, paying attention to who they promote, how they promote, how they make decisions, and what are the hidden rules, and that’s both virtually and in person. Okay.

Adam G. Force 8:11
I recently heard a story that you might like, and it’s about culture. And I think, because some people I think listening, and I’m going to ask you for, you know, examples to so prepare yourself of how, like, they may not understand, well, why does culture eats strategy for breakfast? How can culture culture make or break a business. And a really good example of a story I heard, I think you’ll appreciate is, you know, a girl who was hired at a new company, she was excited and motivated, ready to rock and roll, she had two alarm set, you know, one was a half hour before she had to get up and the other one was a half hour before that, just to make sure that she was ready to go, she got to work, she was excited. And you know, so she was coming with all the right intention, got there early, all that kind of stuff. And that’s the kind of person that she was right. You know, fast forward, you know, 60 days, 90 days. And, you know, she is out on Sunday night, you know, having drinks with friends, you know, rolls in late around and you know, 930 10 o’clock to work on Monday morning, you know, just wanted to look a little bit busy at work at some point got on Facebook did a couple emails, like, totally different person. And what happened was, she got absorbed into a culture that was there that she adapted to, right, it changed, which is like, well, so now she’s evolving and changing towards how that culture operates. And it’s dragging her down, which is now so I thought that was a quick and very easy example to demonstrate, well, how does culture actually affect the operations and the success of work? What do you think about that? Absolutely.

Rita 9:49
It’s a great example of Yeah, the dominance that, excuse me, it’s not what you say it’s what happens and have values written on paper, you can have the intention of being like a family friendly employer. But if your day to day work doesn’t back that up, if the people don’t back that up, then that’s not the reality of your culture. Right? I remember one organization I worked with that prided themselves on that very thing where a family friendly environment, but the leader of the organization, when somebody would call in and say, I have to stay home, my child is sick, they’d go, again. And that undermined all their written policies right there. Yeah. And the same with, you know, all the organizations a year ago that put statements of diversity equity inclusion on their website, but didn’t do anything different. Yeah. your values and your culture, tell the reality of what kind of company you are not the words on paper?

Adam G. Force 10:59
Yeah, I mean, 100%. I think that’s such a good example. Because the other consideration is, you know, people are putting all kinds of crap on their websites about their values and how they operate. And it’s no different from the social entrepreneurship space where everybody wants to be part of that trend of doing good being sustainable. But are they greenwashing? And now I would say, are we culture washing? Yeah, they’re this family friendly place, and we all this stuff, but they don’t actually live that story.

Rita 11:33
And on the other side, what, besides the discrepancy of the written values and the lived values? There’s this phenomenon, month of hidden rules, what really happens in organizations, you know, what isn’t done in the orientation, but your friends will tell you once you connect with people, you know, don’t go to Cisco on Monday morning, they will chew you up and spit you out. You know, watch out for this guy is a harasser. Those are the hidden rules that makes the culture and is the lived experience of working in a company, not the high level words that don’t go anywhere?

Adam G. Force 12:16
Yeah, yeah, I yeah, it’s such an important thing to understand. And, and these types of examples and stories, I think, are powerful for people. So you know, really kind of, you know, because the other thing I heard was like a guy was like, well, there was this girl on stage. And this is when we actually had conferences live, I think we’re getting back to that. And this girl on stage was like, Well, you know, we’re really trying to embrace a better culture for our company. And so we made it and now I’m not making this up on my own experience. This is from someone else’s story that I heard, so I don’t want. And so they’re like, This girl is like, well, we created sleep rooms for people. And he was just like that. That’s not anything to do with culture. Right? Having a ball pit in the office a place for people to take a nap as Yes. They’re like, you’re probably creating a worst culture, you’re probably damaging yourself more than anything. And he was just like saying what you’re saying, which is the culture is, well, how do we operate? Like, what are the values as our that our makeup our operating system, like our manner, like the whole, you know, way we think the way we believe the way we treat each other, like having empathy for customers, being family oriented, like that, is the culture not sleep rooms, ball pits, and you know, a frigerator packed full of, you know, Red Bull.

Rita 13:43
Exactly, yeah. What, what is rewarded? What is who’s promoted, who isn’t promoted? You know, I’ve worked with groups where they value and pride themselves on their teamwork. And then they promote the guy who was the most batch them in person in the organization.

Adam G. Force 14:04
Why is that? What what Why does that happen?

Rita 14:06
I think that happens, because they forget, they don’t include the values in their decision making. So the backstabber probably looks good. brings in a lot of money, you know, shows the, the bottom line real values instead of the state of that, that that that’s what

Adam G. Force 14:26
I was looking for. That is because this is again, like culture washing, it’s like we have this culture. It sounds good, feels good. But we’re going to promote the person that has nothing to do with that, because all we’re really looking at is the bottom line. I don’t care how you do it, but you’ve got this money in the door, and they just can’t look the other way. So this brings up a very important question for me that hopefully, maybe you have some feedback on is how do we start balancing the because we do have to look at the bottom line. You know, we Have to do so? Is it a sacrifice then meaning like, so how do we, how do we find the balance between? Well, I need the money, I need the bottom line, because that’s how we help more people in the world with our business. But I also need to live true to my culture and the values that we put forth. So now they’re butting heads, how do we do that?

Rita 15:18
You have to think of the investment you’re making. Because when you promote that guy, who doesn’t live the values, you are getting immediate payoff, you’re getting more money in the moment. But long term, you’re driving staff away, you’re having to train people, you’re building community, just respect, you’re in the long term, you are driving business away from your company. And that’s the big picture that you have to look at, when you set your values and walk the talk and implement a culture that supports those values. It may take a minute, but you are going to be more successful in the long run, you’re going to have more engaged more productive employees.

Adam G. Force 16:07
I love that that just rang a bell for me. So you know, it’s like exactly what you said is perfect. Because people look for the immediate, right? So great, well, he’s bringing the money, I look at the bottom line, and I’m not considering all the other stuff, our culture, the culture is in place for a reason, right? We have this operating system, because we believe that that’s what’s going to make us more successful as a whole as a team, right? And if we take the immediate, it’s like the temptation, right? Well, the the immediate, I guess, in my mind is like, if I was CEO, I’d say okay, we’re gonna bring this guy on, he’s bringing a lot of money. And if we don’t, that’s going to cost us money if we don’t promote that person, right? Because we might lose them or something. Yeah. But then you have to say, Well, what about this on the flip? What’s the cost of keeping him? Right? There’s a cost there too. And it’s what you said, you’re going to create a toxic environment, resentment, people who don’t want and all of a sudden, you’re spoiling the culture, right, which is gonna have way more catastrophic effect in the long run.

Rita 17:11
Absolutely. And that can happen very quickly. I know two people, within the last six months, we’ve left an organization where they love the their job, love the organization. And they even love the environment, the culture. But then the company hired a director or a leader or somebody in each situation, who was demeaning and condescending, and ruined the culture for these people. And they were gone within a month after doing good work and being successful. And so that turnaround was pretty quick. The companies paid for those mistakes. So in their top,

Adam G. Force 17:59
that’s a big cost. And and that’s, that’s a big number. There’s a cost in many different ways. There’s financial costs, but also, the other costs of you know, destroying internal morale, you know, resentment among employees and all that stuff. It just starts like, getting pretty yucky.

Rita 18:19
out into the community to an organization’s reputation starts sliding when they notice that, hey, my favorite person, my marketing rep is john, what happened? And they may not know, but they start saying like, hey, what you’re shifting? It’s not the same as it used to be.

Adam G. Force 18:39
Yeah, I’ve lived through it. Now. That’s a great point. Yes. Like you’re talking about, like clients and different people that they work with, and that they’re in their close in their networks of like, partners and stuff. So you could have long standing partners and sales reps and things like that, like, I have seen that because, you know, when D, you know, great company, they do a great job. So I have nothing bad to say. But you know, they’ve gone through a lot of shifts, because it was in, it was the best for the business, right reorganization, stuff like that you had to for growth pains. But when a rep leaves, I’ve seen that where it’s like, I have several clients coming out said, Whoa, Whoa, what’s going on, and then they they’re very uncomfortable working with the next person. And it’s a it’s a very, there’s this new level of friction that is created that just not that you lose the business necessarily. You may not you might right. But even if you don’t, it does slow the business down and you might lose the dollars you had. And it makes it more difficult.

Rita 19:38
Right? Exactly. Yeah. It really does weed through to the organization. I think another part of the culture that’s important in this part of the conversation is how those decisions are made. decisions about shifting the culture or lackmeyer who To promote, because the more input you get when the culture is built on, including the voices of the staff, not to vote not to decide necessarily, but just to hear, what would it be like if we shifted this, to do it a different way, there may only be one person in the whole organization who says, That won’t work, that would be a disaster for my me and my staff. But that voice needs to be heard, no matter what the decision ends up being. So that’s a part of culture that’s really important that listening and hearing including,

Adam G. Force 20:38
yeah, letting people have a voice basically. Right. You know, like, people, you know, I sat around a table once when I was a manager, and I had, I think, a team of seven people. And I took them out to lunch. And I was going through a process just to learn a little bit more as a team and stuff. And I went around the table saying, from your last job that you left, or whatever his case, was, I This was 10 years ago. So I don’t remember exactly, but it was something along the lines of like, what was the number one reason that you left or what and, you know, it was lack of appreciation? Because they they’re just whether it’s the work or not having a voice? That’s what made me think of it, because when you said that, like it’s they weren’t included, they’re not part of this thing. Right. And there’s many ways that can happen. That doesn’t mean they have to make decisions for the next acquisition. It’s just having a voice in, in, in their part parts of the business and stuff, you

Rita 21:32
know. Absolutely. And, you know, you can do it in a way that is very clear that I will be making this decision. But I want to hear what you have to say, how will this impact you? Exactly? I’m being clear that no, I’m not putting this up for vote. I’m that I don’t know what to do. But I want to make sure I hear all your concerns.

Adam G. Force 21:51
Yeah, I once heard a really great comment someone made that they said, because what you just said is we’re not putting up to a vote, which is great, because that means you’re going to a consensus like a people. Because this thing that stuck in my mind that someone said is consensus leads to mediocrity. Okay, like, and so hearing people is one thing, and consensus to a boat with everyone coming to an agreement creates, like, you know, it deteriorates the decision making process

Rita 22:24
it absolutely can it sort of, yeah, at least common denominator? Or is that takes zero out of everything?

Adam G. Force 22:33
Exactly, exactly.

Rita 22:35
Not always, it’s certainly not always the best way to make decisions.

Adam G. Force 22:42
Alright, so I think we got the meat and potatoes of just the general ideas around culture and how it helps or hurts and things like that, um, you know, so we talked a lot about how it can hurt. But if you flip that around, you get a pretty clear picture of how it can help, right? So you’re strengthening the business in the long run, and people are working better together, they feel better, there’s better morale, like everything, you know, starts having a compounding effect, that’s very powerful. I did speak to a guy, he flipped a culture to be heart led leadership, and for years, and he took a company from 10 million a year to 200 million a year by doing that. And, you know, changing your culture is not for the faint of heart. This is a very, very difficult process. But I while I still have you here today, I want to talk about this virtual environment dynamic that is changing. So, you know, I know people that make a million dollars a month, and they all they have as a team of virtual assistants, that they’re not, they’re not interested in hiring full time employees for good reason, because of the overhead that comes with that. Right. So with my virtual assistants are awesome, skilled people. And they’re part of your team, because some of them stay with you for many, many years. Right. So how have you been addressing and thinking about some of these changes in implementing culture with teams like that?

Rita 24:04
Yeah, it’s a important question and a challenging question. It starts with what you talk about, do you make time to connect to say, how are you? Do you show the appreciation that everyone wants and needs? That is the start of the culture. And then the second part is more what we’ve been talking about is being explicit about these are the values and maybe you don’t call them values, maybe you call them. These are the guidelines, here’s my priorities, here’s my goals. And here’s how I want to do it. That the how you do it is your values, whether you mean it To be or not. And so when you make that explicit, that’s part of setting the culture. Even in this remote and limited environment, you’re still setting a culture, how you meet with them. Do you meet with them regularly? Or do you just call them up and say I need this right now? All of that is part of the culture.

Adam G. Force 25:08
Yeah, yeah.

Rita 25:10
But it is important in and essential isn’t without it, you will have a sort of freelance core that may or may not do it the way you want to do it and get the results you want. Yeah,

Adam G. Force 25:25
yeah, if you’re in it is challenging, because mostly, let’s say you have a team of like, make it simple five or six, like virtual assistants, right? They’re not necessarily communicating together as a team, right? They’re kind of doing projects that you’ve delegated. And, you know, some of them are, could be doing outreach to pitch people, right? Get me on a podcast or pitch for business, right? Cold outreach, and things like that. So there’s interaction with potential clients and stuff like that. And so would you would you say that it could be valuable, like, as you’re hiring folks like that, you usually get interviews or kickoff meetings, like to kind of set the strategy up, go through the processes, that part of that process review should be like a one pager on, you know, like what you said, having certain guiding principles or values, like, this is how this is our brand, like, I’m a branding guy. So this is all part of like, having core values as part of the brand operating system, because the branding is how we make people feel, right? How do we look at the company? And what do we feel from that company? Right, are they and so we want to make sure we’re always giving off that kind of essence, if you will. And so here’s how we do that. We’re always collaborative, we empathize. We’re understanding her, you know, like we say these things, this is how I expect you to, to get like operate with people. Would you go through it like that with

Rita 26:57
people? Absolutely. And, um, you know, that’s being clear about your expectations. I think that’s critical. And it’s not a one time thing. It needs to be reinforced, revisited. And feedback is the second part of it, you clear what you want. And then you acknowledge it’s happening, or it’s not happening. Yeah. Other thing. I would also say, even though you have, like you said, let’s say five or six virtual assistants, they may not have team meetings, probably not. But I think it is important that they know what the other ones are doing, how they’re each individual’s roles supports the goal in the business, and how the other ones do so that they’re not duplicating more, they can keep ideas open, they can keep the flow of information, even if one person is that conduit to get that information out.

Adam G. Force 27:55
That’s interesting. And I wonder if it would be helpful or harmful. For example, let’s say you have a couple of V A’s. If you had a VA, kind of like a Slack channel, for if you’re familiar with Slack, where it’s like, guys, just so you all know, here’s a here’s a one pager with all your names and the projects that you’re dedicated to so you know what each other’s doing. If you need or have questions, you might see what someone else is doing. But hey, did you ever do this? Or hey, do you have that? I don’t know if it makes them just feel more included as a team in the business. But that’s where my head was going is how do we make it more like a family make it more like a community? So they do feel more inspired to be part of the mission?

Rita 28:37
Yes, absolutely. I think it does build a connection and identity of, yes, I may be an entrepreneur, myself, I have many clients, but this client, I’m connected to, I really get what they’re doing. I get what the group is doing. And I have an idea that this person could reach out to somebody I have a way to pass that on. That would be an amazing aspect to supplement their work. It’s going to be a small piece of it most likely, yeah. But I think it would make a difference in establishing the culture, the connection, and the innovation for the company. Yeah,

Adam G. Force 29:19
it could be cool. I could imagine to like, for example. There could be areas of cross pollinating between people like oh, you just booked this guy for business and stuff. You know, I’m doing all the podcasts, it would be great to get them on the podcast too. And like, you know, like stuff like that. And you know, cuz So then I’m not always trying to connect the dots. And I’m not trying to always do those things. Like they can kind of set it up, book it, get it done. Like it’s just happening.

Rita 29:46
Yeah, you may connect many of the dots, but there may be dots you’re not even seeing.

Adam G. Force 29:52
Yeah, yeah, fresh perspectives, right. And I’m always thinking about that as the business grows, and so This, to me is a really exciting time and conversation to have. I love the idea of creating a fun, quite a cool, powerful culture. And I went a little bit uncertain of myself, personally, you know, as it’s more virtual, I don’t do full time hires, I have contractors, I have VA s and things like that. And then I’m like, Is it a good idea to do that? Is it not? I’m not quite sure. I mean, it seems like it but there could be things I’m not thinking of right, like, that are downsides that I’m just not aware of. So I’m always asking these questions, right? Yeah,

Rita 30:35
you don’t want it to go too far into water cooler culture, which I guess would be a possibility if you did a Slack channel that it could somehow take on a life of its own and go somewhere you didn’t want to. But I think that’s part of everything we do is we try something we monitor it we get feedback houses working. Is it supporting your work? Is it distracting your work? Yeah, just

Adam G. Force 31:03

Rita 31:05
I don’t think it’s a bad idea to try something like this. You can always scale it back if you need to. Yeah. But my sense is it would enhance the work that’s being done.

Adam G. Force 31:16
And so before we wrap up, thanks. So it was really helpful. Just tell us a little bit about your book, like, why’d you write it? And who’s it for?

Rita 31:24
Right? Yes, I wrote my book. My business is called supervision matters. So I’m always thinking about supervision, culture, and human resources, which is my background. And I just saw that there were practices that were not supporting the values or the purpose of organizations, right. So this book focuses on the internal practices so that organizations can be in alignment with their values into Okay,

Adam G. Force 31:56
I see. And who would you say is it directed towards the most?

Rita 32:03
It’s primarily my experiences with prime primarily with nonprofits. So that’s who I talked about. But it really is for any business entrepreneur leader who cares about justice and wants to make equity one of their values. Okay, it has very practical suggestions about what that looks like, from supervision to culture, to how HR is planned out if they’re big enough for an HR function,

Adam G. Force 32:32
HR, yeah. Okay. Awesome. I’ll read it. Thanks. This has been a really fun conversation for me. And it’s just nice to kind of bounce these things off of you and get your expertise since this is kind of like your world, obviously. So I appreciate your time today. Thank you, Adam. It’s been great to talk to you. Take care.

Adam G. Force 32:56
Thanks for tuning into the Change Creator podcast. Visit us at Change creator.com forward slash go big to get access to free downloads and other great resources that will drive your business forward.

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