Momentum Podcast: 166

Don't Build A Hero Culture

by Alex Charfen

Episode Description

When you have time deadlines and a team member steps up to make things happen, it can be exciting. People pulling together and overcoming adversity is part of what the team is all about. 

However if this condition becomes the norm at your company, you are at risk of building a hero culture. One where heroes get all the credit, heroism is the order of the day, and your team is constantly overcoming unreasonable deadlines and expectations. 

While this may feel like momentum in the short term, it breaks down even the best of teams in the long term. Unfortunately when you build a hero culture, you challenge your teams ability to grow.

Full Audio Transcript

I'm Alex Charfen, and this is the Momentum podcast! Made for Empire Builders, Game Changers, Trail Blazers, Shot Diggers, Record Breakers, World Makers, and Creators of all kinds!

Those are my list who can't turn it off, and don't know why anyone would want to! We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating Momentum, so we can roll-over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution.

Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own world. We don't accept our destiny, we defied it. We don't understand defeat, because you only lose if you stop, and we don't know how!

While the rest of the world strives for average, and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate, there could be a better future. Instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We, are the Revolutionary Hunters. Clearly the most important people in the world, because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent positive human evolution, and we always will be. Don't build a hero culture.

When I first started as an entrepreneur, I didn't really understand what a Hero Culture was. I certainly didn't know how to avoid building one. So, unfortunately, like so many new entrepreneurs, I did exactly that. Let me share with you what it looks like.

As an entrepreneur, you start building a team, I remember doing this specifically. I started building my team. I didn't know how to set goals or outcomes, and I had been to the same goal setting sessions that you've been to. To the ones that I always rail against, with a guy on stage said, "Write the biggest number you can ever think of, or you can ever imagine earning. Now cross it out and double it. That's your new goal!" I'd been through all that crap.

Because it was so pervasive, and I heard it over and over again, just like you, probably have. I started to believe, that was the way to create success. You put together outlandish crazy insane goals, that you don't really understand how you're going to achieve.

Then you build the team and tell them to make it happen. I mean, isn't that what having a beehag is all about? A big hairy audacious goal? You create some scary thing and tell your whole team that they need to go and get it.

The fact is, that doesn't really work. Over time, will wear down your team. It will wear down the best people on your team. It will have 'A' players leaving your team. However, some people will stay. They'll stay for the Hero Culture that you create, when you set unrealistic outcomes, and tell everyone they have to go get them, and the teams completely behind, and everybody doesn't know how they're going to get it done.

Then what has to happen is, someone pulls an all nighter, or goes to some extraordinary lengths, or works all weekend, or comes in early or stays late, and finally gets the project done! And what are they? They're a hero for the whole team, and we all celebrate! How they worked hard, and sacrificed, and did more than they should. You know what? Every once in a while, I totally respect this on a team. That happens on our team, every one in a while. It happens. It's rare.

What will happen on our team is, we'll set our annual outcomes. We'll set our one year annual objectives. Then we'll have our 90 day targets laid-out. We'll have our 30 day goals, and we'll get commitments from people. Something will happen where, we have to put in extra effort to make one of those 30 day goals, actually come true.

We have to put in some extra time to make, something that maybe we misplanned, or didn't calculate right. So, we have to go over the top to make it happen. When we do, we all celebrate that we did that, but it's infrequent.

I don't want it to be the way my company's run. When you build a Hero Culture, it will destroy you. I've done this before. I've actually had companies where people didn't really get excited about things until we were right at the deadline. Where people didn't really check in until they had to stay late and come in early.

The only thing we recognized, in the companies that I had before, where we had unrealistic deadlines. We had unrealistic outcomes, was the only time we ever really talked about things, was when somebody played the role of Hero.

Here's the challenge with that. If you start to build a Hero culture, where the only way you ever achieve things, or the only way goals ever delivered, is where people go over the top and work crazy hours, and sacrifice, and put in more time than they normally would. You start to build a culture, where the only time things get done, is when somebody can actually be a hero.

It gets worse than that! You'll actually start to build a culture, where people won't check in until they're allowed to be a hero. You'll build a culture where people might even inadvertently, maybe subconsciously, and I'll tell you in all candor, sometime consciously create problems that they can fix, so they can become the hero.

When you create a hero culture, the only thing that becomes important is, 'Who's the Hero today?' Not 'Are we showing up all together and moving forward as a team?' Are we working in a congruent way to deliver the highest quality products, and the highest quality outcomes to our clients? Are we all taking care of each other? Taking care of ourselves? Making sure that we stay in momentum, and that we can continue to work as a team.

The difference is, when you build a hero culture, you will destroy any momentum you have. So hard to see! Here's how it feels as an entrepreneur. You set a big outcome. The whole team's pushing it forward. Then a bunch of people have to stay late, come in early, do all those things, and you think to yourself, "Wow! I build such an amazing culture here. This team really delivers."

If you have your team doing that, deadline after deadline, and quarter after quarter, and month after month, and week after week of trying to be a hero, trying to overcome, trying to make things happen, working against impossible deadlines. You will wear down your best team members.

You will have 'A' players leave, and you will blame on people who are used to working in crisis, and who want to work in crisis. Those are not the best team members in any company. We will all need a few of them. When you're entire organization starts to be driven by the crisis management, created by a hero culture, it is devastating.

Here's what every one of us should really want, a performance culture. A culture where we get together, [inaudible 00:06:30] comes, and we're all excited about, and we crush them!

A culture where we get together, we look at what the availability of resources is, what the accomplishments are we could achieve, we put together a solid plan, we work day-by-day to get there, and then we all bring it in one time, under budget, in the right way, and deliver it.

When you look at the largest organizations in the world, the ones that we all respect. They have exactly that! They have a performance culture. When you look at any organization, that you work with, whether you buy from it, we respect that we are customer's of, I assure you, they are performance cultures. Large organizations that deliver over time, and meet commitments over time, have built a culture of performance. They fight the culture of heroism.

Here's the problem with being a Hero. It's unpredictable. Sometimes people can and sometimes they can't. They problem with being a hero is, you don't know who is going to step up and do that every single time. The problem with being a hero is, if you condition your people only to work when they're a tight deadline, and everything's on the line, the rest of the time they're barely checked in. We build a company day-by-day, not based on extraordinary deadlines.

We need our team checked in everyday. We need them to be present and aware, and seeing opportunity. Taking care of our clients and delivering consistently, and helping our organization grow. We need them to make sure that they're giving us the feedback that, things are working, that aren't working. When are deadlines too tight? When are are we going to miss? That we all know what's happening.

The last thing we want is people looking of the exceptions and the challenges, and the issues, so that they can step up and be a hero, over and over again, because it just doesn't work over time.

Here's what I know. You may be listening to this. Maybe it's not you, but I know there's a few people listening to this, who are thinking, "He just doesn't know what he's talking about."

My teams been doing this for a while. We're good at this. We do come in early and stay late. We crush deadlines, and we make things happen! We're all excited about it! We love it! We want it to continue like this!

I've got news for you. You might be the Emperor with no clothes. If you're team is consistently being asked to come in early and stay late. If they are consistently being asked to overcome deadlines. If they're consistently being asked to be hero's, you are going to start to lose your most important people.

What you won't realize is, when a team feels like you are taking from them, in the form of their personal time, in the form of too much of a deadline, too much of them having to over come, to step up, to give their discretionary time, to come in early and stay late. You're team starts to feel like they're being taken advantage of.

As entrepreneurs, we have a team of people, who are coming in every day and building our future dreams! If we're good at it, and if we're good at being entrepreneurs, we can make every person on our team feel like their building their future dreams too, because they are.

When we have people constantly trying to overcome and make things right, and make things work, eventually it will come crashing down on itself. Human beings do not like to live in a state of constant urgency. There's no contrast. When urgency becomes the order of the day, then it's no longer urgent, it's just how things are.

When being a Hero is how you have to show up, not something you do occasionally to step up and make it work, then there's no difference between the day-to-day, and you're business will slowly, and unfortunately, sometimes very quickly lose massive productivity. Sometimes in a short period of time.

I did a video, or a podcast a while ago called, "Spot and the Mutineer." One of the easiest cultures to create a mutiny in is, a Hero culture. If you have that culture where people are constantly coming in early, staying late, having to overcome. It is so easy, for someone on the team, to start questioning, "Hey! Why are we all working overtime, when we don't get paid?" And, "Hey, are you coming in early and staying late?" And, "Isn't everybody kind of overworked and don't we all feel tired?" "Isn't it getting harder by the day?" "Isn't this getting more and more difficult?" "By-the-way, look at how much the CEO is making." "Look at how much he or she is making." "Look how well they're doing and we're the ones doing all the work." In a hero culture, that stuff not only gets heard, it gets acted on.

I, unfortunately have created this culture more than once. When I was younger, in my twenties, this was the only way I knew how to run a company. I created crazy outcomes. I pushed people way too hard. My employee turn was ridiculous, and mutiny's happened all the time.

If fact, a lot of the paranoia have developed around helping entrepreneurs build teams and being able to very quickly understand where the gaps and deficits and exposure is, is because I was an entrepreneur who built teams. Where there were massive gaps, deficits and exposure, because I didn't know otherwise.

For you, you don't have to build the hero culture. It doesn't work. Here's how it really works.

Sit down with your team and create clear outcomes. Get consensus, agreement from your team. That everyone says, "Yes! We can do this! We feel confident we can do this! We get more excited. We can do this!" Make it realistic!

Once you have clear outcomes, have clear accountability as to who on your team is going to do what. Get consensus again. Make sure that they all believe that they can accomplish it.

Then, create transparency. Put up a scoreboard. Make sure you're tracking your metrics or your milestones, so everyone knows where they stand, and you know how close you're getting to the deadline of a project.

Then manage it. Coach your team! Coach their success along the way, and lead them to creating the outcome you want, in a reasonable time frame, and feeling good about it.

When you can get your team to do that consistently over time, you build a team who is trained to win. Who's confident in working with each other. Who comes in on a daily basis and will create a cultural performance.

In a hero culture, whether you hit the deadline or not is up for grabs. In a performance culture, whether you hit the deadline or not, is a guarantee that you're going to hit it. Everybody's going to pull together and make it happen. If there's a gap, somebody will step up. They'll step up and do what it takes and overcome, but they'll do that, because they don't have to do it everyday. It's not the way they live, it's what they do when they need to. There's a massive difference between building a hero culture and building a performance culture.

If you already have some of this going on in your organization, I would suggest you really start looking at how you're driving your people, and how you're asking them to show up.

If you already have a culture where people are coming in early and staying late, and they're getting run down, and they're getting frustrated, look around at your team and you'll see that the people who are there are becoming more difficult to work with. They're having a harder and harder time with showing up. They will start to have difficulty with deadlines.

Eventually, all the heroism, just can't be kept up. You can't consistently be the person who overcomes. You can't consistently pull a rabbit out of your hat. You can't consistently just make things happen. Eventually it comes crashing down. The problem is, the bigger a business you grow with a hero culture, the bigger a downward crash you have when it comes unraveling.

Take it from someone whose been there. When someone acts like a hero in your company, congratulate them. Let them know that you appreciate it. Let them know it meant something to you.

Then also question, why did they have to? That's an issue with the process you have and how you're setting up what you're company is suppose to achieve. If you're consistently asking for unreasonably, more than what you're team can achieve. If you're consistently asking for more than they can do in the time that they have allotted, and there's a consistent need to have a hero. That's not your teams problem. That's a reflection of leadership.

If you've already started to build a hero culture, it's easy to take apart. Clear outcomes. Accountability for each person, around what they're doing. A transparent scoreboard that shows people whether they're accomplishing or not, will keep everyone on your team in momentum, and keep you performing in a predictable way.

Hero cultures can be fun. They can seem really exciting in the short-term, but they are a exhausting way to run a business for you and for your team.

If you haven't yet, sign-up for my Momentum WebClass. This is a one hour presentation that I'm doing ... no sides. Totally different from than anything you've ever seen. Go to and sign-up to spend an hour with me. Let me show you how to create more momentum in your business and your life than you ever thought possible.

Let me show you how to achieve more, do more and be more, without feeling like you're letting those around you down. Let me show you the real reason you're not achieving everything you want to, that no other coach is talking about.

Thank You For Listening!

I am truly grateful that you have chosen to spend your time listening to me and my podcast.

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With gratitude,


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