Cindy Lo | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Cindy Lo

Background:  

Red Velvet Events has been calling Austin home since 2002 and produces events of all sizes and budgets around the world. The company specializes in internationally-awarded corporate events.

The Mistake:

I underestimated the importance of company culture and didn't identify it early on.

When I first started this company, I was very adamant that we were a small team so in some ways I ignored the signs that we needed to be bigger. And, how you run a four-person company is very different from how you run an eight-person company.

As we were growing through growth spurts, I thought I knew what a culture was. I didn’t realize just how much how each individual either contributed positively or negatively to the culture itself. They either got it, or they didn’t. I was making excuses for the naysayers such as, “Oh, they’re new.” Or, “This is their first real job in the workforce. They’re still learning.”

I used to reward my employees based solely on their work, meaning that if an event was successful and the client was happy, I would reward based on that. What I didn’t realize until much later, after I had taken a step back, was that some team members would try to achieve that at any cost. They would even throw another team member under the bus or not be very team-oriented. This ended up causing a lot of friction on the team. So I ultimately realized I was rewarding for the wrong things. Of course I wanted successful events and happy clients, but not at the expense of other team members.

I came to learn that it’s so important to find people that embody and want to live and breathe your culture.

The Lesson:

Someone on my leadership team pointed out to me what was going on, and for that I’m very thankful. Once I realized what was happening and I more clearly identified what I wanted in our company culture, we ended up seeing a lot of churn at first.

If I had realized all of that earlier, I would have probably nipped it in the bud sooner. I came to learn that it’s so important to find people that embody and want to live and breathe your culture. If you can’t find that person, or those people, then it hurts the team and overall morale. So, we did go through a lot of turnover until we got our groove and figured out what worked. I had to clean house and that was very painful. In some cases, I was having to let go of my most productive employees – or at the very least put them on a plan. It didn’t happen in one fell swoop, we did it in phases.

I truly believe in the best of people and that if I can turn them around and make them see that being a team player is better than being a self-promoter, then that’s great. But honestly, most of the folks I had to have talks with chose to leave or we agreed to part ways because they were not on board with the new mission.

Moving forward, I began to reward more on team efforts. I made clear that it’s important that when everyone on a team benefits, then people who lead those efforts look like a rock star. You might have killed it at an event but if you don’t bring your teammates with you, you just look like more of a jerk. If I had realized this earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have lost so many people who were put off by the self-promoters. Although it’s still very much a slow-moving process, morale has improved 200 percent.

We implemented a new system to encourage team members to reward other team members via Youearnedit.com. This has helped too. It’s a hard balance but it’s important to communicate to both employees and managers what the company culture should be. If you don’t give enough direction or send mixed signals as a leader, you could be setting them up for failure and send everyone in disarray.

At the end of the day, I knew I would sleep much better even if I didn’t make the most money if everyone grew as a team and a company than with just one person taking the credit.

 

Follow Red Velvet Events on Twitter at @RedVelvetEvents.

Pictured: Cindy Lo. | Photo courtesy of Red Velvet Events.

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