Company Culture Innovation: An Interview with CIO Don Harkey

Recruiting, hiring and managing the right sales team can be tough and time-consuming!

But it doesn’t have to be. Yes, sales teams work in high pressure environments. And sometimes the competitiveness leads to backbiting. Then there’s that “lone wolf” type–intent on only commissions–exclusive of their colleagues, the company’s mission and customer service.

We interviewed Don Harkey, Chief Innovation Officer at People Centric Consulting Group, to learn more about how to build a culture that rewards teamwork, works to common goals, and maximizes recognition of long-term customer development.

 Niche Media HQ: If you have a difficult employee, what’s the best way to deal with them? Is there a way to turn them around?

 Don: “The best way to deal with them is quickly and often.  The most common mistake supervisors make is that they wait too long to address issues.  Behavior is more easily “nudged” by quick feedback than when feedback is given at an annual evaluation or when the behavior has become so intolerable that you are forced to address it.  Don’t forget to give positive feedback too.  Think about feedback in 3 steps: this is what I saw you do, this is how it helps / hurts the company, I appreciate what you do / what can we change moving forward.  

Remember that you can’t make an employee do anything.  THEY have to decide to change.  The only power a manager has is to clearly state expectations and hold the person accountable.  Many managers struggle with both.  Most supervisors think they are clear, but they are not.  We like to use the term “radical clarity” for supervisors.  Accountability isn’t about yelling at people when they mess up or assigning intentions to them (ex: “I think you are just being lazy”).   Healthy accountability is about repeated focus on actions and results.  The ongoing question should be “What are we going to do next?” when dealing with employees working to change.  As soon as the employee is no longer willing or able to work towards change, it might be time to promote them to another opportunity inside another company.”

Niche Media HQ: Can you share some good guidelines on how to build a culture that rewards teamwork?

Don: “Building a culture of teamwork takes more than saying it.  It requires actually working in teams to solve problems.  We recently worked with a publisher who was trying to promote a team culture between the sales team and editorial staff while still keeping editorial integrity.  The publisher talked about it for years, but it wasn’t really happening.  Finally, we pulled the two teams together and discussed how they could work more effectively with each other.  After some practice and problem solving, the teams began to work more effectively together.  It sounds crazy, but you build a culture of teamwork by working more as a team!”

Niche Media HQ: What publishers are leading the pack in terms of “culture” innovation?

Don:“The publisher that comes to mind was featured in the Niche CEO conference last year, 417 Magazine.  They have worked on their culture for several years, first with some great internal rules around “no office gossip” and “interdependent autonomy”, and then by installing internal systems and processes that support the culture they working to build.  The company creates an annual strategic plan and engages each team in helping them set goals to support the plan.  They run a cross-functional “Core Team” that allows people from different departments to collaborate on improvements.  The company also does a lot of fun, team events like office Olympics and “selfie” walks.   

Building a deliberate, high performance culture requires a lot of work and diligence.  417 has invested a lot and the results have been remarkable.  The company not only enjoys a very positive work environment and superior product quality, they also enjoy strong growth and profitability.”


Editor’s note: Don will be leading the session Building a Sales Team Culture for Maximum Revenue & Minimum Drama at Super Niche, March 27-29, 2017 in Charlotte, NC.



Don Harkey  More about Don: Don Harkey is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at People Centric Consulting Group. People Centric partners with clients to help them to create and implement high performance cultures through clear direction, effective systems, and engaged employees. Don learned the power of fostering a culture that creates high employee engagement when he was a senior-level corporate engineer overseeing millions of dollars in capital projects.


Niche Media has created super niched-out events specifically for magazine publishers for over 12 years. We’ve helped pave the way for the era of boutique events that connect specific audiences and provide great educational, friendly and super-fun environments! Check out the all new Super Niche, March 27-29, 2017!

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