Archives for posts with tag: las vegas

What allows us to feel like we belong somewhere?

How do we harness belonging to create buy-in for our teams and how do outside influences affect our own sense of belonging in the world? What can damages that sense of belonging? How do we avoid destroying what we seek to create?

In Daniel Coyle’s book , The Culture Code – which I reviewed here, he puts forth the idea that the things that create great culture in groups and teams do so by triggering a sense of belonging. These are things such as uniforms, special phrases or codes, and a shared vision of purpose. By triggering these ‘belonging cues’ we feel safe and part of a collective. We have shared values and a shared identity. This feeling of belonging is even more strongly triggered when there is an outside enemy our outside set of circumstances.

The fear of the outsider being used as a rallying cry for uniting a people has a dark reputation in history, but also has its more positive outcomes as well. The dramatic drop in crime in New York city in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks being an obvious example.

My own personal sense of belonging was also triggered in the shadow of tragedy.

When the 10/1/17 mass shooting happened at the Route 91 Festival in my adoptive hometown of Las Vegas, which killed 58 people (60 at the time of this writing), there was obviously shock and horror from not just people in Las Vegas, but also around the country. People who live in Las Vegas have an odd relationship with its tourist nature, in as much as there is great respect for the people who visit and for the things that draw them to our town, but that does not necessarily mean that we want much do with those people or those parts of the town. However, to attack those things, and those people is very much seen as an attack on the entire city. A city based on welcoming strangers to our town, and hoping that they have a good time during their visit.

The reaction of the city, with people lining up around the block to donate blood, the general feeling of outrage that this could happen, and that someone could abuse our hospitality in such a hideous manner, created a greater sense of ownership of this odd place in the desert where I live than at any other time in previous five years of my residency.

But something else happened at the same time in Las Vegas.

The city got its first professional sports team in the Vegas Golden Knights (VGK).

To the hockey world and the sports pundits, this was less than a joke. A city which had no history of support for major league sports, that has shown little interest in hockey, and where it was 115 degrees in the summer. It seemed like a terrible idea from just about every corner. However, at its darkest hour – or what certainly felt like its darkest hour at the time, the Vegas Golden Knights showed that they wanted to be part of the community, which let’s face it – they were not.

What happened next is the stuff of fairy tales. An unprecedented run for the Stanley Cup, and a city adopting a sport and a team as their own – making Las Vegas one of the best places to experience a hockey game in the country. For the whole story of that first year, I cannot recommend enough the documentary “Valiant” the trailer for which you will find below.

 I should explain that this point explain that I have no time for sports. Apart from the odd summer evening watching baseball, more for the company and enjoying the summer evening in a crowd, than for anything happening on the field, sports was something that other people did.  So, the question becomes, how did I become the owner of three hockey jerseys? What happened that first year of the Vegas Golden Knights, and in successive years, to make mee feel like they were my team, but also to become proud and emotional about my adoptive hometown? How did I come to believe that I belonged as a Vegas Golden Knights fan and that by extension that I felt ownership of a city that is, by definition, a place to be visited?

The Route 91 tragedy was obviously a horrible event for all concerned, but it was also a serious blow to the city and to its self-image. Las Vegas – America’s playground to quote the movie Ocean’s Eleven – a safe place for people to go a little wild. To shatter that image in the eyes of the wider world, also damaged that image in the eyes of the people who live and work here. The Vegas Golden Knights were also a team with an image problem. The players were all cast offs from other teams, and they were expected to be the worst team in the league that year – and possibly for years to come. That alignment of adversity created shared purpose.

And then against all odds the Golden Knights started, and kept, winning. A city which needed something to cheer and be happy about – got it in spades. The Vegas Golden Knights belonged to Las Vegas and Las Vegas belonged to the Vegas Golden Knights.

But there was more than fate at work in this bonding. The Vegas Golden Knights created their own medieval pantomime as a branding exercise; however, they also adopted the symbols and sounds that have come to epitomize Las Vegas. The sounds of coins, the roll of a dice, a mascot named “Chance,” “Viva Las Vegas, and just the very golden coloring of anything and everything in sight made the Golden Knights feel like Las Vegas, but also to feel that it was okay to embrace the visitor tropes of Las Vegas.

People like to take pride in things, and it was easy to take pride in the Vegas Golden Knights. The fan experience was considered the best in the league, they continued to play well, cleanly, and get involved in the community. It also brought pride to the city because the Golden Knights did not exist for visitors – although all are welcome. They existed for the residents of Las Vegas.

The symbols of Golden Knights became synonymous with the city of Las Vegas, and with #VegasStrong. The uniforms, symbols, the shared experience of adversity, and the games created a whole new culture. A culture that the people of Las Vegas could belong to.

For that first Vegas Golden Knights season in 2017 / 2018 I was not a fan or even really bought into the culture. I was aware of it building all around me; but being aware of how the triggering of belonging cues can feel like manipulation I tried to stay aloof. It was not until the beginning of the 2018 / 2019 season, and going to my first game, that I finally succumbed, and ultimately embraced the sport and the team.

Fast forward to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first game of the second round. The Vegas Golden Knights vs. the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado were considered the favorites, of not just the series, but of the entire playoffs. Game one is a disaster for the Golden Knights. A 7-1 loss. Not only do they look out classed on the ice, but they show their frustration by getting into fights and giving up penalties. This culminates in Vegas enforcer Ryan Reeves kneeing on the head of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves in apparent retaliation for an earlier hit by Graves on Vegas player Janmark. Reeves was tossed from the game and received a two-game suspension. The VGK receive an extraordinary nine-minute penalty, and arguably play their best hocky of the game for the first seven minutes of that penalty, until two Vegas players decide they would rather hit a Colorado player rather than defend, and Colorado scores yet again.

This game caused a great crisis of faith for me. In the game and in the team I had come to love. Vegas is known as a team that plays “heavy, but clean.” Reeves actions, seemed dangerous, petty, and revengeful. In addition, the entire team seemed petulant at the resounding loss. To add to the disappointment, Reeves had been an outspoken advocate for police reform in the light of the George Floyd murder, and yet here he was kneeling on the head of another player. A professional, using excessive force because he could.

Chuck Klosterman in his book “But What If We Are Wrong?,” which I reviewed here, talks about the fall in popularity of boxing, and the potential for the fall of professional football, due to mainstream occasional fans, as opposed to dedicated “my team can do no wrong” kind of fans, being turned off by the serious life threatening injuries than can occur in those sports.

At the end of that game against Colorado, I was ashamed to be a Golden Knights fan. I believed that they had betrayed what they stood for. Other fans had a problem with them losing in such spectacular form – I didn’t. My problem was with them seeming to being petty and vengeful.

Game two of the series, while still a loss for Vegas, began to restore my faith in the team as they acquitted themselves as professionals.

However, just nine games later again my faith would be shaken. Testing my commitment to this sport and to being a fan. This time due to the behavior of the fans themselves.

Round Three, Game four, was not a good game for Vegas. Ultimately a 4-1 loss for the VGK at home. However, seeing your team booed off the ice at the end of the second period and at the end of a power play but their own fans was more than a little disquieting. As was the failure of the two people next to me and the eight people in front of me not returning to their seats for the 3rd period. I did not want to belong to a fan base that only supported a team when they were winning. Near the end of the game, Montreal scored an empty net gold making the score 4-1. There has always been fans who leave near the end of a game when it is obvious that their team is going to lose. This, however, was not a few fans.

This was an exodos.

I estimated 2/3s to 3/4s of the auditorium.         

It was heartbreaking for the players I’m sure. Yes, they did not play well, or it would seem with much heart, but they did not deserve to be treated that way. Vegas has always seemed to have a hospitable fan base. Welcoming opposing fan bases into T-Mobile Arena, making sure they felt welcome in our barn and in our city. It has also forgiven its team for its losses and supported them as they once supported us. Its one of the things that I love about supporting the team – everyone was generally ways positive, friendly to all, and just wanting to have a good time. It the light of this game some fans expressed that the team deserved it as they had not shown up to play, and that far worse happened at other areas with other teams.

But that misses the point. Vegas was supposed to be different.

Cultures are made up of shared beliefs, shared values, and a shared sense of identity. This is reenforced by the sharing of uniforms, language, and customs. Damage to the sense of belonging by upending any of these threatens that fragile culture.

I myself have found myself feeling like an outsider in a culture I helped create in an online community, due to the shifting priorities of those in charge, a lack of inclusiveness, and a feeling that my sense of wanting to contribute was devalued and unappreciated. The feeling that I’m getting far less out than I’m putting in is often why people leave companies.

We mess with shared values and culture at our peril. These are fragile things. Belonging allows us to feel safe. It flips a switch in our cave-person brain and tells us “it’s ok,” “you are among friends,” “the saber tooth tigers are not going to get you today.”

But belonging goes further. Belonging allows us to feel. To connect. To bond. To Think.

All we do as humans is think, feel, and run around.

Cultures have to be fought for, to champion for, but they are not a bottomless well. When that sense of belonging is gone, it is gone for good.

I am still a Golden Knights fan, but there were some ugly moments for our team and the fan base during these playoffs.

Our teams that we lead and belong to, if we are lucky, have the same sense of belonging that fans feel for sports teams. But we can damage them just as easily as sports teams can by our actions and inactions.

Belonging is what we all want. But it can never be taken for granted.

letters

Ten Days.

It’s been ten days since we stopped allowing clients into our building.

I could not believe it today when I made an updated client blog post, you can read it here if want, that it had been ten days since the last one.

It feels like three days ago.

The days have melded together.

We are getting into our stride, and everyone is adapting.

Some genius (not me) suggested numbering our parking spots and marking them out in chalk. Someone else suggested papering basic instructions and our phone number on our windows.

But at home it all melts into one.

Again, I’m still very lucky. I’m employed and well. I have a vaguely normal schedule. I’m not on the front lines, even in the veterinary world. Its more, so much more, than many.

But I can only decompress and try to relax, or go back to work.

I’m either on or off. There is no middle ground.

It’s grief.

That’s the only word I can find for it.

Grief for the dog park.

Grief for dinner with colleagues or friends.

Grief for home projects, for which I always have had boundless energy.

Grief for Hockey, I miss my Golden Knights.

Grief for meeting with my team, usually the highlight of my working week.

Grief for my town, everyone else’s playground that I call home.

Grief for how things used to be.

I am so spoiled.

My loss is measured in an unwillingness to do vaguely productive things with my free time.

Until my friends start to get sick, as one did today.

Until my friends tell me of clinic owners wanting to cut their losses and sell.

Until my 90-year-old Mom starts off our weekly transatlantic phone call with “I’m not sick.”

Until the worry, fear, anger, frustration, boil over into words.

It’s been ten days since we stopped allowing clients into our building.

vegas small

The worst week of my working life.

I’m sure it is the same for a lot of you.

I’m lucky.

We were prepared.

We had a plan.

We are open.

I have a job.

I am well (so far).

But I am pretty beaten.

The constant planning, changing of the plan, and then changing again.

Messaging to staff and clients, much of it contradictory, from day to day.

The difficult conversations; “it’s not enough” through to “it’s too much.”

The constant conversations, decisions, and monitoring of decisions.

Getting into work first, and leaving late.

Snapping at people who are just trying to keep things light and being their normal upbeat selves. Or whom are not as quick at checking their email as you would like.

Trying to enforce social distancing.

Seeing the town I love, and I’m proud to call my home, look like it is dying.

The constant, ever present, worry about colleagues, friends, and family.

I am not ashamed to say I cried at my desk yesterday.

But I did not cry because of all of the above. I cried because I as posted that we would be cutting our hours, not letting clients into our building, and fearing, as I have for weeks, for what is to come, a client responded:

“So typical of Craig Road, they care about their patients, and pet parents. ❤️”

And what I thought about is my colleagues.

The team I work with.

The ones who have done everything they can to help prepare, implement new policies, and new cleaning regiments. Who have been dedicated to ensuring we had the basic supplies we need to be there for our patients. Who accepted daily temperature checks like is was the most normal thing in the world. Those who have had really bad days and still are at work, and want to work, to look after our clients, and our patients.

My Team.

The internal culture of workplaces can be a fragile thing. But it can also be resilient. They can even thrive in adversity. People check in on other people. Making sure that their colleagues are OK.

Making sure that I’m OK.

The stuff of nightmares, does not have to be a nightmare.

Undoubtedly, the worst is yet to come.

We will get through it.

Things will be different.

We will have changed.

But we will also have grown, and we will have our teams with us.

Stay safe.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.)

 

 Zappos, Tony Hsieh, and the Downtown Project are controversial subjects in some quarters of Las Vegas – although I have always been a supporter. In my opinion, it is hard to not give credit to Mr. Hsieh for having the courage, faith, and energy, to move his company and sink millions into the depressed center of Las Vegas, a city I love living in and call home.

That makes Aimee Groth’s tell all book about living inside, or at least partially inside, the bubble of Tony Hsieh’s circle throughout the first five years of the Downtown Project all the more difficult, and fascinating to read. With Ms. Groth becoming part, if not the driving force, of the narrative this is very much a piece of Gonzo journalism which gives some first person perspective to the stresses and confusion that many in the story recall.

To give some background, Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos, an online shoe retailer which is owned by Amazon. In 2013, Zappos moved its headquarters into the former city hall building of Downtown Las Vegas. Downtown Las Vegas, and in particular the area east of Las Vegas Boulevard, had been a rundown collection of tattoo parlors, pawn shops, seedy bars, and ultra-cheap motels. With the result, it had all the problems of a depressed city center, with homelessness, prostitution, and drug dealing on most street corners. With Zappos’s move to Downtown, Mr. Hsieh created the “Downtown Project” with $350 million of his own money. Almost half the money was earmarked for the purchasing of real-estate with the rest to be invested in businesses and startups centered in Downtown Las Vegas. The stated goals of the Downtown Project was not only the creation of a new business and a technology startup environment, but to make Downtown a place with a thriving innovation culture.

The story follows Ms. Groth’s intial conversations with Mr. Hsieh and other invited guests to the Downtown Project, through partying and becoming part of Mr. Hsiehs entourage, the first cracks appearing in the startup culture, to the major reorganization of the Downtown Project, and the internal strife at Zappos due to the move downtown and Holacracy. Holacracy is a new management system and communication tool that was adopted by Zappos. I reviewed Brian J. Robertson’s book on Holacracy here.

However, the main thrust of “The Kingdom of Happiness” is on Mr. Hsieh’s, and those around him’s, response to these events and to their motives in the first place. As the story is told there is almost a willful lack of support, and management, given to the early entrepreneurs, lured to Las Vegas with promises of financing to follow their dreams and the expectation of mentoring. With the result that many were essentially setup to fail, or at the very least felt that way.

“…the young entrepreneurs who didn’t naturally seek out assistance or know how to navigate an ecosystem like this were left to fend for themselves.” – From The Kingdom of Happiness.

There is also a darker undercurrent that flows through the book, and that is the potential conflict of interest in the due roles of the Downtown Project as both landlord and investor to various new and startup businesses. At one point in the book an entrepreneur wonders at the oddness of trying to avoid their investor and business partner, because they are also their landlord. There are numerous mentions throughout the book by those in the Downtown Project, that a source of profits for the Downtown Project is the real estate rather than in the businesses they have investments in. An uncharitable reading might question the ethics, or morality, of this arrangement.

 What I feel is the main takeaway from the book, and makes it of particular interest to business people,  is the balance between Vision, Leadership, and Management, and how this seems to have gone awry at both Zappos and the Downtown Project. At one point Mr. Hsieh snaps at Ms. Groth that he is not a leader but a visionary and it is hard to argue with him. But if Mr. Hsieh is not leading then who is?

The move to Holacracy, a system that dispenses with traditional management structures, through the lens of Ms. Groth’s book, seems to be an imperfect answer to some difficult questions. There has been plenty of vision at Downtown Project and Zappos. There is also some merit in the argument that there has also been leadership at Zappos (you don’t undertake something like Holacracy without leadership pointing the way). But the cult of personality surrounding Mr. Tsieh, and Zappos’s focus on its non- traditional internal culture, maybe filling in for actual leadership.

What is clear, particularly at the Downtown Project, is that there has been a failure of leadership through a lack of management. In a drive to be different, focus on making things “happen,” and create a self-sustaining entrepreneurial culture, the basic structures and support networks have never been put in place that would seem to be a prerequisite for this type of project.

I, for one, am a supporter of the Downtown Project and Zappos – particularly for Zappos’s focus on internal culture. One only has to walk through downtown to see the enormous impact that Downtown Project and Zappos have had. However, there have been significant costs, and without examining the issues that The Kingdom of Happiness raises we are doomed to repeat them. In business, but particularly in the startup culture, there is a focus on leadership to the expense of everything else and an almost dismissal of management. What the story that Ms. Groth tells us is that visionaries abandon management at their peril and that leadership, while the key ingredient in all successful companies, cannot survive without good management.

 

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

 

If you live in Las Vegas…Check!

Have an interest in management and business issues… Check!

And know a number of people in the Downtown / Zappos / entrepreneur community… Check!

Then you can’t help but have heard of Holacracy.

Normally the tones of conversations about Holacracy, and in particular of Zappos’s ’embrace it or leave’ offer to their staff, mix wonder and an unbelieving shake of the head normally reserved for parents of teenagers. This new book by Brian J. Robertson aims to change all that.

The funny thing is that it actually does a pretty good job.

The first real hint that there is more here than just a new business book, is in that the author has been involved in Lean software development and it is almost a throwaway comment- which is unfortunate. Lean is becoming a highly respected way of changing how companies work (please see my review of Lean Hospitals for a better explanation) and there are some interesting commonalities that someone, better versed in both than myself, needs to explore.

At its core, Holacracy is the deconstruction of work into roles, accountabilities, domains, and polices and giving employees the freedom, and the structure, to make modifications when “tensions” arise without the formal structure of supervisors and management. Interestingly, a lot of the housekeeping of Holacracy is in preserving the integrity of the process rather than the comfort of the employees. “It is difficult to hide from empowerment when the organizational process around you continually shines a light on your hiding place.”

Of course, if you are looking for things to turn you off such as parody worthy jargon; “In Tactical Meetings circle members use a fast-paced forum to deal with their ongoing operations, synchronize team members, and triage any difficulties that are preventing progress.” then you will find it. However, it is worth embracing one of the key conceits of the author when describing the adoption or even understanding of a system such as Holacracy: The rules of any game fade into the background when everyone knows what they are doing and how they should do it. It is only when someone breaks the rules, or does not know them well enough, that the rules come into sharp relief.

For those of us who are constantly looking to upgrade our management tool box, there is a lot you will recognize from other areas and other ideas what are worth re-purposing if a complete adoption of Holacracy is never even on your mind. The structured checkins at the beginning of meetings, for example, I am already planning on adopting along with the book’s strategy definition.

Of course, a book of this length (it is a short 200 pages that I read in a morning) can be nothing more than a appetizer or introduction to the world of Holacracy. I would have liked to have seen a few more diagrams and a decent FAQ section: The idea that the CEO of a company unadopt Holacracy at any time but is not above the rules is great to know; but would have been nicer to hear on page 10 rather than page 152!

My main criticism of the book, however, is in the field of Human Resources. What does the disciplinary process look like in a Holacracy? What does termination look like? How does that jive with legal and privacy issues? There is mention of compensation models, but these are brief and experimental at best.

There is something really interesting going on here with Holacracy and it deserves a more positive press that it currently seems to be receiving; hopefully this book will help change that.

But it is not a panacea – at least not yet.

But is is worth your time to find out why!

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