Chris Cancialosi: Shaping High-Performing Culture

YEC Member Spotlight: Chris Cancialosi, Founder & Managing Partner, gothamCulture

Chris Cancialosi, Ph.D., is Managing Partner and Founder of gothamCulture, is a recognized expert in the field of leader and organizational development with particular focus on the leader’s role in shaping high-performing culture. Follow him @gothamculture.


Who is your hero?

While I admire and learn from many people, I really don’t have a hero.


What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?

I learned this from my clients, actually: Don’t believe your own hype. As you grow and begin to do great things, don’t buy into the praise or adulation. Those who do lose their hunger and their lead against the competition. Humility in leadership and entrepreneurship is a principle that has served me well, and I really do believe that setting high standards and never being satisfied is what keeps us sharp and constantly improving.


What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?

Early in our company’s history, I didn’t terminate a key employee in a timely enough manner. I kept hope that we could change his behavior and performance well past the trigger point, and we paid a hefty cost for it. I saw the red flags along the way, yet I held onto hope that things might magically change.


At any point in a company’s evolution, but particularly when you’re a startup, everyone needs to be an A player who can fire on all cylinders for a sustainable period of time. Since this experience, I have gained a new appreciation for decisiveness and speed of execution in people matters. Things don’t usually get better with time. Rip the band-aid off quickly and move on.


What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?

There are two key activities that I do every single morning. I first take a look at our performance dashboards to get an in-depth review of our performance on a variety of metrics. Then I check in with my team. Since we work bi-coastally from New York City and Seattle, I don’t get to see and work with most people on my team physically too often.


I try to use video conference technology whenever possible to check in with folks. It gives us an few minutes to coordinate activities, for me to get additional information to make decisions and for us to just connect on a personal level. It really helps minimize the distance between us and drive alignment across work groups.


What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?

Diversify, diversify, diversify. Focus on diversifying your sources of revenue quickly. Whether it’s looking into additional products or lines of business or making sure you have a greater number of clients actively engaged at any one time, diversification helps you mitigate risk.


There’s no worse position to be in than having one big client engagement suddenly dry up, leaving you holding the bag. We have an unwritten rule to try to ensure that we don’t have more than 10 percent of our revenue coming from one client at any one time.


Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?

Relentlessly seek out people who are smarter than you. Hire people who are smarter than you. Hang out with people who are smarter than you. There’s a ton of tribal knowledge out there just waiting for you to take advantage of. Chances are, whatever you’re facing, someone has been in that position before, and you can learn from their successes as well as their failures.


What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?

Success to me means creating an organization that has lasting value in the space. It means being able to help our clients drive tangible and sustainable business performance in new and exciting ways through the lens of culture and leadership. It also means bringing on and developing a team who can one day continue the journey when I’m gone. The day I am no longer needed in my own company is the day that I’ve succeeded in creating something bigger than myself.


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