Recently I had the opportunity to interview Jocelyn DeGance Graham from CloudNOW for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.

Jocelyn’s company CloudNOW is a nonprofit for women in tech. Last year CloudNOW launched a scholarship program to support future female leaders in tech from underserved backgrounds, providing them with STEM scholarship funding. Through this program, these scholarship recipients are escaping generational poverty and securing lucrative technical positions at top international companies.

Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?

Jocelyn DeGance Graham:

· Pay it Forward: we use our superpowers for good and actively seek to help others.

· Diversity: Creating a culture of belonging, where everyone is welcome and valued.

· Economic Justice: we strive to end cycles of poverty and under privilege and create a true meritocracy.

Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”

Jocelyn: Work is not a one size fits all environment, this goes for Boomers, Xers, Yers, Millennials, as well as the future Alphas. People are motivated by different things and more important than being prescriptive is to understand what motivates your employees at the individual level. One person might love to have lunch with the Founder, another might value the ability to represent the company and speak at a conference, or another would appreciate being able to work from home one day a week. Get to know your people and manage based on that relationship in that way your are spot on the ‘Millennial mindset’:

  1. Flexible work environment- You don’t have to be at your desk to be working. Focus on outcomes not hours in office.
  2. Support professional development and networking- Don’t stifle creativity and growth or worry about losing people. Instead, encourage employees to present and participate at job related conferences. This builds your brand, and keeps employees engaged as well as helps them to see what the next step in their career looks like.
  3. Live the Mission- employees are looking for purpose and connection to each other and to customers. Foster an environment that allows each person to understand his / her unique connection and influence to your organization’s mission.
  4. Feedback- Early, often, candid. Allow for open flow of communication and when giving feedback be open to receiving.

Krish: What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why.


1) Embrace candor and open communication, the more transparent and authentic a company’s culture, the more likely it is that issues will be resolved before they grow into intractable problems. Years ago when I was working at HP, I thought that I was doing a great job and really being a top contributor on my team. I was totally off base about contributions; I was pursuing my muse and not being big picture focused. My manager took me aside and spent a couple hours talking to me about what was important to her and how she was being evaluated by her manager. I learned that what I valued although interesting to me was not aligned with the organization’s goals. My manager thought enough to have a heart to hear with me before it impacted my performance review or jeopardize my standing in the team. I was one of the kindest experiences I have ever had in the work setting because the feedback and what I needed to do was clear.

2) Principles before Profits, the growth above all mindset can corrupt even the most noble of pursuits. Profits pursued at all costs become a cancer to the DNA of an organization. There is no end to examples of this in the business setting, most recently Uber under the leadership ofKalanick, and Facebook’s selling of customer data to Cambridge Analytica, and tracking shadow profiles.

3) There’s no room for brilliant jerks or bros, rewarding a high performer who is creating a toxic work culture in the end will rot your company from the inside out. This ties into #2 as leaders need to ask themselves do I care about the bottom line more than any other pursuit. In response to the bro culture, which Emily Change has coined as ‘brotopia’, there is now a growing movement among female entrepreneurs who are only accepting money from VCs with female investors — and there is a huge movement among female VCs, such as AllRaise.Orgto coach and invest in female leaders.

4) Support a Cause, Create opportunities (or at least support through paid time off) for your employees to make positive impact on their communities.

5) Be Mission Driven, Having an authentic and purpose driven Mission will allow you to compete for top talent, especially among Millenials who are looking for more than just generating a paycheck. Through my career, selecting companies that were making impact and that resonated with me was my highest priority; I believed that through following what I was passionate about the money would find its way to me — and I was right. Not only did I achieve that outcome, but the people and resources that I needed to execute on that Mission appeared.

Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?

Jocelyn: Everyone is responsible for creating company culture, however, none more so than the executives at the top who set the tone for the entire organization. Many executives, especially male executives, think that ‘profitability’ and ‘strong culture’ mean the same thing, when they are in fact entirely missing the point. Are your employees passionate about your Mission? Do they recommend family and friends to job openings at your company? Are they proud to work for you? A healthy work environment honors both the employee AND the customer in equal regard.

Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?

Jocelyn: The mistake I see is that Culture is not purposefully created and modeled but instead becomes a kind of Winchester Mystery House by default. By the time the company is hitting the growth stage, it’s too late. Then we get ‘brotopia’ environments and the soulless pursuit of profit at any cost.

Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?

Jocelyn: It’s not a hack, but it is lasting and powerful: the first thing a young CEO should do is take a measured and methodical personal inventory. You cannot be an effective leader or build a purposeful culture if you don’t bring your best self to your organization. It’s only though authenticity that a strong company culture can be built.

And since the other part of the equation is how that self you are bringing to the table relates to others, you need to experience yourself and get real feedback in the context of interpersonal dynamics — like an intensive/ immersive T-group which is designed to give you in depth and immediate feedback.

Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?

Jocelyn: I am a huge fan of Kim Scott’s ‘Radical Candor: How to be a kickass boss without losing your humanity”. It should be required reading for any leader. Too often the feedback we give is convoluted and about as directive as reading tea leaves. We worry that we are not being ‘kind’. The kindest thing you can do when managing someone is to be supportive and give crystal clear feedback.

Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?

Jocelyn: It would depends on what ‘bad’ means and to what extent. If your boss is harassing you, that’s a show stopper, and you go Susan Fowler on him/ her.

If you have a garden variety bad boss the steps I’d recommend would be to first document everything — keep notes, keep emails, etc (these are your personal records, you won’t share this unless the situation can’t be resolved). Then invite your boss to a meeting — this way you are prepared and you control the timing — tell your boss what you need in terms of direction, support, etc. Stay positive, and be fact, not emotion, driven. Punctuate the conversation with examples and data. Ask your boss about his/ her goals and see if there’s any changes you need to make in order to support.

If you have taken these steps and your boss is still terrible now’s the time to get out that documentation and present it to someone in the management chain who has influence and who you think would be appreciative of learning this information. You may also want to seek out other colleagues who are having similar issues.

Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?

Jocelyn: Give back — step outside yourself and your day to day worries. I firmly believe that we can only achieve happiness by being in service of others — paid VTO (volunteer time off) for employees to pursue opportunities for doing good in the world and our local communities.

A note to the readers: Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization. If you learned one thing in this interview, please share this with someone close to you.

A special thanks to Jocelyn DeGance Graham again!

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  • Krish Chopra

    2x entrepreneur and founder of NP Hub. Let’s discuss leadership, scaling, and relationships to serve communities that need more support! In ATL

    Krish Chopra is the founder of NPHub. He believes in two truths: everything is a learnable skill and real leadership involves caring for others. Krish’s mission is to better support underserved communities and he and his team are currently serving the nursing industry so students have more resources to graduate on-time. He’s also contributes to major publications such as Forbes, Fast Company, and Inc., and has been featured in a dozen more.