Hugh Massie with DNA Behavior

Culture Champion

Episode #101

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Hugh Massie with DNA Behavior discusses the hard truth about the connection of human personality and business success. Personality Assessments give leadership the tools necessary to build a strong team and a solid company culture!

Hugh Massie

Hugh Massie

Founder and CEO of DNA Behavior

Since 2001, I have been spending my time traveling the world, encouraging entrepreneurs and other leaders to accelerate human performance through the practical application of behavioral insights, fostering personal and business development. 

As the Founder and Chief Human Performance Accelerator at DNA Behavior International, I empower people and businesses worldwide to make Behaviorally SMART decisions in order to live a quality life with meaning. Simultaneously, I am providing travel and adventure experiences for my family, with a global perspective.

My real-world application of behavioral insights, blended with strong financial skills, gives me the unique capability to design a variety of human performance apps and serve as a corporate strategist, coach, mentor, and trainer. 

I am the author of “Financial DNA – Discovering Your Unique Financial Personality for a Quality Life” and the forthcoming (September 2019) “Leadership Behavior DNA: Discovering Your Unique Talents,” with co-author Lee Ellis, in which we share the eight factors and 16 traits that create the unique design and talents for work and relationships. I also have written or contributed to many other publications and spoken extensively about human performance acceleration through behavioral insights. 

My specialties: As an advocate of the “Play Bigger” strategy, I am a recognized champion in: the practical application of behavioral insights, design of innovative behavioral management solutions, behavioral finance and risk profiling, business mentoring, communication, human capital management, family succession planning, corporate governance.

His Company

His Company

The World’s Only All-in-One Behavior Tech Platform

DNA Behavior International is a behavioral sciences firm established in 2001 to empower real-time behavioral management. We use validated behavioral insights for enabling the delivery of meaningful employee and client experiences customized to their unique style.

We tackle the problem that 87% of business and life performance challenges are caused by behavioral differences. Our approach recognizes that the No 1 desire of every person is to feel understood and be treated uniquely.

Therefore, we use validated behavioral insights for empowering people and businesses worldwide to communicate more effectively and make smart decisions, capitalizing on their strengths and managing their struggles.

We deploy our proprietary “Behavior Tech Platform” directly inside businesses so that they can access on a real-time basis scalable and easy to use online behavioral management solutions to “Know, Engage and Grow” every employee and client. This fosters more client-centered businesses which deliver high performance. Our solutions represent a unique comprehensive behavioral tech and data platform with a broad spectrum of *validated* personality insights, addressing financial planning, organizational development, leadership, marketing, relationships and a variety of life situations. Among other things, we help investors, advisors, and leaders behavioralize money, minimizing emotion in crucial decisions.

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Full Transcript

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Epic Company Culture Podcast, where your host, Josh Sweeney, will give you, the business leaders, HR professionals, and company culture aficionados the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.

Prototype Prime


Josh Sweeney: Hello and welcome to the Epic Company Culture Podcast. Before we get started, I would like to thank Prototype Prime for this amazing podcast space. Today, we are joined by Hugh Massie from DNA Behavior. Hugh, thanks for coming in.

Hugh Massie: Josh, it’s great to be with you.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. We appreciate you taking the time. So, to get started off, tell us a little bit about yourself and your organization.

Introducing Hugh Massie



Hugh Massie: Well, for myself, I am actually a reformed accountant, which is quite an unusual career change from moving from the accountancy corporate world, wealth management, to a business that’s in the field of behavioral sciences.

Josh Sweeney: Nice. And tell us about DNA Behavior.

DNA Behavior


Hugh Massie: So, DNA Behavior is a behavioral sciences firm and what we have done is pioneered the development of some online behavioral management solutions to help businesses deliver very meaningful, customized experiences to their employees and clients.

We are particularly a leader in the field of behavioral finance, working in the wealth management industry to help a financial advisor understand their client, helping investors make better investment decisions, and just recently, we’ve built quite a presence in what’s called the financial wellness market, which is very interesting, which is all behavioral and getting people to think about money differently and change their behaviors in that area.

Leadership Development and Team Building


Hugh Massie: But we also, Josh, do a lot of work in leadership development, team building, and I think this is where it’s great that you’re doing your work in Epic Culture, because I think at the end of the day, what we’re both doing is trying to change the culture of business out there.

Personality Assessments


Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. And by having the behavior analytics, the personality assessments, all the information to go along with that, we can definitely understand why things happen based on personalities, and then understand how do we go create the outcomes that we want? Yeah.

Hugh Massie: Well, many people forget that the root cause of most business problems is human behavior, and I think if you can learn to get to the bottom of that and deal with it in a nice way, empathetic way, with listening, with respect, acceptance, then you can go a long way to actually solving the business problem.

Most Memorable Culture Experience


Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. So, let’s talk about human behavior, some of your experiences, and dive into the cultural side of that. So, my first question for you is, what is, other than your own organization, what is the most memorable good company culture experience you had?

Hugh Massie: So, the most memorable and good culture experience I had was actually in DNA Behavior itself. When, very early on in the business, we had developed the profile system, and one day I had a very awkward conversation with the COO of the business at the time. We just sat there for an hour talking and we both left the room really tired. I went home and I was just exhausted. I came back the next morning and I said, “Gary, how did you feel when you got home?”

Hugh Massie: He said, “I felt really tired.” I said, “Do you think it’s that conversation we had yesterday?” He said, “I think it could be.”

Search for the Cause


Hugh Massie: What we did was we had the profile system and we had everybody’s strength, and struggles, and communication keys on little cards, on their business card. So, I said, “Pull out your business card and let’s have a look at where this might have gone wrong.” Particularly for me, as the leader, I had to go first in this awkward conversation and be vulnerable myself. And I said, “Okay, so here are some of my strengths and struggles.”

Hugh Massie: What I’d really done is I’m a person who thinks about an idea for a little while and then I can bombard people with them and expect them to pick it up, understand it, and be ready to roll. When I get someone who pushes back and starts contradicting me, it can become very energy draining. We then looked at My Unique Profile performance keys card at that time and you could see that what I had done was just overwhelmed him.

Cultural Solution


Hugh Massie: So, the cultural moment out of that came that, what we agreed was, “I will raise these ideas, but I’m going to give you three to five business days to go away and think about it, and then we’ll have a conversation and I’ll absorb your ideas, and we’ll get to the solution.”

Hugh Massie: I learned to treat everybody uniquely inside the business and do that. I think that’s been a success formula for me. I really do believe it’s fundamental to the culture of our company, but also what I want others to be doing as well out there.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. I actually think I had one of those conversations the other day, where it was like both exacerbated at the end and like, “Where did that go wrong?” You know?

Hugh Massie: Yeah.

Communication Understanding


Josh Sweeney: It’s definitely communication and understanding, you know, who are you communicating with? What is their style? What is my style? We’re very aware of those, but even with all of that awareness, it takes a lot of effort to make sure you communicate in that way.

Hugh Massie: The problem is, is Josh, you can be under pressure and then you loose yourself in your own style and you fail to become aware of others. It’s just the way it happens. You know, the reality is, most people give you grace for this to happen a few times, but it can’t keep on happening. That’s where then you see the workplace challenge of the employee doesn’t want to work for their manager anymore because they don’t like the way that they’re communicated with. They don’t feel like they’re being respected or heard. They don’t feel their talents are being used and then they walk away. It all starts with poor communication.

Having the Culture Conversation TODAY


Hugh Massie: To me, we’re having the culture conversation today, that’s got to be a big pillar of building a great culture. There are many other things, which we can get into, but that is a big one.

Josh Sweeney: Definitely. So, that was one of your most memorable experiences in what you do and in your organization. What’s an experience that kind of left the biggest negative culture impression in maybe one of your past roles?

The Negative Experience


Hugh Massie: Yeah, well, it’s in one of my past roles and it’s very memorable. When I worked in the big corporate world in a Big Four accountancy firm. I was still pretty young and I can remember partners at the time just working me into the ground, and then yelling at me, “Why haven’t I got this?”

Hugh Massie: I said, “Guys, I’ve just worked 18 hours every day this week for you and you’re yelling at me to get more out of me. What’s going on here?”

Creating the Toxic Culture


Hugh Massie: It was really more the abusive. It was quite regular and it was quite an abusive environment. I think that creates quite a toxic culture, and then it builds politics up with it, and there’s bullying involved in it. That was really, at the end of the day, what sort of got me to question my own passion and want to leave. I thought, “Okay. If everybody around me is miserable and everybody else is dealing with this nonsense, why be here?”

Hugh Massie: If no one’s got a smile on their face when they’re at work, it’s not a good place to be.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. Was there an experience you had in other roles prior to DNA that you said, you know, maybe when you built DNA, you said, “I want to make sure we do that?” Like, some experience you had at another company where you wanted to make sure to bring it over into your organization?

The Must Haves at DNA Behavior


Hugh Massie: Well, I think if I took that experience that I had in the accountancy world as one that’s very clearly there … And you know, I still mix with a lot of these people. I think I left before I caused there to be damaged relationships. But I look at that and I feel when I go and see accountancy firms now, and we’re working with quite a big accountancy firm at the moment here in Atlanta, and I look at, “Okay, if everybody could just be understood for who they are.” And that’s our goal with them, is to adapt the communication.

Like I talked about in the story with Gary. That’s what I want to see every business. I really want to see it happen in a few accounting and professional services firms because they are quite harsh environments, but they could be softened up a lot and people are a lot happier if you do this.

The Biggest Culture Challenge


Josh Sweeney: Yeah. That makes sense. What, from a company culture perspective in DNA, what is the kind of the biggest challenge you’re having or the thing you are most looking forward to enhancing in the future?

Hugh Massie: Well, yeah that’s a good question. So, we have to find our culture around know, and gauge, and grow. I think we’ve done a good job at understanding everybody inside the business. What their talents are. Where they should be. What meeting environments they cope with or not cope with. What tasks they should be doing.

So, we’ve done a pretty good job with that. I mean, even then still occasionally in hiring, we will make a mistake. You can be fooled or it’s just not someone’s passion. I think that’s something that we’ve done a great job at. We actually exited somebody yesterday, not because they were a bad person or weren’t trying, but we knew it wasn’t their passion, and this is hard work for everybody.


Hugh Massie:  But I think we’ve done a good area in that. Josh, a good job in that. I think the building steps really now are in terms of the culture, are probably more around execution. So, we’ve got the word, the code work we now use called SEAMM, which is:

  •  simple
  • easy
  • actionable
  • meaningful
  • measurable

So, it’s SEAMM with two M’s. Everything is built around that. So, all the company processes, we’re doing a lot of work, believe it or not, to simplify everything down. If that can’t happen, it’s got to be removed.

Josh Sweeney: Got it.

Hugh Massie: I think that’s what we live by because if the processes we have in the business are too complex for the employees and the team members, they’ll get disenfranchised and want to leave. If they’re too complex for the clients, they want to leave too. Right?

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Perks from the Work


Hugh Massie: So, that’s sort of pivotal, but I think it’s the second level of building the culture inside of the company after the know, and gauge, and grow. There’s more things we’re doing, as well. We’ve always had it, but I’m emphasizing it more, in that we have more of what I call a quality of life policy, which is built into everybody’s employment contract. So, if you’ve been in the company a year, you get a trip to a place that is of meaning to you that you may not otherwise get to do. So, the company pays for you to go.

Josh Sweeney: Nice.

Hugh Massie: You get a few days off to do it and then you get some time off to go and do one philanthropic exercise each year for up to three days.

Josh Sweeney: Very cool. What are some of the best experiences they’ve come back with? Like, what are the trips that were memorable?

Examples of Trips


Hugh Massie: For one, it was a cruise. For others, for another, it was climbing a mountain in the Rockies that he wanted to climb. Going up one of the mountains in Washington state. So, it’s things like that. For another, she’d never been to New York and wanted to go to a particular art gallery. It’s things like that. We haven’t sent anybody to the moon yet.

Josh Sweeney: Not yet?

Hugh Massey: Or, you know, I haven’t sent anybody … I sent a couple of them down to Australia for implementations, but it wasn’t a quality of life trip.

Josh Sweeney: Right, right.

Make the List for Yourself


Hugh Massie: But, you know, those days are coming. They all know it’s there and I think it’s a good incentive to write down a list for yourself of what do you want to get out of your life and what do you want to do, and can the company help you do one of them? I think that really was what the exercise that we got everybody to do was. Then they’ve got to come to the office and show photos, and the whole experience. So, it’s not just you do it and you get reimbursed. It’s a full show.

Josh Sweeney: So, maybe instead of the traditional watch at 10 years, they get the virgin galactic flight or something?

Hugh Massie: Yeah, something like that.

Josh Sweeney: That’s a good goal.

Hugh Massie: But I’ve got to go first.

Josh Sweeney: You’ve got to go first. Test it, make sure it’s safe, right?

Competition is Beyond Money


Hugh Massie: Yeah. I’ve got to make sure it’s safe. But that’s exactly the type of thing that you need to do for people, because I think just giving them … Look. We all want a bonus. Right? We all need more money. But at a certain point, you can’t compete in the marketplace with that. Actually, I think in this day and age, particularly with millennials, they want time and flexibility.

Josh Sweeney: And experiences.

Hugh Massie: And life experiences and it’s not about having the most money.

Creating the Map


Josh Sweeney: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. So, as far as the exercise, do y’all go through any formal exercise to help people map out what they really want out of work and life? Or is that just something you came up with? Or how does that work?

Hugh Massie: Yeah, this is something that I came up with just reading a lot of books out there. You know, being an Entrepreneur Organization, like you are as well, Josh. You see these things going on out there and you think, “Okay. How could I implement that?” And so, I just took what I thought was good that I had seen out there and I believe the exercise of writing it down is really important.

So, I got everybody to read a book and then they write it down, and then at various points during the year when we do some team meetings, we discuss what some of those are. Then we say, “Okay, well next year, as long as you stay, you get to go and do that.”

Josh Sweeney: Nice.

The Presentation 


Hugh Massie: That’s really as far as it goes. They’ve got to come back and do a presentation. Show us all the pictures. Involve everybody in the exercise. It’s not just taking it.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. And what’s the book?

Hugh Massie: Well, the book’s now … The name of the book’s just suddenly escaped my memory.

Josh Sweeney: Okay, no problem.

Hugh Massie: It’s got a purple cover and it’s not very long. It’s sort of a fable type story written by a person who writes very similarly to Patrick Lencioni. It’s actually an Australian guy who wrote it, but the name of it is just temporarily disappeared.

Culture is More than Values


Josh Sweeney: Yeah, no problem. Awesome. So, as far as company culture is concerned, what else have we not asked you about that’s near and dear to your heart?

Hugh Massie: I think we perhaps haven’t talked about the importance of it because culture’s a big word. I think it’s a word that’s misunderstood a little bit, too.

Josh Sweeney: How’s that?

Hugh Massey: I think a lot of people play it out as values, but I think it’s more than values. It’s also the actions. It’s the way in which the company’s designed. The way things are done. I think values are an important part of a company to have values, and to infiltrate or impact the decision-making, but I think culture is still another … Is a higher level. I think it’s a higher level in just leadership, as well.

Higher Level in Leadership


A company can have a good leader and have a set of values, but I think culture is still something intangible above that. But I think it’s the whole knitting of the leadership, the values, the belief, the vision, and also the processes to outlive it. Because you can have a very inspiring leader, or a very inspiring market segment that you’re going to go and chase after and do the play bigger game type thing in and have a strategy. But if the culture isn’t right, then all of that will fail.

Hugh Massie: So, you know, I think that the piece that’s so important with the culture is the people, but it’s how the people are treated. It’s all the business processes. It’s the decisions that are made around that, you know, and becomes that fiber of the organization. Because if that’s not there, the business will never sustain itself. People are not going to want … And I think this is where it gets to being important. People aren’t going to want to come work for you The clients aren’t going to want to come.

Understand People Before Numbers


Josh Sweeney: Right.

Hugh Massie: Now, we’ve always used to slogan “understanding people before numbers.” We let it go for a few years, but I regret that because whilst it’s not the culture definition that we use of know, and gauge, and grow, understanding people before numbers is really what we’re about.

That being deployed in every process, ensuring that is there throughout, internally and externally, is really important. But I think the companies … If you want to bring this down to the hard stuff, the result side, because you know, people can say, “Culture’s soft.” But the businesses that get the higher multiple, that do better in the end, that are more profitable, have a very strong company culture. And it’s something very intangible about that business in the way it works.

Where it Comes From


Hugh Massie: A little bit of it’s from the founder. A little bit of it’s all the people inside it. But I think it comes down to, fundamentally, how you operate, how you manage the people is very important. You can look at Uber out there. Great strategy. It’s been a success story, but it’s got a rotten culture.

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Hugh Massie: That, at some point, could kill the company.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.

Hugh Massie: Whether that is another competitor that comes in. So, in 10 years time, will Uber be there or will there be a replacement? We’ll see. But the culture has got to be strong if the company’s going to last a long time and the employees and the customers trust it.

Is Culture Soft?


Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. Going back to your mention of like culture being this soft [inaudible 00:18:30]. I mean, that’s something we’ve spoke about before where you know, in a lot of ways, some people look at it, very results-driven, fast-paced people, tend to look at it and see, “Well, it’s soft because it’s this touchy-feely kind of aspect of people and knowing what they want.” But on the flip side, I mean, a company culture of setting goals and holding people accountable for goals, a company culture of a meritocracy, where you only move up based on your merits, right?

That’s part of culture too, and there’s nothing really soft about it. The soft side of that may be, yes, you still have to interact and motivate people to hit those goals. You still have to motivate those people to grow, and create, and achieve that meritocracy, or the goals that they need.

Making Decisions by the Numbers


Hugh Massie: I think this comes up, there’s a number of points to make around this. Often, the very results-driven people and bottom-line people, which Josh, you and I both have the propensity to be that, can just stay stuck in that because it’s easier for us to do that. We don’t have to deal with human emotions.

It’s just easier to be rational and say, “Well, the number on the page says all the story.” And move on and make very rational, if not at times brutal, decisions. You know, as you and I have talked about, a little bit of patience at times in necessary, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to make the hard decisions at times, because you do.

Culture is Actually HARD


Hugh Massie: I don’t think this means that culture is soft, because I think it is actually hard. And I don’t mean just hard to build, but there’s a really hard side to it, as you just said in terms of defining the goals, holding people accountable. But the way I’ve been brought to dealing with this is to realize that to be successful, there’s a balance of results and relationships. And what I have learned is that if you can build better relationships, which really, a fundamental part of that is listening to people and being more empathetic in your approach, ultimately you’re going to get better results.

Hugh Massie: So, for us people as leaders who are results-driven, that’s our challenge is to soften up a little bit and be more relational in our approach. If we really can’t do that, then it’s to bring somebody into the business to work with us who can do that, that is probably just strong enough to handle us. But they’re the person that’s more relational at managing everybody inside the business. But you’ve got to have that balance inside the business, otherwise it won’t exist.

Tough Love


Hugh Massie: But sometimes, you know, being relational is also offering up tough love. It’s not all just cuddly stuff, and going out to lunch, and talking, and going to holidays, and messing around at the water fountain, and sitting on the sofa or a couch. It’s down to business stuff in there too.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I would think there’s a level of kind of honesty and respect to some tough love, right? If somebody has the relationship and the trust with you that you can share or they can share with you the tough love, that’s when you know something good’s happening. Because if you can’t share that, then it’s still very surface-level, right? You don’t have that level of communication you need.

Vulnerable Leadership


Hugh Massie: So, you know, there’s a couple of answers to that. Leaders … And this all, at the end of the day, does come from the leadership. The leader has to learn to become personally vulnerable, and that’s a really hard thing to do for the initiator, influencer-type leader that’s potentially a bit more closed in their personality. They’re a little bit more guarded, a little bit more concerned about dabbling in human emotions.

But you know, if you can reveal something of yourself, even occasionally admit a mistake with your team, that goes so far in building trust. So, that’s a really key thing to be able to learn to do. I don’t know you have to go 100% of the way in doing that because there’s a point where that might be being a bit naïve. But, if you can just take that first step forward and admit that you’re wrong.

Works with Companies Too


Hugh Massie: And I’ve seen this work very successfully with customer problems, as well. You know, “Okay. My company did screw up. It made a mistake and we’re going to rectify it this way.” And you address that honestly, it usually works out okay. Now if you keep doing it, right, that’s a different problem.

Josh Sweeney: That’s a different challenge, right.

Hugh Massie: Right. That’s a different problem. But I think the other part is being authentic, and so, people will trust you. They might say, “Okay, Hugh or Josh is hard and he’s not going to buckle on that, but at least we know where we stand.”

Josh Sweeney: Right.

A Real Problem


Hugh Massie: And I think it’s the leader, which is a bit flimsy in that area and you don’t know where you stand. They’re just always weaving around and negotiating. Their answer one day is this and the next day is that, without any fundamental reason for the change, that’s a real problem.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely.

Hugh Massie: Directness, but saying it nicely is the best way.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I definitely have a lot of respect for the candid, knowing where people stand because it’s just not a lot of bureaucracy, not a lot of political or positioning situations. It’s like, at least I know what the expectation is. It’s extremely clear. Yeah, so I enjoy those.

Setting Expectations


Hugh Massie: Yeah. I think knowing expectations is a big thing. The clearer you are about your business, what’s expected, how it’s going to work, the more that can happen.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. Fantastic. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Hugh Massie: No, I can’t think of anything offhand. You’ve asked probably the big questions. I think that at the end of the day, culture is king, and really, I believe that’s the next movement out there. I think leadership’s important, but I think we’ve got to go to the next level above that. How do we deliver within the culture a customized experience for each employee and customer inside the business? I truly believe that’s the holy grail of this. The more we can do that in our own business, but also help others bring that into their business, then the better off we’re all going to be.



Josh Sweeney: Yeah. Most definitely. I like the idea of that customized, per person experience. So, thank you for joining us on the podcast.

Hugh Massie: It’s a pleasure, Josh. It’s great to do this.

Josh Sweeney: Thank you. This has been an interview with Hugh Massey from DNA Behavior. Thank you for joining the Epic Company Culture Podcast.

Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of the Epic Company Culture Podcast with Josh Sweeney. If you enjoyed this content, please subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. For additional content and transcripts, visit Epicculture.co. If you have questions or topics you would like us to address or expand on, tweet us @Epicculture1 or email at Podcast@epicculture.co.


Podcast Highlights and Resources


  • At the end of the day, what we’re both doing is trying to change the culture of business out there.
  • The root of all business problems is human behavior.
  • If you can learn to deal with it in a nice way, empathetic way, with listening, with respect, acceptance, then you can go a long way to actually solving the business problem.
  • As the leader, I had to go first in this awkward conversation and be vulnerable myself.
  • You can be under pressure and then you loose yourself in your own style and you fail to become aware of others. 
  • A company can have a good leader and have a set of values, but I think culture is still something intangible above that.
  • The leader has to learn to become personally vulnerable, and that’s a really hard thing to do for the initiator, influencer-type leader that’s potentially a bit more closed in their personality.
  • If you can reveal something of yourself, even occasionally admit a mistake with your team, that goes so far in building trust.
  • At the end of the day, culture is king, and really, I believe that’s the next movement out there.

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