Some Thoughts On Culture21 January 2020
Photo: Unsplash - Austin Distel
Culture is a key element in any business. It is a subject that has been increasingly written about and studied and for good reason as 82% of responses to a 2016 Global Survey felt culture can provide a competitive advantage. They also reported that they did not fully understand culture and they found it hard to cultivate, manage and measure.
It is a topic I have pondered for a long time. Having built remote teams for many years, getting the team culture right took effort. Every team in every organisation has its own skill set which differentiates them from others. This means that one team’s culture can differ from that to another team in the same company. That is fine but all teams and employees should be governed and led by the top-level company culture.
Company culture has to be developed from early in its existence. The culture should be set directly by the founder(s) and this means it can be a result of previous roles and the experiences they have had. I find it interesting that some of the best company culture’s I have read about or worked in are at companies that have founders that are straight out of education. I have also seen cultures develop that are parallel to the founder’s previous company culture. They don’t know how to develop an individual culture for their business and just repeat what they know. This I find strange as these founders have usually started a company to break away and change a way of working or to disrupt an industry.
Like a lot of things when you start a company you need to learn about culture and how to create one. It’s no different to learning about accounting, sales and marketing or customer management. You should be asking people in your network and read up on the subject. There are a lot of articles online and they all offer similar advice for getting building your culture. Define your mission, and the values your company will be governed by. These are key. You will want to apply the values as you start to work with clients and especially when you start to hire. You need to track and nurture your culture. It is not a document you write when you found the business and file. You need to make time to review it and monitor how effective it is. You also need to be prepared to evolve it as your company grows. If you can afford to then get a coach to help you. Learn from people that have been there and done it. Be humble. Something I have noticed is how easy it is to track culture just by talking to employees and taking time to listen. If you find you need to work on your culture because you feel it is not working or people are feeding back that they are not happy then look at the root causes and adapt. Going out and buying a monitoring app or employee survey tool is not fixing the issue. Although, these tools do have their uses.
It’s strange how you can get a feel about a company from the way the employees talk and carry out their work. A good friend of mine, who does not work in tech, was pulled up by his manager recently. He was told that while he was doing his job really well he was making the rest of the team look bad. They were not completing all their tasks and customer were complaining about them and the service they were giving. The manager told my friend that he didn’t want to replace the rest of the team and that they were probably doing the best that they could. As you can imagine this didn’t make my friend feel very good at all. It also went against the published values of the company (it’s a gym). This is one of many examples where although a company has a set of values, they are not enforced and are meaningless to both employees and customers.
All this thinking about culture was prompted by me buying Ben Horowitz’s new book “What You Do Is Who You Are”. I haven’t even started it yet but the title stands on its own for employees, founders and companies. I will come back and write more on this once I have read the book. I’d love to hear about your thoughts on culture and the company cultures you have experienced. Please contact me via twitter or email.