What really defines company culture?
I imagine that every entrepreneur would get defensive when someone pokes fingers at their company. It’s your baby; a smorgasbord of your time, sweat, toil, tears, heart. Justification maybe for why I felt slightly snubbed earlier this week when one of our amazing team pointed out that she thought our mission statement stunk and our culture sucked (okay, she totally didn’t say it like that but that’s what it felt like).
Having had time to reflect on these words and the brief interaction of messages that ensued on our team reading channel, I’m really grateful for this nudge. An added opportunity to reassess what we’ve achieved while realistically looking at how much further we still need to go.
“Company culture is something that is pre-existing in your company’s genetic code; it’s not something that employees bring with them.”- William Craig, Forbes
Only what, three months ago, our leadership team went through a culture evaluation process. We worked through weeks of facilitated question-posing followed by deep discussion to bring together our views on the way things should roll around here. Jenna, our in-house writer, probed us hard to get to the bottom of unresolved issues and then magically wordsmithed a concise outcome of our deep thinking. We loaded this to our company Wiki, sent out a message on our IM Team Announcement stream, ticked “define company culture” off our ever bulging to-do lists and thought that that was the end of that.
Let’s backtrack a bit.
Google “company culture” and you’ll find a myriad of definitions. The simplest explanation of which talks of “company personality” which includes things like:
- work environment: we work remotely so have had to redefine this in a digital work environment. We’ve cut out silos by banning email from internal communication. Instead we task via Teamwork, our online project management tool, and chat (constantly) via Telegram groups. Our team spans multiple geographies and as a result, time zones. Social interaction is not about meeting a colleague in the pub after work on Friday, instead it is an active process, driven by individuals and done creatively (think: weekly hive buddy connects, our 20 Days to Christmas campaign, a Team Love channel in our IM stream or a video message from Claire, our CEO each Monday morning).
- company mission: We defined ours but didn’t communicate it. Duh. While it makes total sense for the leadership team to create the company mission statement; words on a Wiki quite simply in this case are not enough. Besides, we’ve used some hoity toity language that is not really ‘our speak’ (see point 1 in our culture document below). Upside is we’ve already scheduled time in our January strat to rework/word this mission which will be accompanied by an embedding plan as part of its roll out (learn from your mistakes Ma’am!).
- goals: Setting complex company goals is so 2016! We’ve fully redefined our 2017 goals (already shared high level in a company all hands) and broken our objectives into 5 distinct areas. We’ve chosen: finance, operations, sales, funding and product. Each heading has only 2 OKR’s (objectives and key results) and they’re all interrelated so we can work more as a team than a collection of departments. We still need to dive deeper into quarterly objectives, departmental and individual goals. We work actively with the team on this in a series of Typeform questionnaires and 1-2-1’s.
So while your employees don’t determine the company culture, they are most certainly influenced by it (and visa versa)
Here’s what our company culture document says:
We’re on a global mission to revolutionise work. To do this, we use the following values to keep us on track.
1. BE AUTHENTIC
To create a place of truth, we need you to be you. The real, authentic you. You’ll feel vulnerable sometimes, and that’s okay. But stick to being you, we like you, that’s why we hired you. Express yourself, tell us what you think. Share things that you’re passionate and excited about. This also means acceptance and not taking things personally, so that everyone else gets to be their own authentic selves too.
2. BE ASSERTIVE
Speak your truth, we know it’s hard, but it’s important. Raw truth gets us further. We’re tolerant of conflict, we think it’s healthy. The definition of being assertive involves consideration and respect, but that doesn’t mean you should keep quiet about the things that are important. This is even more critical as we navigate inevitable areas of grey, or uncertainty, in our journey as a startup. Speak up when you don’t understand. Ask questions and find ways to get clarity when you don’t have it. Have real, honest and open conversations, with everyone (even the C-suite). You’ll be taking a risk but risks often pay off. It’s all part of building trust, and a NO-BULLSHIT company culture.
3. BE DISCIPLINED
We’re a widespread team, so don’t rely on someone else to manage you. Self-discipline is fundamental in our remote team. This means understanding your individual work style, setting up your blueprint (and sticking to it) and actively putting our Productivity Principles to work in your daily schedule to help you do your best work. Doing deep work is the way we move forward, but it involves diligent planning. Don’t get caught up in the busyness. Create and maintain discipline and you’ll always feel empowered, even when things get hectic (and they sometimes will).
4. BE RESPONSIBLE
Having an ownership mentality is key to us thriving as a company and you thriving in it. Own your role and be accountable. When things get stressful, there’s no time for blame. Bring solutions, and don’t just pinpoint problems. Show up and take action. Apologise rather than ask for permission, but remember to communicate what you’re doing to avoid miscommunication and extra work.
Use your discretion, but OWN IT. We need you to.
A note (or a promise) to our team:
Having our company culture mapped out is not really good enough.
- Once we’ve re-defined/worded our company mission, we’ll roll this out to you in a meaningful way (see point 3 above)
- We will use our culture document as a yardstick during the recruitment phase. It’s important that we hire people that understand and like what we’re about. It will help us stay happy and productive.
- We will actively look at exciting ways to engage together more despite the fact that we work flexible hours, across multiple geographies and time zones. Please bring us your solutions on this point too (point 4).
- And we will always listen to your feedback, no matter how hard it is to hear sometimes.
What are your thoughts on defining a company culture? Share your thoughts in the comments below.