If you’ve been paying attention to the startup world over the last few years, you are very familiar with the emphasis on company culture. 37 Signals and Zappos might be two of the most famous companies for stressing the concept, but many of the successful startups have discussed the importance and purposefulness of it as well.
When you think about company culture, you might think about the way the office is designed, the clothes people wear to work, the benefits provided, and the company mission statement for dealing with customers and employees. But what you don’t often hear about are all the other pieces that come together to form the company culture.
Every element that impacts an employee during their work day influences the culture. From where they park in the morning, to the chair they sit in, the computer and software they use, the temperature in the office, any music played in the office, the colors in the room, the bathrooms, the location and commute, what employees do for lunch, expected work hours and the way they are enforced…all of these items impact the employees emotional mood. Their emotional mood directly determines how happy and productive they will be. These items make up the aesthetics of the company culture, the ambience, and they have an effect on how well an employee can perform over a period of time.
Even more important is your company’s project methodology. How are you organized and how do you communicate with your team? Do you only give the team the tasks they can handle at that moment, or do you give the team a list of the next several month’s tasks? Do you include the team on business direction and strategy planning, or fill them in once a decision is being made? Are the developers given long periods of focus time to develop, creatives to create, designers to design, or do you ask them to frequently change directions, and multitask? Do they have to work in an environment of constant interaction and interruption? Additionally, do you trust your employees and in doing so treat them like you believe they can and will do the expected job? Do you build a relationship with them, or stay more removed? All these variations come together to form the overall company culture.
In my 15+ years in IT, I’ve worked in about every variation of culture imaginable. Some have worked for me, some haven’t. I know what works best for me; what allows me to reach my fullest productivity levels. For me, being fully productive at work is what brings me happiness and the stamina, energy, and passion to work every day at my full potential, and deal with the difficulties that will always arise in any tech company or startup. It’s what allows me to not just crank out widgets, but think creatively and solve problems in a way that best helps the company achieve its goals. If the company culture isn’t a fit, then I can’t perform at my best, which means I can’t maintain productivity levels; stress rises, happiness fades, and my uncomfortableness with the situation will cause bigger problems in the company.
You can try and change a culture, but if you aren’t at the top, that’s nearly impossible to do. The culture will be set by the company visionary, even if unintentionally. And that is another important point I want to stress. If you are the company leader, and visionary, please be sure that you have put thought into all of these elements and your company culture is a result of planning and not an accident. If it’s an accident, you probably aren’t even aware of what it is, nor able to communicate it to prospective employees. Which means you’ll have a much higher turnover rate. Even if you are only hiring experienced and highly skilled people, if they aren’t a match for your culture, they will either leave, or, drag down the entire team.
I’ve often advised companies that they can get away with paying less than the top rates if their company culture is a good one and if they hire to match the company culture. It’s difficult for an employee to leave a culture they love for any kind of pay raise. However, it doesn’t take much encouragement to leave a company whose culture isn’t working for you, even for a pay cut.
If you are an employer, carefully consider what kind of culture you want to have and then commit to achieving it all all costs. If you don’t completely commit to it and truly believe in it’s importance, then you may hire great employees but you won’t be able to keep them.
If you are an employee, give careful consideration to what kind of culture works best for you. Don’t be swayed by high salaries and grand promises because if the culture doesn’t fit you, you won’t be happy, nor last very long. In the end, the culture is what matters more than anything else when finding a fit for both employee and employer.