People spend a lot of time talking about “company culture” in Silicon Valley. What does it take to create the right kind of culture? How can you maintain that culture? Do you need a mission statement? Should you have a mascot? At first blush it sounds like a bunch of mushy-gushy nonsense. But every great company I’ve had the good fortune to work with has maintained a strong, independent, identifiable culture. And that culture has served to unify and energize the company and its employees.
One thing that is certain, no two company cultures are the same. Even successive companies built by the same people, like children born of the same parents, come out a little bit different. Some companies are playful and fun. Their employees jam in bands together, wear bright colored company clothing, model for corporate brochures. Other companies are intense and driven. Their employees appreciate complete transparency, celebrate each increase in conversion, work after dinner on Friday nights. No one culture is better than another. Whatever motivates, energizes and inspires your employees to build a big company over the long run, is just the culture you are looking for.
So what does it take to build a strong culture? That’s a tough question. And one that is rarely tackled systematically. Tony Hsieh takes on the topic in his new book “Delivering Happiness,” in which he gives a great account of the many things that he did to make Zappos’ corporate culture flourish. And in a recent talk given by Scott Weiss, former CEO of IronPort, he enumerated the many things that he did maintain a strong and unified culture at IronPort. Scott is a widely respected leader and CEO, and one need look no further than his list to understand why — Scott suggests the following 20 rules of thumb while building a company for 0 to 250 employees:
Interview every new employee (until 50 then interview everyone that will manage others)
Spend 30 minutes per week on Mondays talking to new employees as part of their first day. Stop by their desk within a month to see how things are going.
Have lunch with every employee (After 50 you can take 2 out at a time) and get to know them not only by name but some details about them.
Hold at least one all hands meeting (at least two execs should speak, not just you) every quarter
Go over the real board slides after every board meeting – let everyone know what was discussed.
At every meeting with all employees, you must set aside 30 minutes for questions and press for no fewer than 5.
An email (or internal blog) to all after every customer trip, conference attended or major news from a competitor e.g. notes from the road
Personally roll out the values, strategy, and history of the company during a comprehensive employee orientation within the first 90 days.
Attend every company function, event and party as though you are the host
Review every significant communication to ALL and ask your team to review yours before it goes out.
Give a performance review to your direct reports at least twice per year, spending no less than 5 hours preparing each person’s review and at least an hour giving it. Get 360 feedback in person.
Set annual and quarterly goals (between 2-5 is about right although I prefer three) as a company as well as each individual employee.
Promote mainly from within and always based solely on performance.
Personally roll out the performance review process to everyone – you are the lead speaker, not human resources.
Emphasize “speaking up” as a value every time you get the chance (e.g. interviews, evaluations, all hands, employee orientation and lunches)
Follow the rules e.g. fly coach, park in the back lot, have a modest office
Constantly demonstrate that no task or chore is beneath you. E.g. Fill the coke machine, clean up after a group lunch, pack a box, and carry the heavy crap.
When a team has to work a weekend, you need to be there too – even if it’s just to stop by and buy them a meal to show your appreciation.
When something really goes wrong, you need to take all the blame.
When something really goes right, you need to give all the credit away.
I couldn’t agree more with Scott’s suggestions. Company culture starts from the top and can only thrive if it is promoted and supported at every cross-road. But, it is also a ton of work. When I suggest to Scott that it was a huge time commitment to deliver on all of these recommendations, Scott responded, “it was very time intensive but totally worth it… I firmly believe that if you want to have a culture where employees contribute broadly to solving problems outside of their area, it starts with the CEO being approachable/authentic and someone who pays attention to the people ecosystem. Employees then need to be current on what the companies problems are and then constantly encouraged to help solve them.”
Great advice all around. Creating the right company culture is hard but invaluable. My thanks to Scott for sharing his thoughts on the topic.