When I began my career in the early 2000’s I never asked questions about company culture. To be honest, I didn’t care all that much. I went to my office, got my work done and went home. I loved what I did in tech, but culture didn’t seem all that important to my coworkers or me for that matter. We were a small company, for the most part, everyone got along. We’d occasionally spend time together after work but given we were all in various life stages, those outings were never formalized and were few and far between.
My thoughts on company culture all changed when I moved to a larger startup and encountered a corporate culture for the first time. I went from a team of six people to a group of fifty people and scaling. During my time there I experienced first-hand the growing pains and cultural shifts that come with that process. Company culture was becoming an essential conversation for scaling teams. Rumours from Silicon Valley of beer fridges, free lunches, hammocks and of course the ever-present ping pong table were circulating, and employees were hungry for perks. We now mainly associate these perks with startup culture, but at the time it was new and exciting. People stood up and took notice and began demanding more from their companies and in-turn many companies were giving it to them.
As I’ve shifted in my career from pure marketing and operations to an ecosystem and growth role, I’ve seen culture become a hot topic for most startups. A former boss and CEO once told me “you can teach someone pretty much anything, the one thing you cannot teach is fit.” Those words always resonated with me. While you might not be the most brilliant engineer on the market if you fit in well with the team and the culture, then you can help that individual grow. You can mentor them; you can teach them the skills they need to grow into the role you are looking for. If you invest in your employees, they will invest their time and energy into you. Some of the happiest employees I see are the ones who are empowered and have been given an opportunity to prove themselves.
When people ask me about creating culture, I always tell them it isn’t something that is going to happen overnight. You cannot just hire a Head of People and Community and expect magic to happen. It takes time, it takes strategy, and you might not get it right the first time. I’ve tried things that I’ve guaranteed to be a hit (looking at you Smash Bro’s Tournament!) and have fallen completely flat. If you are beginning down this path, the word feedback will become your best friend. Ask people what they would like, engage with them and find out what they want. My Smash Bro’s tournament failed because the people I was planning for didn’t know the game, they didn’t have the same fond memories of it as myself and my co-workers didn’t find the same fun and nostalgia with it. When we planned an escape room however they were all over it. They helped pick our room and were engaged in the process.
Good company culture doesn’t usually happen by accident. It takes time, it takes energy, and no two company cultures are alike, nor should they be. What works for one might not work for someone else. Find out where your niche is, engage with your co-workers and figure out what they are looking for in company culture. For some, good company culture could be a breastfeeding room and strong parental values, for others it could be yoga and video games. At the end of the day, you want to attract like minded people all rowing in the same direction.