I recently read an amazing article by one of my heroes, Jason Fried, founder of 37Signals and coauthor of one of the best business books in 2010, Rework. The article appeared in Inc Magazine and in it, Jason wrote about why he runs a flat company. I don’t want to talk about flat companies and leadership structures though. What I want to share and get your thoughts on is corporate culture, specifically how to increase awareness about it and how to engage your team in developing a rich, vibrant business culture.
I have been struggling as of late with this issue. After taking over a large marketing team about 3 months ago, I started bringing up the whole culture issue. Most people seemed intrigued but there were those that were holding on tight to what it was. “Our culture is fine just how it is.” i’ve heard this from several people now and it makes me shutter each time.
I am going to stereotype and overgeneralize about what I am learning from this process so far. First, my younger teammates are hungry for change. They visit my office, send me emails, and stop me in the halls. They are sharing ideas and strangely enough, many of them do so in hushed voices. There older counterparts are struggling with the changes. They seem to prefer coming to work and grinding their day away – fingers on keyboard, eyes on screen, not a sound uttering from their mouthes.
I made a small discovery the other day. Some of those people that are most resistant are that way because they fear losing control. I love this one. Let me share a story.
As a kid, I once commented to my dad that I did not believe that we should simply respect someone because of their title or age. My father, being the kind of guy he is stopped me and asked why (in an appalled sort of way).
I responded, “Because respect should be earned. The same goes for loyalty.” My dad is a Vietnam vet. He held a much different view on this issue and I could kind of see a bit of disappointment in his eyes. Yet I held my ground and do so to this day.
Now let’s apply this back to the corporate culture issue. We are quickly running into some rather interesting problems with corporate culture. For many older, more traditional businesses, culture was never something that much thought was put into. You had bosses, bigger bosses and a whole bunch of peons that got the work done. Hierarchy is a must. Authority is absolute. Treating the workers like human beings is often secondary to getting the work done.
But there is hope. A number of businesses, both small and large, are finding different ways to work. Google, Apple, Zappos, IDEO, and 37Signals are a few that come to mind. These companies have all sorts of new ways to conduct business.
- Google allows their teams to pursue their passions by allotting them a portion of time each week to work on personal projects.
- Apple has become the king of innovation by hiring brilliant people and then allowing them to design computers and software that they would want.
- Zappos took on Amazon by delivering the online world’s best customer service.
- IDEO works in unstructured, multidisciplinary teams that care about delivering amazing innovations.
- 37Signals cares about creating fantastic, user-friendly products and online services. They don’t care about hierarchy and give their teams a ton of latitude in how they work.
These are all different ways of doing work. For some crazy reason the companies mentioned above decided that the traditional 9-5, grind it out, cubicle world is not the best way to get things done. And as these companies continue to move forward, they are also quickly outpacing their more traditional competitors.
Here is what I realized as I have started talking to more and more people about culture – the mainstream has not heard as much about these companies as they should. It is rather difficult to talk about, think about, or even imagine alternative corporate cultures when you have never been exposed to them.
One of my favorite authors is Dan Pink. In his latest book, Drive, he explored the whole idea of what truly motivates people to work. Forget the Friday jeans day, Dan wanted to figure out what was at the heart of our motivation; what drives us to show up to work each day and make a difference. This last part is important. Dan was not looking at the weekly grind type of mentality. He wanted to dig deeper and learn what it takes to get people to want to succeed and go beyond their current limits.
In his studies he found three factors that motivate people. Guess what? Money was not one of them. What Dan unveiled was that most of us want autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Autonomy is an interesting one. People want to work without having someone watching over their shoulder all the time. They want to be trusted and treated like adults. And the more highly educated your workforce is, the more important auto my is for them.
Google tacked this by giving their entire workforce a potion of time each week to work on projects of their choosing. What this has led to is Google being one of the most innovative companies around. But the company also benefits by having a workforce that loves working there, voluntarily work more, and spreads a ton of good will about the company which leads to Google having to turn away thousands of applicants every year.
Next up is mastery. I love this one because it is the topic of debate around our office. Mastery assumes that most of us genuinely want to do better and be better at our jobs. Inherent in this concept is that we as human beings want to do more than just punch a clock each morning, do the same work we did the day before, and punch back out at the end of the day. I completely agree with what Dan is proposing and genuinely feel that everyone that works for wants to learn and have opportunities to be better.
Right now, my leadership team is working to finish up job ladders for each of their departments. The purpose of these is not to define how get titles or raises. Instead, they are meant to clearly lay out a growth path that will allow every single person in our department to better themselves, move into other specialties, and broaden their skill sets.
As we have worked on these, I have found that people keep wanting to tie the ladders to pay or promotions. If I take these classes or read these books I should get X. This really is not what I had in mind. What I have had to do is be very clear about my intentions. We want to help you grow. As you move up the job ladder, you are preparing yourself for new opportunities. If there is an opening, you would be first in line to apply for the position. Folks are not totally convinced about this, but we get it done.
Purpose is the third and final motivator on Dan’s list. We want to work for businesses that motivate us, that are about more than just the work. Apple is a great example.
Apple could work and function like any other computer manufacturer, but they do not. Instead, their efforts seem to resemble more of what an artist does. They love making beautiful and elegant hardware and software. They are about simplicity, breaking the rules, creating stuff that is easy to use. They inspire.
I run a marketing department for a large local company her in Utah. We create fantastic creative and print collateral for grocery stores. But when you really dig into our bigger purpose (presently) and when you get all of the collateral out of the way we do one simple thing – tantalize taste buds. Fun, huh?
I love the simplicity. Everyone from our clients to our accountants can quickly and easily understand what we do. When asked they can also quickly and easily share what we are about. Simple, fun, and hopefully inspirational.
Wow, another long post. We are up to 1392 words. Yikes! And I have not even asked about you. So let’s turn the conversation around.
What is corporate culture? What defines it for you? What trends are you seeing? What kind of company are you creating? What will the future look like?