2013 will mark the 15th year I have been an entrepreneur and small business owner. There are a myriad of lessons I have learned during this time. Recently, I pondered about the biggest mistake I ever made. The answer that surfaced was that I vastly under-valued the importance of a company's culture.
Frankly, as a fledgling manager and leader, I was not empathetic. My response to problems many times was to "do whatever it takes" to get the problem resolved. Early in my career, I did not relate to those that did not have that same mentality. If there was a sensitive deadline, the thought was to just grind it out and work weekends or long hours. However, when a company's DNA starts to be predicated around unreasonable expectations the organizational culture begins to spiral downwards.
But, wait, what is culture?
First, let me tell you what culture is not. Culture is not those buzzwords that are hung in some framed portrait in an office lobby wall. Culture is not what you might see, particularly in the retail sector, when employees are "forced" to parrot some kind of chant in a loud tone. Culture is how a company makes you feel. Think about that for a minute. If I were to ask you to recite your former (or even current) company's values could you do that? My guess is those words and values did not resonate as much as how the company actually made you directly feel on a consistent basis.
I've interviewed hundreds of people who represented all skill and salary levels. Inevitably and naturally, we will begin to talk about the various employers they had. All were left with an impression of how those companies made them feel. What's really interesting is the "issues" were usually not money or benefits related. They left for reasons like no longer feeling supported, valued, appreciated, recognized, or challenged. In surveys, the consistent feedback we hear is that employees, especially developers, desired to work in a highly collaborative environment with other top talent they can learn from. As a leader, part of my job is to create and foster learning opportunities. One of the more overlooked traits they coveted was a solid working relationship with the person who directly supervised them.
People want to be part of a winning team that has a vision, or better yet, a purpose around what they are doing. At our 2012 company meeting our purpose was that "talented team members can work together to provide amazing, open-source based solutions for the web." The classic sports metaphor that speaks to this are prized free-agents. After spending much of their career with losing teams, a professional athlete may actually accept significantly less money to be part of an organization that increases their chances to win maybe a World Series ring or Lombardi trophy.
At Mediacurrent, culture is now our #1 priority.
We are working hard at this. We want Mediacurrent to be a highly desirous and awesome place to work. For example, this year, we were able to pay out individual, annual bonuses, that were predicated around the profitability of the company. Last year, we rolled out an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) that is based on a liquidation event (i.e.merger or acquisition). Both of these gestures allow our team to directly participate in the value of the company. We have a number of other benefits like providing a $2500 continuing education allowance every year - when an individual on our team learns new skills, we all win. Most importantly, we try to encourage praise and appreciation. Every month, managers have the ability to hand out gift cards for above and beyond performance. A simple "thank you" goes a long way.
It is a rather simplistic philosophy when it comes down to it, but as Tony Hseih of Zappos.com famously explained in his presentation on Building a Customer-Focused Culture happy employees have an immensely positive impact on all aspects of a business.
Interested? We are always selectively looking for top talent — check out the company video we just produced to find out more about Mediacurrent's culture.