Monday, February 8, 2010

What makes Company Culture?

Company 'culture' is the buzzword these days. Start-up culture often refers to a work ethic that sacrifices balance. My last post quoted some startup triplet advice - "Hire and invest in your culture." However, it seems talk of culture quickly becomes abstract. To understand and impact culture we need to be more specific.

For me, culture brings productivity and satisfaction through:

Shared purpose. Is there clear and common purpose to people's work? Do actions demonstrate a team approach towards accomplishing a common goal? Do employees understand the company's mission and their role towards accomplishing it? Awesome communication fits in here.

Accountability. Are employees given real responsibilities? Are those tasks followed up on (by leaders and peers) and implemented? We can stick rewards and recognitions here for now.

Opportunity. Do employees have lots of interaction with others, and ultimately an opportunity to learn?

Motivation. Are employees motivated to do their part towards the common goals on their own? (Or do they simply do the checklist requested to prepare for the weekly meeting?) Do employees believe in the value of their contributions? In the value of the company's goals?

Collaborative Decision Making. Are employees involved in the decisions that effect their work, even tangentially? Being part of the decision leads to more informed solutions and more commitment to the solution. Again, enter companies with good communication.

Flexibility. How much freedom do employees have about when and where they work, what they work on and prioritize, and stuff like how they dress. (Having flexibility alone does not make a good culture by itself).

Work Environment. What are the obvious on-site perks? We're talking free lunch, m&m's and Starbucks coffee, bean bag chairs and office slides. I guess we can throw pay, benefits, expected work hours, and whatnot here. Since visitors and job applicants notice this stuff first, it makes it important. (Again, this aspect of culture by itself is shallow and means little without some strength in the other areas.)

Defining what culture really means helps us talk concretely about measuring and improving it. For me, right now, doing well in these areas equates to a great company culture. Did I miss anything key in your culture?

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