A Culture Of Excellence Takes Sacrifice And Self-Reflection

by | May 6, 2015

A company’s culture is precious. It’s more than foosball tables and couches in the break room. It defines how things are done, what matters and what doesn’t. At the end of the day, the culture of a work environment can make or break the organization’s future, by its power to motivate or destroy people’s best and brightest ideas.

Scott Cook is the Founder of Intuit. 32 years into the process, he has gleaned a lot of insight on what culture is, what it means, how to shape it and when to change it. He pointed out that in a startup, the culture is a perfect reflection of the founder and CEO – and if you don’t like it, you have to recognize where it came from and make those changes within yourself and your behavior if you want to set it right.

Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, is only 7 and half years into it – but his company has quickly grown into almost 900 employees. He places a lot of emphasis on the establishment of a strong core team that is deeply aligned in culture. Making a hard choice to remove a crucial employee because of culture misalignment can be necessary to preserve and sustain the culture that will most benefit the organization long term.

So, once you have a great core team that believes in the same things, how do you preserve that culture as you grow, sometimes very rapidly?

  • Go through the process of identifying a mission and values.
    • When it’s a small group and everyone is sitting at the same table, it’s easy to stay on the same page. But as you grow to fill a room or a floor or a building, you need a clear definition of your culture to educate the incoming team members.
  • Set up a gatekeeper to reduce hiring mistakes and ensure new hires are as aligned as possible before coming on board.
  • Ryan uses Jack Wallace’s 2×2 matrix. With performance on one side and company culture on the other, identify where people stand to recognize their overall value.
    • High performance and high culture – keep ‘em!
    • Low performance and low culture – lose ‘em. Scott softens this blow by reminding us that “holding someone in an environment where they are not effective is as wrong for them as it is for [the employer]”.
    • High in one area, low in the other – coach if you can, cut if you can’t.

And finally, trust the work you’ve put into your culture, but don’t get comfortable. Scott acknowledged that it took a lot of time to recognize that as his company scaled, the ideas were no longer flourishing. This is a trend in growing companies, but it was not one he was willing to accept in his own.

So, he set to work identifying the root cause and framed it for the Collision audience as “the enemy for game-changing innovation is the hierarchy”. If you can’t get a new idea from a bottom level employee who is closest to the customer, closest to the technology, because there are too many levels and questions wearing it down, change that structure. Then you’ll have a chance to change your culture and rekindle the innovative spirit at the heart of your company.