Blog post by ELP Fellow John Marinescu (Business Admin | Class of 2021)
“A successful company is spawned from amazing company culture. An amazing company culture is spawned from purposeful deliberation.”
This was much more eloquently said from one of the partners at the venture capital firm I will soon be interning for this summer. Although I’ve been a long-time skeptic of the whole company-culture kumbaya, after listening to his wise words on the subject, my opinion quickly turned. Whether you’re a well-informed and devout believer of company culture or an ignorant doubter as I once was, hopefully you’ll learn one thing or everything about company culture in this short post.
But first, let’s promptly kick the elephant out the room, and properly define this blazing-hot, yet hopelessly vague buzzword. Most simply, company culture is the true ethos of a company and encompasses everything including a company’s mission and values, working-hours and environment, character, strategy, management structure, and more.
Is it important? YES! Company culture isn’t just something to trumpet in corporate-recruiting presentations or deploy as PR fodder, it’s much more far-reaching and penetrates deep into every facet of a company. In fact, company culture is the very foundation of a great business and influences every company decision. Acting in alignment with company culture is not just important but paramount, as confusion and lack of direction are death sentences in the perilous world of startups. On the other hand, if developed deliberately, company culture is a force that acts as a roadmap: bringing together every member of the company, and providing a pillar of stability in chaotic and troubling times. Company culture doesn’t just define a corporation’s character, but also its future success.
So how do you create a company culture? Well, it’s not easy. Like every major and important undertaking, it requires careful thought and deliberation. But, as it is so important, it’s best it is penned as early in the game as possible. So when deciding to move out of the garage and hire someone who you haven’t known your entire life, it’s time to get writing. Take inspiration from the Founding Fathers or the PayPal Mafia, throw in a powerful mission statement and tagline, paint a picture of the workplace of your fantasies, determine how you’ll work and act, sprinkle in some cool traditions, and BOOM you have a well-rounded company culture.
Remember, your company culture doesn’t have to include almost non-profit-like ambitions or a pet-massage-providing work culture, but it does have to be thoughtful and defined. If not, you’ll be forced to build the company on a wobbly foundation composed of unsolid or even divisive elements. Continue in this direction, and you’ll later be desperately patching holes before the amorphous and characterless company self-implodes. Instead, in opposition to popular belief, your company culture could be nauseously cutthroat and sweatshop-like but if that’s intention – the company culture is “good” and will help deliver results. Finally, keep in mind that everything from the type of individuals that you hire to the direction of your marketing campaigns will be accomplished(and better so) in consideration of company culture. Like every masterpiece, a company’s culture must be first be charted and planned.
To add a couple more rules, company culture must be authentic, unique, and possess you to take ownership of it – it has to be undeniably yours. For example, the billion dollar footwear e-commerce business, Zappos, is so obsessed with their value-based and customer-service-first company culture that they wrote a book on it. Google, another paragon of both corporate success and company culture, has differentiated itself with its mind-blowingly smart, academic, creative, comfortable, and mostly downright-wacky culture. One breath in the Googleplex and you’re without a question immersed in the glorious Google culture, that’s what every business must strive for.
Coming full circle to my own experience with my firm’s culture, I can’t write entire volumes on the subject like its full-time employees, but I can unquestionably say that my firm’s “we get stuff done, we’re ferociously curious, but relax while we do” culture was palpable from the second I entered its tranquil, glass-dotted office. From these initial insights and further conversations with the partners, it’s evident – the culture is painstakingly deliberate and overwhelmingly authentic and unique. No wonder the firm performs so well.