“Is this a good place to work ?”

“There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”
 — Napoleon Bonaparte

Spirit. Mojo. Vibe.

We gauge a company’s culture when assessing whether it is a great place to work. In all our discussions with the company’s staff, we consciously (and subconsciously) analyse aspects such as esprit de corps, common vision, inclusiveness and shared values.

This is what struck me at Amazon.com in my onboard initiation. During the on board process I would wander through HQ (usually lost) and be visually bombarded with posters and banners proclaiming the company’s leadership principles (you can read them here). There was even a Jeff Bezos shrine. My peers would freely espouse a shared vision and a deeply committed drive reflecting such principles.

Developing this tangible company culture is the responsibility of the company’s core members. They have the opportunity to set the stage for a vibrant and satisfying workplace. If done properly. And early.

By tangible, I am referring to a company’s vision, behaviour, values, character and leadership principles. Culture is a living concept that needs oxygen from the key stakeholders.

Often though, when a company is scaling, culture is given secondary consideration as it doesn’t immediately contribution to the top line. However, in the long run, the right culture enables viability of a company to persevere throughout its life cycle.

For the leaders, please note that developing culture is not attempts to clone oneself.

Dedicating time upfront is very time consuming but very worthwhile. And its better when the team is small. Members are in close proximity and readily accessible. Have sessions with a single topic such as the company’s vision/mission — why does the company exist ? — may seem esoteric but will provide direction and importantly, motivation for staff.

One can see the rewards when holding a gathering of staff in various forums. Lively and passionate debates where staff are champing at the bit to put forward their view points are a good indicator of thriving culture. The flipside risk is leaving such exercise until late and cultural statements becoming an albatross . How often has your eyes glazed over at a townhall ? Authenticity is paramount and not clever phrases.

Its important to note that every firm has a different take on culture. It is the outcome and not the method that determines whether a company’s culture is working.

Observe. Experiment. Install.

As mentioned, an important aspects of culture is developing leadership principles. These principles will have a significant impact on decision making and problem solving. Spy on an Amazon.com meeting and one will frequently hear phrases such as “bias for action”, “dive deep”, “frugality” espoused without irony.

When the company is progressing well, management is often taken for granted. However, when business becomes a grind and issues start to mount up, that is when these principles start to count.

As a dynamic concept, culture needs to be constantly over communicated in order to embed itself within front of mind. Core management need to relentlessly talk about all aspects of culture. It is particularly effective when discussed informally within small forums.

In conclusion, make the effort to develop culture upfront. It will aid enormously in attracting and retaining the right talent. Listen to your teams closely. Be open minded and willing to accept criticism. Lastly, keep it real !

About the author

Cornell is driven with addressing the gap in knowledge about sustainability of fast paced scaling businesses. Having endured the growing pains of creating sustainable operations for hyper growth companies, he has a solid insight into their success factors and pitfalls. Cornell assists companies experiencing that growth phase to develop the necessary infrastructure so that growth is sustained if not enhanced. To learn more or connect please click here.