Your DTC Cheat Sheet for Company Culture
The Power of Culture
The culture you create serves as both the backbone and the conscience of your company.
When things go well, your culture will help celebrate the moment as a team, while staying humble and focused. A strong culture and values will also not allow you to get distracted, prideful and complacent.
When things don’t go so well, your company’s culture will reveal how the team either bands together and supports each other, or falls apart. It’s that simple.
Here’s how Nathaniel Ru, one of the co-founders of Sweetgreen, put it when asked: ‘What has stayed the same, and what has evolved around culture & values over time at Sweetgreen?’
“Over the last 14 years, our mission has remained the same, but how we do things has constantly evolved. When it comes to the culture at Sweetgreen, we use our core values as a universal language for making decisions. It gives our teams a simple framework to follow but also the flexibility to make our values their own.”
Suze Dowling, Pattern’s co-founder and Chief Business Officer, echoed Nate’s sentiment around having flexibility, while remaining true to core values.
“Over the past year plus,” Suze says, “we’ve had to learn to work effectively and sustainably as a fully remote, fast-growing team spread out all over the US. We’ve had to rethink a lot of our working norms, policies, practices, and meetings. Importantly, we had to learn to accept, and embrace, that the working culture at a remote-first company feels different (and that’s ok) versus being in person with one another. We emphasize the collective power of a team. We are stronger than the sum of our parts. Our culture is one of agility, entrepreneurship, and a supportive ‘can do’ attitude.”
Culture Starts at the Top
A company’s culture starts with its leaders. That begins with the founders. What values do they want the business to stand for? What type of a work environment is a reflection of how they see the world? From there, a business can go through multiple generations of leaders who can add to or subtract from the culture.
Once a company’s culture is set, it becomes shared by all employees. Like a bee-hive, companies are a collection of individuals who need to work harmoniously, to be ever evolving and fluid.
For Phantila Phataraprasit, the founder of DTC furniture startup Sabai Design, pursuing sustainability in her business was a core value that she has made part of the company culture. “Now more than ever,” Phantila explains, “consumers care about the values behind a company and the practices that go into producing their products. At Sabai, sustainability is at the core of everything we do. This communication has built trust and loyalty within our community, who then become brand advocates.”
Suze seconds the importance founders have in forming a business’s culture by adding, “Never take culture for granted. Remember that, as a founder, you set the tone for those around you. I view a core metric of my own success as a leader as being the wellness and happiness of our team, which is a direct reflection of our working culture.”
Most eComm operations are small to mid-sized teams hustling together around a product or category we’re passionate about. How can we best create a shared culture that is true to what motivates us, as well as empowering, energizing, attracts and retains great talent, and gives us a competitive edge?
We exist in an exciting, fast paced and highly unpredictable part of the economy. The employees who work in our sector are smart, educated, curious, and skilled. Yet, job security can be hard to come by. The tools needed to succeed are ever changing, and it can be difficult to plot a path of growth — let alone stasis.
Leave Room for Curiosity and Education
Providing a culture that is fair, kind, and safe while also providing room for education, curiosity, and exploration is key. “We’ve found those who are curious are also lifelong learners,” says Suze. “They aren’t afraid to ask questions, and are inherently more collaborative.” Employees in this economy need to adapt their skills to stay relevant, while understanding the broader market.
Great companies are going to be built with teams of curious, hungry workers seeking to learn, grow, and better their standing within the job market. Most positions nowadays are not forever, so acknowledging that an employee needs to be able to extract value in the short term for themselves is fair and important. This can mean allowing for cross-functional discussions, team presentations and work demos, small budgets for books, classes, and a general top-down support for learning.
Great Culture = Great Hiring
Each person you add to your company becomes a contributor to your culture, an ambassador for your values. It’s important to hire people who reflect what you want to promote. “Remember the vital importance hiring has on your culture,” says Suze.
“One of the most critical decisions that you make when building in the early days is when and whom to hire. No matter how quickly you are growing, take the time to do this thoughtfully. Be clear on your values and vision, and hire people who have the right skillset and perhaps, more importantly, share in your purpose and passion.”
Pattern prioritizes diversity of thought among our working team, allowing us to create a holistic perspective and a stronger business. Working with a diverse team forces us to challenge our assumptions and biases, and ultimately leads us to better decision-making.
“For that reason,” says Suze, “we hire for ‘culture add,’ not culture fit. In other words, how does this person add to our team dynamic, our culture, our perspectives, versus how do they fit within the current team.”
We live in a time that can feel divided. There is so much information out there, and so much that is magnified, it can be really hard, if not traumatic, for many to turn on the TV, open social media, or check the news. We’ve always tried to allow work to be a safe place away from the challenges and stresses of our personal lives and the outside world. We don’t all agree on everything, but we try to respect each other, give the benefit of the doubt, and lead with empathy. At Pattern, we’ve focused on emphasizing what we call ‘DEEI’ for our team.
We’ll talk through this below:
Diversity can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. At its base, it’s important to support and allow a diversity of background and mind states at a company. The more we are personally exposed to, the more we understand about the people around us.
Equity & Equality
At Pattern, we’ve focused our workplace culture on both Equity and Equality.
Equity means allowing individuals an even platform to operate off of that is empathetic to their base of operations. Such as considering the employee who has a child or children, or the employee with a long commute, or an atypical work-from-home setup. It’s taking in individual circumstances and setting that person up for success.
Equality at Pattern is having standardized processes for promotion, titles, compensation, benefits etc. We want to be fair and even, not playing favorites or making exceptions in how our team can navigate our company.
Inclusivity is creating an environment where employees feel they are seen, heard, acknowledged, and safe.
We all present a ‘work self’ that might be different from our ‘personal self’ reserved for our close friends and family. That’s OK! It’s also important we don’t force people to hide who they truly are. There’s a fine balance here, but we think this is one of the most important parts of workplace culture.
More and more, we want to be who we are in our work, not just in our time away from our work. As long as each individual on the team is focused on the success of the company — and offers a team-first mentality — it is important to allow people to feel unguarded and safe when entering a room or meeting.
Birds of a feather flock together; what you stand for is what you will attract! You want to put out to the universe the type of energy you want to get back. With culture, you want to think long and hard about the environment and dynamics you think make for a healthy, energizing, and sustainable workplace.
Your product is not only what you sell but it is your team, and you have to take care of them each and every day. With a united and motivated team, what you can accomplish is only limited by the focus you provide them.
Make sure to check out our prior installments:
Week 1: Why Great Brands Make Great Businesses
Week 2: The Power of Community & Why Great Brands Have It
Week 3: Mastering Foundational & Performance Marketing for eCommerce
Week 4: How to Build a Great Product
If you are a business owner interested in learning more about joining Pattern…
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