What is culture in the workplace?

Yashar Ahmadpour
Nov 1 · 5 min read

Before we get started unpacking what culture is, I wanted to provide an update. Earlier this year I joined a rocket-ship startup called Limelight Health. And this post is inspired by my experience with the culture so far, the onboarding and a bit more. But first, let’s go into what culture is and what it means.

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, Culture means “the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic”. The set of values is what sets companies apart from one another. Sure, you have products, services that may be different from company to company, but the thing that truly sets apart companies from one another is the culture. If the culture is right, and by right I mean right for you, but also right for the market in which it serves in, then the company may be doing something right, and it may be a company you want to be a part of. Companies who have the right culture, are not only making their employees happier, but the net result is that they have a better performing company that creates greater ROI, and so much more. There’s a great infographic on some of these critical stats I highly encourage you to study, learn, and try to apply towards your company found at the bottom of this post. If you are inclined to read further regarding my specific journey I have been on with Limelight Health, then continue reading, or come back here after you have seen the infographic.

The magic that exists within Limelight Health, is that the company is primarily a remote company. Now you might ask yourself how can a remote company have any sort of culture, and how is that culture conveyed, and how does it all work? And isn’t culture the free flowing beer, the ping pong table, foosball table or some other superficial thing? No.

Culture is how people connect in a meaningful way that means something to them all. It is when they have shared values, and they all believe that what they are doing is something amazing. And that’s why I call it magic at Limelight Health, because before joining Limelight Health I had the same questions in my mind. Now that I am part of the company, and officially a Limelighter, I will break down in simple terms how it works, and why.

  • Have all of the tools you need (software and hardware) made readily available to your team for a successful onboarding experience. When I came onboard LLH I was given everything I needed. From a brand new MacBook Pro, a gigantic screen (32"!), Slack used as it should be with threading properly executed, and a company who really uses these, and other tools to its fullest potential. Not many organizations actually do this, and I recall in a company I was in where they created silos with one end of the company using G Chat, and the other teams Slack. It was head-scratching and honestly a battle that should never have been a battle in the first place. Those battles are unproductive.
  • Create a document for new members coming onboard on whom they should be meeting with, why they should be meeting with them, and what sort of questions they should/could be asking. I highly suggest you read The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins as a lot of the elements of successful onboarding comes from his book. I’ve only ever been part of one other organization who subscribed to proper onboarding (the CEO had read The First 90 Days, and it was he who recommended it to me years ago) where they had me shadow different departments. At LLH I have been essentially interviewing different people from different departments to learn what they do, how they do it, and what cultural quirks I need to be aware of. Furthermore I got to learn about the history of this young startup that is disrupting the InsureTech world.
  • If you are a Product driven organization, then you should have read Marty Cagan’s Inspired as he’s considered the Godfather of Product Management. The lessons learned therein will serve as a great guide for Product organizations, as well as on how to build meaningful products. This is one of my most loved efforts of LLH because we have Product Managers who focus on Product, we have Product Marketers who focus on marketing products, we have Business Analysts whose jobs is to know the customers! Most every company I have been with tacked on all that, plus Project Management onto the lap of a Product Manager. That’s not productive, hence why their product departments suffer.
  • The leadership team must be champions of building culture by actually living it, and inspiring others to do amazing work. For remote companies they must doubly believe and act so, and encourage high engagement with one another. With LLH the leadership team works remotely, they have All Hands meetings where entire company joins in, and one person will play a musical instrument at the end of it! I’ve never seen this before, and it’s all done remote, and done beautifully.
  • For additional meaningful culture, the book Drive by Daniel H. Pink is phenomenal where he speaks of the three pillars of success as being companies who provide Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Before I came on board I touted this book to one of my interviewers as mantras I believed in. To my delight (Josh M!) said he’d read it and instilled it with his team! And these are pillars the company abides by. No one tells you how to solve things per se, but the idea is instead if you see a problem do something about it, and if done wrong it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission (Thanks Jessica for those words!) And Mastery is well and alive as people I have met with have moved horizontally and vertically, and the purpose goes without saying. We are providing a pathway to the insurance industry to be able to provide the best plans in a seamless automated way so that people can truly get what they need.
  • I have added a screenshot of LLH values below this text because we truly live by them.

So, are you ready to transform your company to one that respects its peers, believes in them, nurtures them, guides them, and has a big vision to change the world? Then start with your company culture. And if you find yourself in search of a company that provides what I have outlined, then come talk to us, or tweet me on Twitter to find out more.

Credit: Growth Everywhere

Yashar Ahmadpour

Written by

3x startup founder, technologist, product centric, and sometimes a story teller…

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