3 Tips to Excel in Corporate Culture: Practice What You Preach

Pam Marrone, CEO and Founder of Marrone Bio Innovations shares valuable insights on how to cultivate company culture successfully.

Starting your own company and building a successful brand is a huge endeavor and challenge for any entrepreneur — male or female. Even more daunting can be establishing your corporate values and culture — ultimately what you stand for and who you want to be.

While I’ve faced all kinds of challenges over my 30-year career as an executive and Founder and CEO, the factors consistently most important to me over time — the stuff that boosted morale, gave me courage and energy, and kept me going — was a passion for my field and the strong support from the work culture I’d carefully helped build at companies I worked at. At Monsanto, I was one of very few women, which allowed me to stand out and receive a lot of positive, professional attention. This unlocked many learning opportunities, allowing me to grow and gain exposure to the commercial side of the business — which already had my interest.

Having worked for Fortune 500 companies, there came a time in my career when I decided that fully immersing myself in the field I had the greatest passion for biologicals for pest management and plant health (“biopesticides”), would be easiest to do in a different, more independent venue. I was fortunate to set up a biopesticide subsidiary in Davis, CA for Denmark-based Novo Nordisk, which allowed me to have a taste of entrepreneurship. When they sold our Entotech subsidiary to our largest competitor, I felt I was ready to go out totally on my own, resulting in founding and running two natural pest management companies, AgraQuest and now Marrone Bio Innovations (MBI). Once I decided to strike out on my own, it was mission critical to identify my core mission, vision and values up front to help establish a success-driven corporate culture.

Diversity is a core company value at MBI, where a variety of ideas and perspectives have laid the groundwork for continued innovation and steady market growth since our founding. We’ve developed seven new products in 11 years, for instance, and we’ve done it with teams composed of both mixed genders and mixed ethnicities. Our research and development team of 34 includes 15 women with four sorts of ethnic backgrounds: Asian, African-American, Hispanic and white.

While I’ve spent considerable time and effort to clearly define our mission, vision and values, and build a strong corporate culture at MBI, I realize that this does not always come easy — especially when launching a company.

Here are three tips to help streamline the process:

1. Be clear, precise, and upfront with all employees and investors about how you plan to build and maintain your company’s mission — enforce it from Day One. The key to aligning people in an organization is through culture. Culture is “how we do things around here.” Behind a company’s culture are core values. Use them as a filter for everything you do.

2. Carefully describe the culture you want your company to have, and how you’ll go about building and maintaining that. Keeping the culture you want as the company grows in scale is very challenging for any CEO, so start by documenting standards and procedures that will reinforce your mission, vision and values throughout the hiring and onboarding process.

3. Hiring and associating with the people who share your values and vision is one of the biggest challenges a CEO will face. Be prepared to intervene when your company culture is being hijacked by strong individuals who are operating from their own self-interest. It takes time to build an aligned work environment with the right people on your team. Patience is key.

During a challenging time at our company we had a pocket of individuals who veered the culture of the company counter to our desired values. After these individuals exited the company, we shored up our mission, vision and values with the remaining employees. Together, reworked the mission and vision statement and agreed in a set of values that would be the filter for hiring in the future. Instead of first hiring for skills (which you can train for), we focused our recruiting and hiring to those individuals who first and foremost fit the culture. The questions I ask candidates delve deep into a candidate’s ethics, life and career challenges, empathy, and ability to give outside of themselves. The most important factor in hiring is do they have a strong belief in our mission — that biologicals can transform agriculture that has benefits the farmer, the environment and for the consumer.

To reinforce our culture and values, we have added a section in our annual performance reviews rating the employee on how well they adhere to the company’s stated values. At employee meetings and in anonymous employee surveys, we ask employees to rate the company on how well the company and management are living the stated values. And if there is improvement needed, offer suggestions how we can improve. As CEO, I am more vigilant that ever monitoring the culture and insuring that there is no one, anywhere in the company creating pockets of a rogue culture resulting in “cultural drift.”

It’s very difficult and time consuming to build a desired culture (it can take years), yet it can be destroyed very quickly. It takes constant attention by the CEO. Ask if your values are the foundation of what you want your company to be. Are they driving your company culture and what you stand for? Hopefully, these tips will help you to create a thriving and productive workplace, which will empower your company to meet its business objectives.

Author Bio:

Pam Marrone is CEO and founder of Marrone Bio Innovations (MBI) (NASDAQ: MBII), a bio-based pest management and plant health company. Pam is active with industry and other ag and education-related organizations. She is the founding chair of the Bioproducts Industry Alliance (BPIA), a trade association of more than 100 biopesticide and related companies. Pam is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is treasurer of AWIS and is on the board of trustees of Cornell University.

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