I've been thinking a lot about company culture lately.
What is it exactly and what does it mean to have a ‘great culture’?
Being an internet entrepreneur for a fast growing startup, at Unleashed we almost by default take on the stereotypical ‘Silicon Valley’ startup scene of a relaxed atmosphere with employees coming and going as they please and the work getting done in between the parties, going for a swim or paddle boarding session, or taking their pets for a walk along the promenade or beach. But is this culture?
I don’t think these things make up culture at all. I call them perks.
It is a perk when your company allows you to bring pets to work; it is a perk when you have the best coffee in town made by your own company barrister; it is a perk when the company pays for your lunch or ‘brain food snacks’. It is a perk to be allowed to come and go as you please as you get the job done. But these perks to me do not make a great company culture.
They may provide for a naturally pleasing environment from where a great culture can manifest itself – but the perks are not culture.
When you walk in to any Unleashed office you will see a lot of people working hard! The walls are laden with plans, milestones, to do lists and progress towards targets. In fact, every wall is a whiteboard – this visibility of tasks and strategies is one of the key elements to ensuring communication of the company’s targets and plans remain current and in the minds of employees all the time. The hive of activity is outstanding.
But there is something even more outstanding that happens long after 5:00pm each night!
During the early years at Unleashed I would arrive at work at 8:00 and leave at 4:30 to make sure I was home to spend a precious couple of hours with family. Then from 7:30 every night I would log on and work through to past midnight. Bootstrapping the business meant fulfilling many functions, and these evenings would often be spent talking with customers abroad – offering assistance, support or pre-sales solution architecting to ensure we had the right fit for our potential customers. This time was invaluable. And I was not alone. Our programmers, assisting my work in an engineering capacity, would often join me at night, muddling through tricky questions and integrations.
This was the foundation for our culture at Unleashed.
We all got stuck in, worked some insane hours to ‘get the job done’ and always put our customers first. As we built out our teams, they too caught on that at Unleashed, to put our customers first and go the extra mile means doing work outside of the normal times. It means turning up when others have logged out, it means thinking about how to improve the lives of our customers by following up regularly, it means hitting deadlines with ruthless endeavour, it means never giving up!
This to me is culture. Doing whatever we can to help each other deliver – to get the job done and always put our customers first.
When I look over the engineering team at 5:00 on a Friday – long after the last piece of pizza has been eaten - I see more the half my team still working. Many will still be there long into the night and again in the weekend. With a team and a culture that strives to be the best and to overachieve, I know that no matter what obstacles, targets or milestones we have in front of us, we will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
This is culture. Culture is not a ‘perk of the job’. It is the modus operandi of the company to get the job done – no matter what the conditions.