Work-health index and industry surveys (like this and this) that put ‘culture’ at the core of why talent is attracted to or repelled from organizations abound. But you can't miss what you don't have—and for most startups, the beliefs and behaviors that create "culture" are being formed on day one, often without conscious effort.
When you scan the landscape, there are certain sweethearts that stand out for great culture: Google with its free time, Zappos with its customer service, Fab with its office design. So why do Microsoft and Yahoo! get bad raps? They have the same perks and spend comparatively equal or more money on employees and their services. Why are some startups bubbling to the top in the mix as best places to work, while others flounder despite their equivalent time, energy, and effort?
Rather than look at best practices, my leadership team and I assembled some practices to avoid from our experiences at large and small companies—including Microsoft, Google, Deloitte, GoDaddy, Active Network, Thriva, Expedia, and more—all notoriously ranking at very different points on the culture scale. In short, in order to establish the right culture for our new company, we decided to first figure out why some company cultures stink. Namely:
No one likes jerks. But almost as detrimental to being jerky is being a gossip queen. This is the antithesis of transparency and collaboration. Even if it is not malicious, it erodes an organization’s culture and energy over time. Cliques form and employees find comfort in their connection to each other through trash-talking—instead of building relationships based on accomplishments and goals.
Culture is a normative inheritance, much like child rearing. Kids look and act like their parents despite how hard they try to do otherwise. The same holds true in your organization. Your leadership is the best indicator of the entire organization and so employees' bad tempers, sloppiness, lack of collaboration, and general attitude provide valuable insight into the health of the company.
When managers are not willing to get their hands dirty with the troops or do hard work, there's no number of free lunches that can help your company. There are severe culture consequences when managers are disengaged from the front lines and, by extension, your customers.
Competition is great. It’s imperative. I believe that you should compete with yourself. What is not necessary is competing internally. You know you have a rotten culture when employees spend more time competing with each other than with external forces.
McKinsey coined the airport interview test–-If you were stuck in an airport with a candidate, would you enjoy it? You have to work a lot together in a startup, often pushing through tough situations. These can actually shore up relationships, but only if they exist already. Companies that don’t make time for team building or relationship building outside the office inherently face talent retention risks.
Employees should come to work every day more excited than the last. Their attitude is powered by shared beliefs of the organization—employees should have a unified understanding of the key value drivers applied to decision-making. There needs to be a deep care and belief in what the mission of the company is in order to delight customers, develop raving fans and repeat the cycle. The moment an employee stops believing in the company and taking pride in their job significance, your castle will fall.
Culture is conscious state of mind. Make it unacceptable to stink.
—Matt Ehrlichman is the CEO and cofounder of Porch, the only marketplace that connects homeowners with the right service professionals through who neighbors have used, project and cost history, and endorsements by friends. Follow him on Twitter at @mattehrlichman.
[Image: Flickr user Kevin Dooley]