I read an article this weekend called ‘Here’s what happens when you hate your job” by Brent Daily (read the full article on Mashable here). He talks about getting a new job and how important a culture fit is for both the employer and the employee. Brent suggests that when evaluating a job at an interview you think about these 4 questions :
- Decision-Making. Who makes the decisions, how are they made, who gets credit?
- Feedback and Rewards. How and when can you be expected to get feedback? What do the top performers do to be considered such?
- Team Dynamics. What needs fixing? What are the expectations of new team members? What’s a meeting sound like (i.e. thoughtful, raised voices)?
- Management. Is your manager a top performer or is your star going to dim simply by being in his/her orbit?
That got me thinking - what is “company culture”? In Brent’s post it’s about decision making, feedback and dynamics. He’s not wrong, those things are definitely important, but how else do we describe it?
I think on aspect Culture is the set of values that binds you together as a group of people working in a strong unit . In organisations that have a strong culture, there is a strong sense of what it means to be there, of how to behave, how to decide and of what is important and what is not, of what is acceptable and what is not.
Culture is important - it’s the unwritten rule book of how to behave.
At Asperity, I still deliver our Culture & Values Induction to every single new starter - that means running the programme every 2-3 weeks in London and again whenever I’m in Sydney or New York. We use video versions of it as well if I’m in the wrong part of the world when we need to start new people.
Culture is the most important thing that we have in an organisation because it’s the unwritten rule book of how to behave. I promised my staff, and our investors that I would do everything I could to protect our culture as we grow, and I’d encourage anyone in business, whatever organisation or department you are leading to make time to nurture and re-enforce your culture. Because it does take time to nurture, especially if you’re growing quickly and adding new staff all the time.
Whilst Culture might often be an unwritten rule book, our Culture & Values induction is an attempt to write it down and communicate it, so our new starters know how we behave, and how we’d like them to behave. It’s amazing how many times people have said to me afterwards that it’s all common sense but that no-one has ever discussed culture with them before when starting a new job.
What is in Asperity’s Culture & Value’s introduction?
In our Induction, I start with a bit of company history, explain how we started, why we started and what we hoped would work. I explain that our niche (employee discounts) was in a spiral of decline back in 2006 (Poor service & technology => Low usage by employees => Low value to employers =>Providers couldn’t charge much/anything => No money to invest in product & service, then repeat spiral). I explain that my hunch was that if you provided a great service with genuine, long term deals that people could rely on then employees would use the product, employers would value that and they would be prepared to pay a fair price for that.
I explain what we stand for in the market, why we make the decisions that we do and what are the immovable pillars of our product (high engagement, high quality, innovative technology and hard working communications) and how they have made us successful.
Next, I contrast our growth and success against our competitors in our small market and show the forecasts and plans we have for the next 4 years. We’ve always believed in employee share ownership at Asperity and we have an Employee Share Scheme that puts 5% of the value of our company in the hands of our staff. That’s important to us and it’s important to me to make sure that our staff know what that means for them and how we need them to contribute so we can become the company that we want to. We need people to take ownership, take risks, innovate, deliver on promises and keep challenging - always being unsatisfied with where we are and striving for better.
So with all of the basics done - our history, where we’re going and how we need people to contribute, we’re left to talk about culture and the day to day behaviour that we expect. So without doing all of the details, I thought I’d share with you some of the key points of that section. We’re always practical and pragmatic at Asperity, so we talk about our culture in with simple words and practical examples.
Here are five things we tell and ask of all of our new staff:
You are our brand. Your conduct and choices are the most important thing we have.
- The way we deal with people every day - whether they are customers, employees, clients, suppliers, partners, channels is the most important part of our brand.
- We should always be polite, respectful, decent, honest and have integrity - even when we disagree.
- You can be tough, single minded, focused and results driven without being mean, rude, disrespectful or discourteous.
- We want to win, we want to grow our business. We fight hard but always fairly - we don’t need to cheat or lie.
Be nice to people whenever you can. Treat them with respect - it’s a small industry and you don’t know when you’ll meet them again
- The recruiter who worked hard on 3 candidates for you but you didn’t hire - she might have the right one next time
- The guy at the small supplier that you don’t really need today might work for a supplier you really need in the future.
- The HR Manager at that tiny company giving you a hard time be worth little today, but tomorrow she may be HR Director at a major employer you want to work with
Be reliable, organised and available.
- There’s nothing worse than promises that are broken or expectations not met
- Phone calls not returned or delivery dates not met are the most destructive things in a business.
- Clients and employees will forgive almost any genuine mistake as long as they know you are fixing it and you are responsive
- Acknowledge phone calls and emails quickly. You might not be able to fully answer or deal with the issue but let them know you are working on it
- Make sure you organise yourself to deliver - whatever that means for you.
We will get things wrong sometimes. It’s OK. Apologise more than you need to. Compensate more than you have to.
- You can easily turn bad service or a cock up into a positive memory for the client.
- Apologise first. Never dodge a bullet.
- Fix it quickly. Compensate if you need to.
- Apologise again. Check the remedy has worked and is enough. Find out what else we can do.
- Find out how we can avoid it happening again. We must learn from our mistakes.
Deliver our brand every day
- be clear - use straight talking, not jargon
- be friendly - we don’t hide behind complexity or pompous concepts
- be straightforward - we’re practical and pragmatic
- look to the long term - we understand that relationships need give and take
- deliver on your promises
How do these match the feel of your organisation? Do you have a similar set of rules in your organisation or business?
Ultimately, Asperity’s culture is about honesty and trust. We accept controlled failure because you have to if you want to innovate - it’s not possible to be bold and change things if you’re terrified of what will happen when something goes wrong. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t take responsibility - because that’s crucial. Responsibility is something that strong people take, blame is something that is given out when a culture is weak.
So this week, wherever you are, whether you work for me in Asperity, or for someone else in another organisation, have a think about your culture, about what you understand about it and what’s important and see what you can do to nurture and tend to your culture this week.