This article was originally published on 15Five.
Twenty years ago, a company’s culture was something to scoff at. To many, it meant that you were soft and weak in the dog-eat-dog business world — a world where everyone worships the almighty bottom line, and only the strong survive.
Today, culture is seen by many as the most important aspect of a business enterprise. It is the glue that keeps employees working as a cohesive unit, and in some cases will distinguish you from competitors. Company culture is so important, that to preserve it Jeff Bezos just offered any Amazon employee $5,000 to quit their jobs.
How much is your company culture worth to you?
Clash of cultures
I began my career before I really understood anything about values and culture, and I left the first company I started solely because of cultural differences. Without knowing anything about culture, I intuitively asked interview questions related to matching cultural values. If I felt a good fit and a positive interaction, I hired the person.
I eventually created this beautiful bubble of a team within the organization that I really jived with. They were trustworthy, high-energy cooperative people, but there were issues and conflicts with other employees and tension with my co-founder who hired them.
Then I read an article in Inc Magazine that explained it all — you can’t have more than one culture within the same company. I shared the article with the CEO and co-founder, and the same lightbulb went off for him. The outcome of that conversation was my decision to leave the company.
As much as I wanted to grow my team, it would never mesh with the one my partner was building. Their values were not wrong or bad, just different. Had I understoodthe importance of cultural values, that would have been the first thing I would have looked for in a business partner. We had connection and synergy, but values were misaligned.
Protect your interests
According to Time, Amazon’s CEO just announced “what has to be the most counterintuitive personnel policy in corporate America today: If an employee isn’t happy working at the online retail giant, they can earn up to $5,000 just for quitting.” Amazon’s offer is a radical one, but one designed to preserve their most cherished assets — employees who are aligned with culture.
Making voluntary departure a reasonable and even profitable option makes sense since letting go of employees can be a tricky proposition. Firing a well-liked employee can be damaging to morale. They may not leave gracefully, poisoning the minds of others on the way out the door.
Disgruntled former employees may even seek some obscure legal justification for suing you, like constructive termination. A prospect that could cost you financially or devolve into a public relations fiasco, forever damaging your brand in the eyes of today’s ever-more conscious consumer.
But Amazon’s main motivation here is to preserve their fast-paced culture by weeding out those who are not committed. They borrowed this idea from Zappos, who they acquired in 2009 for close to $1 Billion. Amazon bought more than a profitable company, they bought a set of contagious ideals that they implemented throughout their enterprise.
Energy is contagious
Zappos is not a shoe company. They are a customer service company that happens to sell shoes. Customer service depends on people whose attitudes and very nature include humility, honesty, and positivity — values at the core of their corporate culture.
Paying average wages and offering mediocre benefits, they regularly score high on the ‘best places to work’ lists. According to Time, when Zappos began offering their employees $1,000 to quit, that was a money saver. Disruptions to corporate culture would have been much more expensive than paying workers to pursue a career elsewhere.
Amazon followed their lead, offering employees money to leave and limiting employment opportunities to people who really want to be a part of who they are and what they do. Those people are not motivated by money, but by the values and purpose of the company.
The culture at Zappos is quite unique, as is expressed by their #2 value – Create fun and a little weirdness, or #3 – Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded. When narrow-minded, low energy people are allowed to infiltrate, they can spread like a cancer within that organization. A few thousand dollars to preserve the foundations of an extremely profitable company sounds like a bargain to me.
The money-saving option
At 15Five, we have developed a less expensive way to preserve company culture and values. Rather than paying $5,000 to have someone quit, we offer a tool where managers pay $5 per month to get valuable positive feedback from an employee. We use our tool internally and ask questions like “What’s a way you’ve lived one of 15Five’s core values this week?” This keeps values top-of-mind and also exposes areas where people need more growth and support.
We’ve repeatedly heard from our customers that after several weeks of using 15Five, it becomes quite clear which employees are disengaged. This can lead to a one-on-one conversation with them and then corrective action. At that point they can write a check for $5K if they want to, but at least they know the truth about how an employee feels about the company and its culture.
Photo Credit: mtellin
What unique tactics have you used to retain your best talent? Please leave a comment below.
On the importance of finding a job you love, integrity and how empathy killed ego.
A lot of my friends have been reaching out lately asking questions like
“So, Victoria, what exactly is your job”? or “What are you up to these days, you seem to be having a hell of a time”! This is why I decided to share a couple of thoughts on the importance of finding a job you love. Why? Because finding a job you love is finding homogenous integrity not only on a personal level, but also on a team, company and and community level.
It’s 3.49 A.M. I’m sitting on a plane on my way back to London after spending ten days in Africa. Sleep-deprived, ill, and far outside my comfort zone, I can’t help but smile. I have the best job of the world. Actually, scratch that. It’s not a job.
It’s a mission.
Window seats are definitely the best — voluptuous mountains of air float on my right in a surrealistic caprice.
– “I like the stickers on your laptop. What do you do for work?” — my neighbor asks. For work, I repeat silently with self-addressed amusement that I’m failing to contain.
– “When you do what you love, it’s not really work. As my father likes to put it, I just do what I love, and they pay me for it”.
Her eyes look sceptical. We chat briefly before I retreat into a quiet Moleskin and black ink moment.
Finding a job you like is a little like falling in love. You start waking up earlier because you’re too excited about what the day will bring. Hours seem to fly. You talk to everyone you know about how amazing this new adventure is and why they should absolutely try it for themselves. You are excited and feel a mild, but constant discomfort in your chest. It’s the adrenaline racing in your veins. It’s work, but on another rhythm.
When you love what you do, there are no unpleasant obligations and to-dos, there are responsibilities instead. Responsibilities taken at heart. Similarly, trying to convince yourself that you’re mastering the “work/life” balance myth is unnecessary as there are no work hard, play hard company motto clichés. Instead, there is just you. The real, dedicated, excited You. The kind You. The best of You.
1. Personal Integrity: Porosity between “work life” and “personal life”
At the moment, there’s no separation between my personal life and my private live. The events I go to “for work” are also the ones I’d go to in my spare time. The people I see in the office are also the ones I spend time with outside the work hours (not that we actually have those, but you get what I mean).
Sociologist E. Goffman, in his brilliant book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, explains the rules of social interactions by a theater metaphor and the concept of social masks. Masks are designed to help us integrate in a certain social milieu and play an important role in protecting ourselves by keeping others at a certain distance.
Now, as much as I admire Goffman’s picturesque theory, I don’t believe that people have to always wear masks to fit different social settings. Maintaining masks is psychologically draining, hence why some of us feel like they can only relax outside of work, where they can drop off the mask and be themselves. I believe that when removing masks in a professional environment, people can freely expose and explore all the different facets of their personalities, which results in the creation of real, human connections. The energy of “saving face” is then used in a much more meaningful way — building real, personal relationships with others. One of the favourite characteristics of my job is undoubtedly the fact that we share thoughts, emotions and experiences just like we do with friends and family.
2. Group Integrity: How empathy killed ego
If personal integrity makes you bring the best of yourself to the table, group integrity is a powerful tool enhancing group dynamics and impact. Exponentially. When everyone within a team feels complete personal integrity, ego friction is replaced with positive peer pressure.
In fact, when the mission is bigger than yourself, all that matters is getting closer to the achievement of that mission. Everyone is willing to do that extra hour, extra project, extra effort. Because they care. And caring also means caring for each other. Why? Because people want to help one another achieve the common goal they have set. This helps develop a fundamental value at the core of any successful person, business or initiative: empathy.
3. Company Integrity: Find a company that cares
I’m a big advocate of empathy and believe it’s the most important human trait. Empathy within a company is just as vital — it enables teams to move faster and to feel connected.
At UP, we have a strong company culture and group dynamics. We are also unhealthily obsessed with better serving our customers. We constantly ask ourselves: What can we do to be a better company today? What can we do to be better people today? We do so by providing each other with immediate and constructive feedback and by constantly sharing information and ideas.
This dynamic state of mind is extremely motivating. You have the chance to reinvent yourself and the company you work for every single day. You think a certain process is slow? Improve it. You’ve identified an issue that doesn’t resonate with your philosophy? Fix it. You have a suggestion on how to improve the office’s happiness KPIs? Say it. Finding a company where people care is the best possible thing you can do for your career. Feeling that you’re making a difference, that what you say matters and that people care is a huge motivation factor.
4. Global integrity: Global community
This empathy-tinted philosophy goes beyond our team and is embodied by our mission and community. At UP, we’re all about community. We have 1200 events per year and aim to empower the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. We support them throughout the entire Entrepreneur Journey and provide them with the self-confidence and network to create the startup communities of tomorrow. Our goal? Supporting 1000 thriving communities by 2016.
While in London or Berlin we might be a one amongst hundreds of existing initiatives, in places like Sarajevo, Damascus or Antananarivo, we are the pioneers of a different way of thinking. We encourage people to take the future in their hands and take action, rather than waiting for governments to fix themselves or for “someone else” to do so.
Our events are organized by thousands of volunteers around the globe. The most excited, connected, passionate and inspiring people in the world. The doers. Those who get their hands dirty. Who initiate change. Who are not afraid of stepping up. It is an immense pleasure to work with this extended family of shiny eyes.
It’s 11 P.M. I’m sitting in The Cube — Athens newest coworking space founded by Stavros, our incredible local organizer. He’s telling me wild stories of a time he facilitated a Startup Weekend in Jeddah featuring wild animals, fairy tale-esque buffets and royal family members. My eyes get distracted by a pole dance class taking place across the street. “Oh that? Don’t worry you’ll get used to it” Stavors says.
As I walk to my hotel I can’t help but smile. So many friendly faces, so many people with shiny eyes and yet so many awaiting adventures. One day you sleep on a stranger’s floor, one day in a five-start hotel. It doesn’t matter if you eat cold pizza or dinner prepared by a world-famous chef. All it matters is that we keep inspiring those who’ll change the world tomorrow.
I have the best job in the world. Actually scratch that, it’s not a job.