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One key aspect of company culture is how it is transmitted from the founders, or the C-levels and high ranks, to the rest of the company. In this blog, we will share how we do it at MarsBased!
After having written two blog posts about company culture lately, one about How We Came Up With Our Company Culture and one about how our company culture helps us to hire better and faster it is time to share how it is spread about organisations and companies alike.
Culture starts with the founders
If I had to single out a surefire way to correctly spread company culture is by living and breathing it in everything you do. Actions speak louder than words, and every time I read or hear about companies with strong cultures, they always have everyone in the company adopt their values as the most important thing.
Ask every person out there who's happy at work and one of the main points he or she will highlight is that "the founders are very down-to-earth", "there's no management and everyone has a say in the company regardless of seniority" or "the managers are always enabling the lower levels", just to name a few examples.
Culture starts with the founders. Founders set the foundations of the culture of a workplace, which is then refined by the first hires once the company starts to grow.
Founders need to lead by example. I'll share a couple of situations we lived at MarsBased.
For a start, we're not the kind of company that is stingy about how many days our employees take off. There's a recommended number of days per year, but we only count them to ensure that no one takes fewer holidays than that number, and for pure accounting reasons. However, at the end of the first year, we found out that a couple of our employees hadn't taken enough holidays.
When we confronted them, they told us that not only they were having fun at work (which speaks at length about how great it is to work here), but they also mentioned that they saw us - the founders - not taking holidays, and therefore they didn't want to take them.
What did we do? We started taking more days off.
On another occasion, we spotted one or two of our employees working too much. They'd stretch their days too long, and then they'd work during the weekend. Why? Because they saw us, again the founders, doing it.
Once we took the resolution of working a maximum of 40h per week no matter what, all became normal, and it's been a great investment for the company.
Therefore, it is absolutely paramount to ensure a correct transmission of the company culture and the values from the founders to the rest of the team, starting with the first hires, and then to the management layers.
The first hires
Even if you are really experienced in creating companies, chances are, you will not get your company culture and values completely right until you hire a few employees.
Why? Because company culture is partly defined by how people in your company interact with each other: how to manage, how to report, when to speak up or how to deal with issues and conflicts.
When we hired our first employee in 2014, we had to deal with a few situations we hadn't faced before. I brought on board one of my best friends from my previous job. I knew him very well, but my two co-founders didn't. We had to be very careful, not only because he was our first hire in our first company, but because the first employee in a small all-remote company can feel very lonely. We wrote about all of this and more in a blog post about how to deal with your first hires in distributed teams.
Even though our culture said that we're a 100% remote company, we also wanted to make it easy for him to land on our company. To get acquainted with the team, we decided to spend a couple of days per week working with him in a coworking space, which helped him to get familiar with my two co-founders. Because we are a 100%-remote company, we learnt how important it is to have frequent in-person interactions.
As we grew our team, we reinforced our culture of transparency.
We felt it'd be positive if we shared as much as we could so that explaining difficult decisions would be easier. Also, our employees have shared many times with us that too much information is overwhelming, and while they appreciate the transparency, sometimes they just want to have some information upon request.
Passing down culture to management
Boy, having bad managers sucks.
While good managers can keep you in a boring or even bad environment at work, a bad manager can completely fuck up a company. In fact, I love that saying that goes "people don't quit jobs, they quit managers".
A very common mistake in companies scaling up is that they hire excellent projects managers who are entirely goal-driven, but they very often are terrible at managing people.
Of course, if your company values are "aggressive growth", "the end justifies the means" or "work hard & give it all", then you will most likely be in a company where the human factor isn't considered at any level, so be wary of these. However, if you're on the lookout for a place to work with great personal/work balance, you need to look beyond the company culture and see if the managers have soaked it up properly.
A good way to ensure company culture is passed down to managers is by always favouring internal promotions. Long-term employees will most likely have soaked up the culture and learnt so much that they can progress further up in their careers inside your company. And, of course, most likely it'll be a deserved promotion.
On the other hand, companies who bring external CEOs or other management roles, often overlook the match (or lack thereof) in the company culture and their teams. One resounding success in bringing an external CEO is the case of Eric Schmidt in Google, where he managed to scale it from $100MM in annual revenue to $40 billion in just a decade. Legend has it, that the Google founders chose him over dozens of other candidates because Eric Schmidt had been to Burning Man, and that is key to understand Google's culture. However, more often than not, bringing in external people isn't as successful as an internal promotion.
Alright! Here ends the third post of this series of blogs about company culture! How are you leading your company? How do you make sure you pass down your values and culture so it spreads among the team? Feel free to share your tips in the section below!