The Founder’s Culture Challenge
Imagine you are starting your own company. You have an idea, a market, and a client’s problem you believe you can solve better than anyone else. You know you can do it on your own but you need to grow your team so that you can expand.
You want to keep your circle focused and are not just looking to fulfill a certain “body count.” You want people who can bring to the table the exact skills that your clients want and that you need to have for continued success.
You define your need for people through the skills that will lead to success for many, many years to come. This requires creating an environment of positive supportive growth – something that many refer to as culture.
The Employee’s Culture Challenge
Imagine you are starting a new job. The company you are joining is in the initial stages of expansion. On your first day (as the first employee), the founder sits down with you and explains what they want the environment to be like. They want engagement and fun, but they also want to drive results for their clients.
On day two, you come into work and are very focused on how to live in that environment (this likely shapes how you think about what you do). As time passes, the company keeps hiring people. When these new hires start, the founder no longer has the time to explain his/her desired outcome.
Instead, the new employees look to you and what you do on a daily basis. It is no longer what the founder wants that drives culture, it is more impacted by what you and your team does.
Chicken or Egg?
So, who drives culture – the people or the Senior Managers? Many employees claim that management drives culture but the more the company grows the less the Senior Managers impact day to day activities.
While certain people influence it more than others, the reality is that no one person controls culture – everyone influences it. Many employees have a much greater influence on the culture than a manager does; it is their habits, values, and examples that drive much more of what happens on a given day than anything a Senior Manager can accomplish. Depending on the size and style of the business, these influencers can be a wide range of individuals.
On top of that, from a company’s perspective, not all cultures are equal; there is no ideal universal culture that all companies should aspire to. Instead, culture should trigger positive outcomes and encourage great employees to stay and grow in the skills clients need.
Culture needs to complement your solution to your client’s specific problem (any misfit will often lead to significant business problems). For example, the best culture for an online retailer that has ninety percent of their staff in a call center will differ from that of an investment bank that needs to handle large complex financial instruments with a personal relationship to a client’s CFO.
It is not that one is better than the other, rather that an ideal employee is defined much differently based on the objective of the company.
On the other hand, existing employees set the tone and habits that new employees look for in order to fit in and grow. As new team members are on-boarded, they tend to look at current perceived role models and start to mimic what these team members do around them.
It is their habits they look to emulate. While a manager can influence culture more than an individual on their team, keep in mind that a manager is an employee as well and is responding to what works within their team.
This is why a great employee is worth so much more than an average one (they have a multiplying effect), and why a negative employee can also have an outsized, and of course, negative impact.
How We Handle the Challenge
At Emphasys, we are a collection of individual businesses, each serving many clients across several geographies and industries. Our business’s products are very different; between our clients’ needs and our technology simultaneously evolving, there are many factors constantly shifting.
The solutions that our clients need require continual evolution from our team, our approach, and our products. Due to this, we believe that the best-made decisions are those rooted as close to our clients as possible. Only when you are in tune with the challenge are you able to see all the variables and know what the optimal solutions are likely to be.
In effect, our culture is highly dependent on smart, strong, independent employees. They need to be experts on many levels and able to communicate the approach they believe is best for both clients and peers. The more this type of employee is cultivated, the better. We need to ensure the environment we create stimulates these types of individuals to not only stay and grow in our organization but also to inspire their peers.
We need employees who see better ways and suggest them. We need employees who see the silly things we still do and stop them. We need managers to create environments within their teams for the above to happen and to position employees who have the right skills and attitude into greater positions of influence.
What kind of culture do you try to create in your company?