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Thursday September 19 2019

A Deep Dive into Culture – How Tech Companies Practice What They Preach

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Written by Adrian Stewart

September 28, 2017

Culture gets talked about a lot these days. In fact, just a few years back in 2014, Merriam Webster dictionary named it as the ‘word of the year’. But what exactly is it? And how important is it for businesses to get right?

Though there are many definitions, a company culture is essentially a set of values, beliefs and attitudes that shapes the behaviours of an organisation. But it’s more than that. It is also something that is experienced, felt and lived.

It’s the environment you work in and the people you work with. It’s the way you celebrate success; it’s how you deal with failure. It’s the way you interact with your team and the enthusiasm you bring to a project. Ultimately, culture will play a key role in determining your workplace happiness.

If you’ve ever worked in a company with a toxic culture, you’ll know just how badly it can impact your mindset, productivity and enthusiasm. And when such a culture pervades an entire organisation… well, the effects can be dramatic.

The reality is that organisations with a strong culture perform better. But what makes for a great culture in the first place? How important is cultural fit when hiring new team members? And how do you navigate the complexities of subcultures within an organisation?

To find out, we interviewed key personnel from seven successful tech companies; Adam Reynolds, CEO from Webexpenses, Kirsten Pollard – Chief People & Culture Officer, and Edwina Munns – Communications Manager from OFX, Lisa Sheehan – Chief People Officer from CarSales.com, Billy Tucker – CEO from OneFlare, Cameron Gomes – General Manager from MindArc, – Simon Fitzgerald, Managing Director,  Text 100 and Emer McCan – Talent Manager from Deputy to get their views on the role culture plays in their organisation.

VALUES: THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF CULTURE

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” – Roy Disney

At its core, a culture is comprised of values.

Values are like behavioural guideposts. They inform our decisions and shape behaviours. Values shape behaviours and behaviours shape organisations.

But values are more than words on a page. To have any real impact, they must be lived – by all the team. Getting that buy-in is where the metaphorical rubber meets the road, and who better to share insight on that metaphor than Carsales.com.

When developing their values, Carsales.com involved their team in the process. After first looking at what had led to their success to date, the management team then refined that in an off site involving 50+ people from across the business. Lisa Sheehan explains that…

By engaging our people in the process, we have created values that have true meaning in how we interact with each other each and every day and conduct ourselves externally; with dealers, manufacturers and consumers.”

Carsales.com found that giving the team “the opportunity to discuss the values and the day-to-day behaviours has been crucial in giving these five individual words real meaning in our business. Without this they would simply be hollow words, and subcultures and a silo mentality would inevitably prevail.”

The real measure of the success of values is how clearly they are reflected in the actions of a team, because ultimately it is behaviour that shapes a culture. But for values to shape behaviour, the team first have to remember them. A challenge that OneFlare have tackled by keeping their values simple.

“Be Brave, Be Smart, and Give a Shit” – by keeping their values simple and memorable, OneFlare have found that the values have “become part of the lexicon and are used daily amongst the team”

The team “feel able to call each other out if what they see from colleagues isn’t brave or it doesn’t look like they care enough about an outcome. There is an openness in our business that I’m proud of, where we talk freely about things that are important, especially when the answer to a problem isn’t super obvious” says CEO Billy Tucker.

When values are embraced by the team, they thrive. But although values form the foundation of a culture, culture itself is an ever-evolving entity. It is a living breathing organism that shifts with the attitudes and beliefs of the people within it.

Which is why companies are increasingly stressing the importance of finding candidates who are the right cultural fit.

As well as driving values, companies are also placing emphasis on showing employees they are valued at an individual level, with Fitzgerald stating: “Employees aren’t just a headcount or a seat at the company table and those companies that see employees as a budgetary line item will never make their employees feel valued. Those that know how to treat their employees like people and team members, offer respect, recognition and a specific and clearly defined purpose on the other hand, will reap the rewards of happier, motivated and valued staff.”

HIRING FOR CULTURAL FIT

Not only is it vital for companies to find candidates who are the right fit, but also the other way around. As a candidate, finding a role with the right cultural fit can mean the difference between loving going to work and dreading it.

If the fit isn’t right, the perfect opportunity on paper may reveal itself to be anything but.

Adam Reynolds from Webexpenses believes that the interview process should be a feeling out process for both the candidate and the employer. It is as much of a test for us as it is for the potential new employee. The candidate needs to find out if the business and culture are a correct fit for them as much as we need to decide if they would fit well within the team.”

The wrong cultural fit leads to headaches and wasted time on both sides. Which is why many employers put a high priority on hiring for cultural fit – at times prioritising that over immediate skill set.

“Candidates that we meet may not always have the right skills and experience but they have often been the right person for our business; where their work ethic, attitude and values are aligned to ours.”

For Cameron Gomes at Mind Arc, that quality is passion. “If the individual is transparently passionate and they have the core skills required for the job, we know that they can achieve anything in our business.”

Because the reality is, a bad cultural fit can cause problems for all involved.

“We can’t afford hiring a person with the right technical skillset if the cultural fit isn’t there. The team needs to continue to be harmonious or we’re not getting anywhere” – OFX

Kirsten Pollard and Edwina Munns at OFX explain that their People & Culture team get involved in the recruitment process. With interview questions like “how do you feel about loading a dishwasher?” they hope to identify if the candidates have the humble approach to getting shit done inherent to the OFX values.

As a candidate, it’s crucial to find a company where you feel at home. Because only when there is a synergy of skill set and culture will you truly be able to thrive.

NAVIGATING SUBCULTURES

As organisations grow in size and subcultures naturally develop across departments and geographies, it becomes harder to maintain a unified culture. How well businesses navigate these subcultures play a key role in the strength of the culture.

If they fundamentally aligned with the core company values, subcultures can be a wonderful enrichment, adding a dynamic diversity to the organisation. A diversity that OFX celebrates.

“Our functions all have their own vibrant cultures, which connect into and help shape our global team culture. We’ve got tech teams who love video games and junk food night, we’ve got OFXers who participate in lunchtime yoga, basketball, spin class and soccer, we’ve got people who created an OFX photography club, complete with specialised photo tours.”

But if they don’t align, subcultures can challenge and undermine the main culture. From remote workers, to multiple office sites, to siloed departments, it’s important for businesses to put initiatives in place to keep the culture strong.

Deputy has a number of practical strategies to do exactly that. Emer McCann explains how:

“We try to break down department barriers by creating culture clubs, with a mixture of people from various departments. Each club group will go out to lunch each month, paid for by Deputy, and we change the club members around every 6 months. This is a great way of getting to know people in other departments and ensuring we are all on the same page. We also encourage our employees to spend a day in the life of another team member. This has been proven to be really successful in creating empathy and also helps us see different viewpoints across the business. We also have monthly star awards where we celebrate the company culture and behaviours. Our quarterly feedback with managers around self-assessment is another great way to keep our values aligned.”

These kinds of initiatives play a key role in developing and maintaining a strong company culture – and ultimately a place people want to work in. 

As an ongoing quest, Fitzgerald highlighted the importance of taking the time to get feedback on how you’re doing:

“We all want to be listened to. This includes our employees. Leaders of any organisation are in charge for a reason, they’ve worked hard and they are experts in their field. But we must never make the mistake of assuming we know everything. A true leader will recognise this and demonstrate they value their team, by actively listening and learning more about them and then using this knowledge.”

CULTURES THAT WORK

Ultimately culture is about alignment. Without alignment toward a shared goal, the organisation and the people within it can struggle. Cameron Gomes from MindArc stresses the importance of that shared culture, that movement towards a shared goal.

“Without a shared culture, the team loses sight of the common goal. In our business, our vision, our core values and the right team leaders have helped to ensure everyone sets their sights on the same vision regardless of team. Through maintaining this focus, all teams become more open, aligned and form a close shared culture which allows us to create fun and amazing solutions to everyday challenges and strategic challenges.”

But it’s not all about the strategic high-level missions.  Fitzgerald stresses the importance of focusing on individuals in the workplace;

“It might appear obvious, but people like to feel valued. Plain and simple. This applies to all social scenarios – friends, family and loved ones and of course, at work. Humans are social beings and when you think that we spend more than one-third of our working lives actively working, it’s easy to see the positive and negative psychological effects that work can have on everyone.

“As a leader, if you foster a workplace environment where staff feel important because their opinions, time or feelings are valued and addressed, you’ll ultimately have more success in driving loyalty and getting the best out of people.

As a candidate, it’s about finding a role in an organisation that matches your skills, your values and gives you a sense of value back. Buying into the company culture not only makes each day more enjoyable, but also helps unleash that passion required to do truly great things.

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Written by Adrian Stewart

September 28, 2017

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