(Story by Krish Chopra originally appeared on Medium.com)
The notion of creating a company culture is daunting, especially when your team is growing and your focus is split in multiple buckets. Founders often have too many priorities on their mind between their customer’s experience, app development, monetization, or meeting investor obligations, it’s no surprise that designing a company culture may take a backseat. The key is to start small. Creating a company culture is complex and requires patience, but the starting steps are simple.
A Mini Starting Guide:
- Write down the values you want each employee to have. The task is to finish this sentence: “Everyone who joins this company must be…” Limit this list for five values.
- When you start hiring, you can use this values rubric and vet each candidate through this framework.
- Only hire people that share these five primary values.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Henry Albrecht from Limeade for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.
Henry Albrecht is the CEO & co-founder of Limeade, an employee engagement platform that builds great places to work by improving well-being and strengthening workplace culture. Limeade is an incredible example of a strong culture that permeates through each of their employees.
Limeade has been on listed on prestigious rankings such as the Top 25 Best Place to Work for Women (Fortune, 2016) and the #1 best workplace in Washington (Puget Sound Business Journal, 2015). They’re leading the market in technology — marked by their ranking as a Top 10 Most Innovative company (Entrepreneur, 2018) and the highest rated app in their respective industry (4.7 out of 5.)
Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?
Henry Albrecht: Well, we have six values — but my favorite three are:
Anything is Possible — Think big. Be bold and positive. Believe in our ability to succeed and invest optimistically in innovation.
Be It — Walk the talk. Live in our products. Actively work to improve your well-being at work, at home and in life. Be a lifelong learner and commit to personal growth.
Speak Plainly — Be transparent and direct. Be evidence-based. Seek and tell the truth, simply, respectfully and with courage. Hypothesize, test, learn and share fresh insights.
When your judgement is clouded by what you perceive as negative generational differences — you might miss out on something great
Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”
Henry: I don’t believe for one minute that millennials are any different from the generations that came before — and labels often do more to divide than to unite. Are millennials more idealistic (or self-centered) than hippies or punk rockers? More creative than modernists or jazz pioneers? I say no. I do think that they face both great opportunities and challenges others don’t face — smartphones, easy access to opioids, distrust in institutions — that reflect the time we inhabit.
Managing millennials — like managing most younger people — is about communication, acknowledgment and authentic positive intent. Take the time to challenge your own management style and listen. If you want to be innovative you must first allow yourself to be surprised by different ways of working. When your judgement is clouded by what you perceive as negative generational differences — you might miss out on something great.
Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?
Henry: Culture is not a ping-pong table. Culture is not a margarita cart on Fridays. What matters is how people feel when people go back to their desk, when they have a meeting with their manager and interact with the leaders of the company. It’s day-to-day interactions, how people are treated and how they feel they’re valued. Too many companies invest in meaningless perks and don’t invest (and yes, it takes an authentic, tangible investment) in creating a work environment with some soul.
Krish: What is one mistake you see young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?
Henry: Most startups only think about culture when it’s broken. When the co-founders want to break up. When the money runs out. They usually don’t even apply the same rigor to their culture — the number one predictor of their success — that they do to their choice of law firm or banker. Write down your values, use them as a filter as you build your business and surround your young company with people who will help you protect the cultural crown jewels.
Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?
Henry: Take a long hard look at your recruiting messages. You know, the ones that promise growth, autonomy, innovation and fun? Ask yourself if you’re truly living up to them every day. Then send them to every manager and ask them to same question. If not, what needs to change? The messages? The behaviors?
If you have a little more time on your hands, map out the whole employee experience from pre-recruitment to post-exit — and realize that in today’s modern socially-connected world, every single step of that matters. It’s no longer okay for people to leave your company and bad-mouth it. Those comments live on. At Limeade, our culture strategy involves 12 core processes — beginning with a shared vision of what the culture is and why it matters. Whether you have 12 or 50 workflows in your HR ecosystem, filter every one of those steps through your values to build an intentional culture. It’s not rocket science, but culture needs to be stamped at every step of the employee experience.
No good idea goes un-borrowed
Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?
Henry: Working in product marketing at Intuit was a pivotal chapter of my career. During that time, I was lucky to meet and observe founder Scott Cook. Under his leadership, I saw how authentically investing in people builds great companies. From sitting with employees at every level, to encouraging walking meetings to gathering everyone in the company to define our values — he inspired much of how Limeade operates today. No good idea goes un-borrowed.
Write down your values, use them as a filter as you build your business and surround your young company with people who will help you protect the cultural crown jewels.
Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?
Henry: Bad bosses are everywhere. I’ve seen the best of the best and the worst of the worst. The best ones take control and improve bad situations. They set aside their own emotions and ego and subjugate that to think about service. At Limeade, the “higher” your rank, the more you’re expected to serve your team. A promotion doesn’t mean power and credit — it means taking on weight and sourcing great ideas from your employees — no matter how junior. It also means demonstrating well-being and company values. With requirements like this, bad bosses either get better or realize they’re in the wrong place.
Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?
Henry: Companies with inclusive cultures are six times more likely to anticipate change and respond effectively, two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets and eight times more likely to have better business outcomes. So…what’s everyone waiting for?
This month we not only launched a new inclusion solution for employers — Limeade Inclusion+ — we became our own case study. The first step was surveying employees on their own perceptions of inclusion — and yes, the results uncovered plenty of room for improvement. Simply showing we value inclusion and exposing our weaknesses has enhanced our culture. Now I’m leaning on a cross-company team to take action in a way that empowers leaders, managers and employees to make Limeade an even safer, more inclusive and more innovative workplace.
A note to the readers: Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization. If you learned one thing in this interview, please share this with someone close to you.
A special thanks to Henry again!