Creating a Culture That Matters

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  • October 2, 2015
  • Kim Mackley

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of chatter about office “culture” these days – lots of buzz around who has the latest and greatest idyllic campus setting and what start-up is stocking which micro-brew in their respective kegerators. HR departments everywhere are brainstorming about cultivating an inviting and innovative environment for their workforce. I personally think all this stuff is wonderful and love working for an organization that places culture among the top of its corporate values. The last bit of our mission statement here at INK is a crowd favorite, “enjoying each other and our lives,” and we do that very well.

I do worry though that “culture” is starting to become more about “things” than what I believe is the original intent for this newfound focused importance. Culture is about relationships, and doing great work, and how colleagues can rise together through the strategy of feeling and being interconnected. If that sounds lofty, that’s because it is. But – it is also true. When people are comfortable and happy, it is simply easier to make the choice to work harder and take those creative risks that every business surely strives for. When an organization clicks and has a culture that represents its employees, good things happen. We take a lot of pride in this at INK, and I’m always happy when people mention that it looks like we have a great culture based on our delightfully fun Instagram and Facebook feeds. I sometimes feel the need to clarify with people though – it isn’t voodoo or magic, it’s intentional effort and work. The beer helps too.

Here’s what we do at INK to keep our culture top-notch.

Identify It

The first rule of good culture is like good leadership, if you want people to follow you or join in – you have to tell them what they are signing up for. Our leadership team is really fantastic (sometimes fanatical) about reiterating our mission statement whenever opportunity arises. It may seem small, but to have that statement drilled into our heads, and posted by all of our desks, matters. It matters because people want to know what they are working towards and what they, as company employees, stand for. Mission statements should do a good job of outlining that. Don’t undervalue the fact that you have to say it out loud. Employees don’t know what you are thinking, even if your thoughts are really really great. We also take time each year to reiterate our core values and what we except out of all INKers. They are very straightforward and purposefully accessible – we don’t expect people to learn to levitate, but it’d be cool if you wanted to.

Recruit for it

From the initial phone screens, through follow up in-person interviews, all the way to our offer letters, we are very upfront about what type of culture we are working towards here at INK and what we value in terms of human capital; which is loosely centered around the ideas of curiosity, self-reliance and creativity. We also work best with folks who can roll with the punches and can crack a smile every now and again. Be upfront and insistent about these things if you want to curate a culture that reflects your company values.

Usually, the “culture conversation” turns into the things we do for fun during the recruiting process, and that’s okay. Do we like to have fun? Absolutely, but we also try to be very clear what the other side of that fun looks like – which sometimes means 9 pm emails and checking in on a few things on your day off. We focus on balance (which can be different for each individual), not defined lines. Some people are just not ever going to be comfortable with that, and we’d likely drive those people insane. At INK, looking for a “culture fit” is about maintaining that balance of people who have just the right amount of commonalities, but can bring something new to the table for everyone else (and the company bottom line) to benefit from as well.

Taking time to feed it

You can’t just throw out a mission statement and expect people to understand how to accomplish it; you have to take the time to show people how to live it. Creating a good culture reminds me a lot of what people say about a good marriage – it takes a lot of work! Every day is an opportunity to express a company’s values and that can be downright exhausting to remember. At INK, we spell this out, literally, in our weekly staff meetings. We go over the mission and talk about how each piece was exemplified the previous week and what we learned in the process.

We also do obviously and wholeheartedly embrace the “fun” stuff and think of it as a crucial component in our team-building process. So take a minute and celebrate the fact that someone was born or just that it’s Friday (or Monday!). A group of people with established interpersonal connections will work together better. Are we all best friends? Nope, not the point. Do we work better together because we take time out of the day to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company? Absolutely. For INK, all of this fun stuff supports directly into another one of our core values – open communication. Those birthday parties and team building trapeze sessions all march us towards relating to each other on a level that puts people at ease and allows us to communicate from a place of comfort, which in turn, makes for good quality work. And it’s fun. Make sense?

Other good stuff in here