Forcing Culture Doesn’t Create a Happy Culture

I read an article last week by Matt Blumberg titled ‘The Best Place to Work, Part 0‘. It was a short interesting read which detailed 7 ideas for creating the best place to work. Matt points out that they’re not *the* 7 things you can do to create the best place to work, they’re just things which could be done to help the process.

Here’s the outline:

  1. Surround yourself with the best and brightest
  2. Create an environment of trust
  3. Manage yourself very, very well
  4. Be the consummate host
  5. Be the ultimate enabler
  6. Let people be people
  7. Create a thankful atmosphere

I’m a big believer in good company culture, that thing which makes people happy in their ‘working environment’. I’ve often said that I don’t go to ‘work’, I just go somewhere to do the things I love doing. Whether it be designing, thinking, problem solving, making decisions, the list is endless as long as I keep myself busy.

About 3 years ago I read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, it was one of the most inspirational and moving books I’ve read. One thing which stuck out was how Zappos, who are well known for their positive company culture, just let things happen. If you’ve followed Zappos or the Delivering Happiness book you’ll see that often the crazy happens but people are allowed to decorate their workspaces however they like, pets are welcome amongst countless other things.

There are many other large companies where culture is positively embraced and more so because the culture isn’t the thing that is embraced, it’s the freedom which feeds the culture. Whether it be free lunches, BBQ’s on the roof, work from wherever you want whenever you want, these things all add in to the same happy culture calculation.

I’ve been fortunate to have various employed experiences of company culture where some were great and some not so great. I’ve seen first hand how a company can have a fantastic culture and then visibly see how little things can make such a tremendous difference to it. For all of the excellent company cultures I’ve seen, they happened because of the people within it by letting the people in the company just be themselves. Matt’s article rings really true to me;

  1. Surrounding yourself with great talented people keeps you on your toes and enabling them to go on to do great things invokes self-appreciation for them and you and the people you’re serving (customers / clients etc).
  2. An environment of trust between co-workers is paramount, this usually happens psychologically when people know that you’ve got each others back.
  3. Manage yourself very well and everyone around you will do the same, they’ll use you as an example. If they don’t, coach them in to getting better at it.
  4. Be the consummate host by just doing the right thing for the people around you.
  5. Be the ultimate enabler to reduce natural friction, friction slows people down, friction frustrates people.
  6. Let people be people. Everyone is different, everyone has their own way of doing things but people are like that. Just give them the freedom to be their own person and they’ll do right by you and the people they’re serving. If they’re not in to freedom or doing what they love, then you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place as they’re not right for culture full stop.
  7. Creating a thankful atmosphere helps enables someone to stop thinking about what they don’t have. Not all companies can afford everything but it’s the little things, weather it’s breakfast cereals or a full-time chef.

I’d say the biggest stand out for me is No. 6. Just let people be people. Don’t try and change them or mould them in to something you think you want. It’s not about ‘you’ it’s about them and your clients / customers. And if you are in the process of trying to change them, stop and ask why you’re doing it in the first place? Everyone in the company can’t and shouldn’t be like you, play to people’s strengths or did you just get your hiring process wrong, or indeed is that person so right for the company that it freaks you out? Remember that thing about hiring people who are the best and brightest?

The world and people are changing around us but remember not every company can provide an environment like Facebook, Zappos or Twitter. We need to have the foresight that forcing a culture that you think is right doesn’t create a happy culture. Feed the freedom and enable people to do what they love to do and the happy culture will create itself.

Our Startup Culture

I write an occasional ‘technotes’ column in our North East Newspaper called ‘The Journal’, below is this weeks written about our startup culture in the North East of England.

It feels like so long ago that the world went through the dotcom boom, yet it feels like yesterday when the majority of those booms went bust. I’m a geek, in a general sense so notice these things happen.

During the dotcom boom there were more startups than ever, investors were chomping at the bit to try and get a piece of the new technology pie and only a few ever made it to make a profit on their investment. Even harder times were ahead for the people with great ideas. It was them who had to find investment from those not willing to trust enough to devote their time and money away. Over recent years the startup culture has been revived, and whilst in this economic climate it may be a little more difficult to get funding, you can still make it happen with the right idea.

The United States has various ‘incubator’ type organisations like TechStars and Y Combinator which are thriving with successful companies like DailyBooth, Reddit and Dropbox. In the UK we in the past have run far short of enabling tech startups to get going. Most, if not all have been started on shoe-string budgets pulling all nighters to get an idea created into working software and only then after a long time have they been in a position to pitch funding. The UK startup culture is very different than that of the United States, in the UK you would usually see companies which have turned profitable and then been acquired. Whilst that is great and it’s fantastic to see our UK and North East companies being acquired, it takes a lot of time in comparison to America who inevitably pitch for funding at a much earlier stage, our startups have lacked the ability to secure mentoring that they undoubtably need. Until now.

The North East of England has its own tech start-up incubator, heading in to its second year the Difference Engine, based in Teesside and started by Jon Bradford was created to support startups, much in the same way as TechStars in the United States. The Difference Engine invests £20’000 (for 8% of the business) and supports them with mentoring, office accommodation plus various other types of services provided by the Difference Engine partners. It’s a full time 13 week acceleration programme to get the start-ups ready to pitch to investors.

We’ve not had this support in the North East, the United Kingdom or Europe in the past and now its sitting on the North East’s doorstep. The Startup Culture is here, at home in the North East of England.