For those of you who know me (or those of you who have read my bio), I was in the consulting world for over a decade before founding Full Circle Insights with Bonnie, Andrea, and Dan. During those years I had many occasions to be grateful that I was the consultant and not the employee, as I realized many of the individuals I worked with were unhappy with their work environments. In fact, my biggest concern in founding Full Circle Insights wasn’t whether we would succeed – I knew we had a great product and shared values around delivering quality, truth in the data, and service – but would we be able to do so and build a company culture that would enable us, as individuals, to thrive, have fun, and keep life balance?
I read Tony Hsieh’s book ‘Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose’, visited the Zappos offices in Las Vegas, and saw truth in the idea that culture is a key component in any company’s success. Furthermore building that culture had to be intentional, and at Full Circle – our culture is a key part of our conversation as we grow.
In the beginning it was just the four of us – and at the first meeting everyone caved to my condition that our offices be dog friendly (after all, how could I leave my shadow?). I think it was the next meeting where we decided to standardize on See’s Chocolates for gift giving. We worked on our core values from the very beginning, which we iterate on each year and reference often, both in product development efforts and in our sales and customer interactions.
“Truth” is one of the top values – truth in how we represent our product, truth in the data we generate, and truth in how we communicate with each other. “Balance” is another one – it’s important that we find ways to maintain life balance – we don’t want work to be all consuming. The second is a much harder value to attain – and part of doing so is to make sure that even in our work environment we have a balance of professionalism, fun, and camaraderie.
To that end we are, in small ways, intentionally building our culture:
We instituted mandatory bantering on certain internal email exchanges – no one has yet to take the bantering ‘walk of shame’ – and we’ve learned that we’re all charmingly witty.
We use GoToMeeting™ for some team meetings – and sometimes people have been known to sign in using ‘creative’ names such as “Zombie Master” or “Quasimodo” – Worth a chuckle!
We are moving into new offices in San Mateo (stand by for the open house!). They are nice offices – so we had to have a cow teapot just because it was so ridiculous it counter balanced the nice with a bit of tacky fun. When you come to a meeting make sure it’s on the board room table!
Board rooms? We have two and we’ve named them ‘Oh No You Didn’t!” and “Oh Yes You Did!”. Sales is going to use ‘Oh Yes You Did!’ – because they want positive outcomes. 😉
We are getting a hat rack – we wear so many hats since we’re a startup we thought it would be fun to literally wear many hats. First purchase was a bunch of Zombie caps for the development team to wear after a product launch (and an honorary one for Jay – our Corporate Accounts Manager – who managed to postpone a meeting one day when we were all tired – thanks Jay!). I’m actively looking for fun hats! What does a visitor hat look like anyway? 😉
A couple of ideas got nixed – like the wall-to-wall mural of a star wars/middle earth scene with Tinkerbell and unicorns doing the Waltz, or the handy closet for business attire quick changes (still working on that one), but it looks like the Wii will get a home.
And dogs! Teddy (my dog) and Harry (Sue’s dog) will be regulars at the office – so if you need some puppy love – come on over (but we won’t be able to change into fancy business clothing to greet you because we don’t have the closet…. Yet).
One small step at a time – and we’re always looking for ideas – so feel welcome to tell us fun things you do at your office.
What makes a great culture, how does a young firm establish and maintain a great culture and what does this culture reflect over time? A person who is self-aware and observant can walk into a firm and can almost instantly tell if this is a happy place to be? Is there activity, are people moving about the cabin, is there conversation, laughter, is the space decorated creatively and functionally, and is there a sense that even if you can’t put your finger on it, something is happening there. These tell-tale signs I look for when first encountering any enterprise and especially trying to quickly detect the operational culture.
I think establishing the characteristics and building a cllture that supports clients and employees equally is a great thing and often young firms start out with lofty ambitions to build on a great culture, especially having worked for places where it was devoid or at best given lip-service but over time loose that perspective – why? I have my own thoughts on this but it often comes down to laziness over people get too damn busy to remember that reinforcing culture happenes every day and no matter what’s going on in the world outside as it were its imperative to remind each other why you are there and waht it means to you.
The last point I’ll make is the notion of fun in the workplace whether that’s done through creative decorating of the space, the openness of the work environment, having the space accomodate creative activities like music (when appropriate) etc., are all small things that make a difference. Finally everyone has to take ownership of the “this is our cluture” mantle but most especially the senior leadership of a firm who people look to for support, guidance, nurturing, and acknowledgement.
A few themes are apparent in all of the business success literature I’ve read, and Corporate Culture is one of the main ones. Oddly enough, not enough startups make it a priority in the midst of 27-hour work days, lack of sleep, irregular eating cycles, sometimes questionable hygiene habits and all the other glamours of startup-dom.
So kuddos for realizing that your company’s cultural foundation is one of the most important aspects of your business. And, yes, it should be fun! Our company of 30 has a “Fun Committee.” They coordinate the monthly birthday parties and milestone happy hours, decorate offices for birthdays, choose where we do our yearly volunteer days and much more. I’m even an honorary member of the decorating subcommittee (because I’m tall enough to hang streamers from the ceiling while standing on a chair).
But does the tail wag the dog? Intuitively I know that corporate culture has to stem from the company “Why,” which should have full buy-in. It sets the tone for our internal and external communications which is the basis for service quality. But I also know that human nature gives us unlimited capacity to disrupt our own life balance despite how important we would rate it on any survey.
Establishing a corporate culture (a truly living thing) is one thing. Sustaining it through ever-changing re-prioritizations, deadlines, etc, is something else. It requires an on-going team effort, just like any other successful venture or relationship. I think your quirky hats and cow teapots are nice little reminders that we are all just people after all (no offense Teddy) who appreciate being part of something bigger.
As for your quick change closet – unless you want to go classic Superman phone booth, I vote for a nice blue Tardis (from Dr. Who) because just like any great company with a healthy corporate culture, “it’s bigger on the inside.”
This past weekend Full Circle CRM participated in the San Jose Challenge (http://sjchallenge2013.eventbrite.com/) and it was awesome! We ran around San Jose for about 2 hours doing an urban scavenger hunt with 250 other teams and 1000+ people. It was a great bonding experience and a ton of fun.
This is the kind of thing that all companies should participate in to keep things fun and make sure their employees are engaged in more then just work.
Look forward to doing more scavenger hunts, relay races, or other crazy/fun team things with my colleagues at Full Circle CRM!