Whenever I talk about ‘hiring for culture fit,’ I get strange looks. I know people are wondering if hiring for culture is really a euphemism for ‘hiring people you’d like to have a beer with,’ or people you might have gone to school with – basically code for hiring people just like you. After all, isn’t this the behavior that perpetuates ‘bro culture’ in Silicon Valley?
On the contrary, this is actually a plea for companies to actively define their ‘culture’ through clearly communicated mission, vision, and values. Too often the term ‘company culture’ is misinterpreted as ping pong tables, kegs, and wearing jeans to work, when in fact, it’s a much deeper, and more powerful concept.
When you have a strong, clear, purpose-driven culture you’re better placed to recruit (well, just in general, but also) for diversity because you’ve already defined an objective ‘shared’ culture that everyone who works for you has understood and agreed to. This can help bridge individual cultures of origin in the workplace. This practice helps to normalize gender quality and diversity and inclusion for companies – the very opposite of perpetuating a ‘bro culture.’
Smaller companies, under intense pressure to make successful hires, may not feel like they can take a chance on someone that they’re not sure will be a team fit. This opens the door to an onslaught of unconscious biases. And yet, we know that workplace diversity encourages different perspectives that yield greater innovation and employee engagement, which in turn help grow stronger businesses.
Please allow a brief digression to make this point more clearly – bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this:
There are some people who are merely fans of the 1990s Aaron Sorkin political drama ‘The West Wing,’ and then there are people who love the show so much that they, even now, in 2017, listen to a podcast called ‘The West Wing Weekly’ in which each and every episode of the seven seasons is dissected in painstaking detail. I, myself, fall into this latter camp.
Very often on the podcast, there are guest interviews themed to the show’s story lines. Recently, on a Canadian-focused episode, the hosts interviewed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. For a variety of reasons that will be obvious to any West Wing fan, this was an exciting turn of events. But what was even more exciting to me was something Justin Trudeau said about Canadian culture that makes my point about how to start creating a diverse and inclusive company culture.
West Wing Weekly host, Hrishikesh Hirway, asked the Prime Minister about Canada’s stance on refugees, and whether assimilation was a big part of their policies in this area. The Prime Minister articulated what it means to welcome immigrants to their country.
“Canada was always stuck…and that sort of helped us live in a place that is too cold, too big, too empty for too many months of the year. We learned that surface identity doesn’t define you, and through the waves of immigration… people are proud to keep their heritage, and we celebrate them. Being of every different background makes it difficult to point out what a typical Canadian is.
I mean, just the French versus English meant that we had to accept that someone totally different from us was just as much Canadian. So we went through long stretches of angst of being unable to define what the ‘Canadian Identity’ was, until we sort of figured out that the Canadian Identity is just not shaped around surface attributes like religion or ethnicity or language, it’s shaped around the shared values – shared core values of openness, respect, compassion, a willingness to work hard, a desire to be there for each other, a search for justice, for opportunity.
These kinds of things that most Western countries sort of aspire to, Canadians tend to take as definitional... And what that does is that that means that wherever you’re from, whatever your background, if you come and accept those values, which are positive, inclusive, open values, you get to be Canadian.”
Without dwelling on the nuances of Canadian politics, I do think that Justin Trudeau’s sentiment effectively articulates my point; shared values essentially form a social contract that bind people together, certainly well enough to create a strong, thriving company of diverse talents and perspectives.
When you recruit for a values-driven culture fit, you are saying, ‘this is who we are, this is what we stand for. This is what we celebrate, this is the behavior we expect, and this is what we won’t tolerate. This is what we’re offering you, this is what we need from you. This is how we treat each other, and this is how we engage with our customers. This is why we come to work every day, this is why we keep at it, even when the going gets tough.’
Naturally, there will still be issues around how we effectively manage diversity in our businesses, but I have seen, throughout my career, that creating a strong shared culture yields significant benefits, and expanded access to top talent is just one of them.
If you’re a people leader who’s seen the movie Wonder Woman, you may be wondering how you can get your own small business’ employees to leap tall buildings in a single bound, remain relentlessly committed to their mission, and innovate their way out of every challenging situation.
You may, or may not, want your team to turn up to work in full costume (every day,) but you absolutely can turn them into a band of superheroes –greater than the sum of their parts.
We know that companies with highly engaged employees are more profitable, productive, have lower turnover and better work quality than their competitors – all of which directly affects your bottom line. And, (spoiler alert!) as you know from the movie, not having Wonder Woman-like employees on your team can lead to some pretty grim consequences.
So what’s holding them – and your business – back?
Assuming that your business is generally well run, that you’ve given your people the tools they need to do their jobs, and that you’ve got a solid organizational structure and decent talent, you may be scratching your head thinking, “what else can I do?”
1. Clearly communicate your company’s Mission, Vision and Values
In the movie, Wonder Woman is very clear why she’s leaving Themyscira – she wants to kill Aries, and save the world/humanity. When the going gets tough, she’s able to recall her mission, and why it’s so important to her.
She also uses her mission, vision and values as decision-making criteria – when faced with choices and compromises, she’s able to act decisively (understatement!) and in alignment.
However, for mere mortals in business, this can be more challenging. Many companies, especially smaller ones, haven’t fully articulated their mission, vision and values, or they're languishing as conference room posters instead of activating greatness.
The truth is, the smaller your company, the easier it is for your values to bring out your employees’ inner superhero. See below.
Back on Themyscira, Wonder Woman was content to trust the values of the Amazons on faith – after all, her mother was their queen. Eventually, she uses those core values and beliefs to forge her own path – that’s innovation.
However, your employees may need a little more involvement in determining why and how they do what they do every day at work. Small business leaders often say that they don’t have a mission, vision and values, but that’s usually not actually true. Collectively, you and your employees probably have a pretty good intuitive understanding of your company’s purpose and how you can best achieve your goals.
If you’re very small – like a startup – you should develop values before you start hiring – they’ll have a big impact on who joins your company, how they behave once they’re there, and how long they stay with you. However, if you’ve already got a merry band, then get together, brainstorm and co-create your mission, vision and values as a team. When you develop them as a group they will be more resonant, and less likely to serve as the aforementioned, oft-ignored conference room art.
As a reminder, your:
Mission statement articulates the reason your company exists
Vision statement describes the successful future state of your business
Values are like a social contract; they describe how and why you work together.
3.Walk the talk
As a leader, you yourself may not feel fully confident (yet) deflecting machine gun fire with your shield and/or wrist bands, but that shouldn’t stop you from leading the charge when it comes to exemplifying the values you (and your team) have identified.
Remember, part of the value of values is that they serve as decision-making criteria, and that starts at the top.
For example, if you’ve selected ‘Celebrating our Successes’ as a value, then be sure that you actively recognize your team member’s amazing work. When you do, be sure to reference your ‘Celebrating our Successes’ value so that your people know that living them every day is an important part of who you are as a company, and a team.
Your people are your secret weapon
To be sure, those scenes of Wonder Women felling bad guys with her golden lasso and amazon warrior skills are pretty cool. But remember, it’s her empathy for the starving woman she meets in the trench that compels her to act. And maybe this is the most important lesson that Wonder Woman can teach us about how to run a company; human-centric businesses outperform others. When you prioritize employee experience and engagement, you too can reap the rewards – your very own band of superheroes.
For more information on building a values and purpose-driven company, check out the Resources page on our website.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, and again and again I hear interviews with entrepreneurs crediting their ceaseless hard work and unending toil for their success.
They keep saying things like, “You have a choice, you can either chill out and watch Netflix at night, or you can work on your business.”
But I disagree. I don’t think it is either/or. I don’t believe that switching gears and ‘chilling out to watch Netflix’ really is bad for your business. I’m pretty sure it’s completely necessary, at least for me.
I also keep hearing about entrepreneurs who say that they get their best work done in the morning, and I've certainly found that to be true. I usually wake up with an idea or an instinct, and leap out of bed (to get coffee, and then) to pursue it. I do my best writing in the morning. Saturday mornings are when I do my best sustained thinking work – I love being able to spend six or more uninterrupted hours on a project or product development.
By 5 or 6pm, my brain is usually done with the 'strategic work" part of its day, however. Hello, Netflix! Or Hulu. Or HBO Go. Or Amazon Prime.
However, even though my brain might be a bit fried by the end of the day, there are still a lot of important tasks that can be completed in the company of streaming entertainment – tasks that actually enable my entrepreneurial activities during my fresher hours.
I pay bills. I take care of online shopping. I track expenses. I do laundry, cook dinner – you know, all the normal life activities that need to be done whether you’re trying to build a business or not. I’ve also found this is when I’m at my most relaxed to network, coach clients, or visit with friends.
And I think there are a couple of important points to make here. First, your business cannot be built in a vacuum. No matter how driven you are, in order to really understand product-market fit, you need to actually live in the real world. And in the real world, there are cool shows on Netflix. Personally, I often use popular culture references as metaphors or analogies in my work to help articulate subtle concepts.
I also use shared understanding of culture to connect with clients, partners, and colleagues. Being able to laugh over a funny line on Silicon Valley helps build and cement relationships. It demonstrates that I am, in fact, a human (wow, that sounded very Laurie Bream). A television-watching human, and not a robot that works on its business 24 hours a day. That’s just weird.
The second point, in the same vein is, your business also cannot be built in a vacuum. Arguably, no one is working harder than Arianna Huffington to prove this point. Her organization, Thrive Global, is dedicated to shifting our perceptions of what and how we succeed in business. Fighting burnout requires not only sleep, but psychic rest, and sometimes that means Netflix.
“Recent science has shown that the pervasive belief that burnout is the price we must pay for success is a delusion. We know, instead, that when we prioritize our well-being, our decision-making, creativity, and productivity improve dramatically,” writes Huffington.
The model of working around the clock, fueled by 5-hour energy drinks and a dream is outmoded.
In his blog, Tim Ferriss speaks to the necessity of ‘deloading’, and a conscious period of “strategically taking my foot off the gas,” and “for lack of poetic description — unplugging and fucking around.”
This brings me to my final point, what’s with all the entrepreneur-shaming? Why are we still engaged in this competitive battle over who can work the hardest? This isn’t college; you don’t look cool because you pulled an all-nighter to finish a paper. Why are people who deny themselves awesome shows on Netflix somehow more worthy of success than those who don’t?
Everyone in this game is juggling life priorities. Everyone is walking the tightrope of time management. And most of us also know that horrible feeling when you realize that the only thing standing between you and what you want is your own time/ability/hard work/innovation/drive/delivery/insert-whatever-else-is-standing-between-you-and-what-you-want-here.
We also know that entrepreneurship is a mind game. It takes resilience and mental toughness. You have to be able to ride the rollercoaster every day. So at the end of the day, I’d suggest that you put your feet up for a while and watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. It’s very good. Then you’ll be ready to take on the world again tomorrow.
How do you battle burnout?
Have I got it all wrong? Is entrepreneurship really fueled by 5-hour Energy Drinks and a Dream?
Season Four of the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley” has just begun, so it seemed fitting kickoff Dewpoint Communications’ inaugural blog post with a look at how leadership and workplace culture may be affecting the gang at Pied Piper, everyone’s favorite fictional startup.
Specifically, we wanted to examine the topic through the lens of one of the show’s most noteworthy characters, software engineer, Bertram Gilfoyle, aka, Gilfoyle. Fans of Silicon Valley will be very familiar with his ascerbic wit, however, even if you’re not familiar with the show, you’ll surely recognize some of the same personalities described in your own workplace.
Gilfoyle is happiest when he’s torturing his colleagues at tech startup, Pied Piper, and no one more so than his gullible counterpart, Dinesh. Gilfoyle’s unflinching, deadpan delivery keeps audiences in stitches as we watch his zingers land like bullseyes.
In one Season 3 episode, Gilfoyle delights in a colleague’s misfortune:
“Let me put this in terms you'll understand. I'm like a suicide bomber of humiliation. I'm happy to go out as long as I take you with me. Your shame is my paradise.”
Gilfoyle is, without a doubt, what Arianna Huffington would call a ‘ Brilliant Jerk’. So as much as we love Gilfoyle, the character, do we really love Gilfoyle, the colleague?
Remember the time that Dinesh finally got a love interest, only to have it flame out quickly? Gilfoyle was the first to kick him when he was down.
“Either she froze time, met and married the man of her dreams, unfroze time, and hopped back on to vid chat with you, or... you're the dogface. Which do you think it is? I'm on the fence.”
Much has been written about the importance of the ‘First 10 Hires’ in a startup. This core group, on board from the very earliest days of a company’s history, in many ways define its origin story.
Patrick Collision, co-founder of Stripe talks about the importance of those early employees in this How to Start a Startup lecture.
“The first ten people you hire, the decisions are so important [because you] aren’t just hiring those first ten people, you are actually hiring a hundred people because…each one of those people are going to bring along another ten people with them.”
This idea, that those first 10 hires are, in fact, creating the DNA of your company culture, is talked about a lot in the startup world, and there’s no better popular culture depiction of this universe than “Silicon Valley.” So, assuming we can put aside the fact that we’re actually talking about a television show, and that his character is critical to a range of other plot dynamics, the question must be asked, would you hire Gilfoyle?
On one hand, Gilfoyle exemplifies many of the qualities you want in an early employee; he’s brilliant, resourceful, playful, and surprisingly loyal.
On the other hand, Gilfoyle is also negative, combative, and actively creating the kind of toxic culture that Pied Piper could become when it grows up. As much as he rails against giant soulless corporations like Hooli, in fact, his cynicism and mean-spirited attitude towards his colleagues is actually sowing the seeds of the same corporate culture he rejects.
So what are some of the qualities you do want in those first 10 hires? What kind of person contributes to a high-performing team and a company that’s set up for success? How can you create a strong culture for your company from the start?
Ironically, the Silicon Valley character who most closely mirrors these qualities is Jared. While often the punchline for Pied Piper jokes because he seems so guileless, in fact, Jared Dunn is positive, professional, resourceful, scrupulous, loyal, constructive and relentlessly focused on the success of the company.
“I'll admit I'm sleep challenged. I just spent 4 days trapped in a steel box out in an oil rig full of robot forklifts. But now I'm back, and I am recovering, and I am focused, and we're going to pivot. Don't lose faith guys. Look at me, look at me. We've got a great name, we've got a great team, we've got a great logo, and we've got a great name. And now we just need an idea. Let's pivot. Let's pivot.”
Sure, sometimes Jared seems a little…sad. He’s more than a little odd, definitely psychologically damaged, sleeps on a cot in the garage, er, server room, and is always the butt of the team’s jokes.
“I mean, we're all cool here, but we know each other. So obviously, when Dinesh calls me retarded Frankenstein… or Gilfoyle refers to me as effeminate K.D.Lang, I know this is a joke among friends.”
But what would Jared be like if Gilfoyle wasn’t in the picture? What would any of the Pied Piper gang (except, let’s face it, Erlich) be like if they weren’t constantly shell-shocked by a barrage of negativity and insults? Maybe Richard could finally be the leader he’s trying to be. Maybe Dinesh would flourish and own his own genius. It definitely wouldn’t be a very good TV show, but it would almost certainly be a better company.
High performance cultures start with constructive, collaborative, highly engaged teams. It’s worth thinking about the kind of culture you want to create while you’re still huddled around someone’s dining room table like the Pied Piper gang. By the time you start scaling, the DNA of your company will already be embedded, and harder to change.
What do you think?
Have we got Gilfoyle all wrong?
How are you building a great culture in your company?
Victoria Dew is the Founder and CEO of Dewpoint Communications.