I debated writing this post for a few days because so much has been written about company culture. Ultimately, I decided to write this because we are constantly recruiting and people considering joining sonarDesign might enjoy learning more about the culture we are trying to shape.
Back in 2000, I co-founded a company in the Internet Performance Services space. The co-founder and I had just left a company with a dysfunctional culture and we were determined to make sure that didn’t happen to our company. Before incorporating the company we spent many days and nights formulating our company values. We wrote them down and refined the definitions until they were letter perfect. We even made them into a poster for our office (I still have it in storage somewhere). Every new employee received a binder with our employee handbook and other new hire material. The cover of the binder was a smaller version of the Values poster. I can’t remember exactly how many values were on the poster, somewhere between 15 and 20. I don’t remember most of them, though many of the usual suspects were on the list (Integrity, Honesty, etc.).
Fast-forward twelve years and John Talley and I were talking about forming sonarDesign and the discussion turned to company culture. John said it was important to him to prove it is possible to build a technology company at scale (hundreds or thousands of employees) and still treat people like human beings. I completely agreed (we both bear scars from the pump & dump culture of the video game industry). It was important to me to “pay it forward” — when our company is financially successful everyone should benefit. John completely agreed. We didn’t create a poster or an employee handbook. We simply asked people to treat sonarDesign as if it were their company — because it is!
That was the easy part. The harder part is making sure all our actions are consistent with our values. In my experience, that is where most companies and leadership teams fail. They excel at brainstorming their values and turning them into pretty posters but they are inconsistent in their actions and words. They say things like “You are important to me” but then guilt, persuade or entice their employees into working late into the night or every day of the week. They also say things like “Employees are our most important asset” and then proceed to treat them like other assets, such as money, equipment or raw materials. Employees are not an asset. They are a human being. They shouldn’t be classified like a chair, desk or iron ore. [I’ll save that for another day when I write about the stupidity of “Human Resources” as a department.]
In the past year our employees and their immediate families have had their fair share of “life” they had to interleave with work. Babies being born, brain tumors, failed relocations, flooded house, migraines . . . not to mention one of the worst cold/flu/allergy winters on record. Through it all we’ve tried to live our values by our actions. How did we do? There’s only one fair way to answer that question — ask someone who works here.