It's the culture, stupid.


It’s a concept that is tossed around a lot these days – especially when people are trying to figures out what makes an intriguing company tick. Tony Hsieh preaches it when he talks about the magic of Zappos. There are consultants who promise to teach you how to change one or create one. Books that try to dismantle tribes and cults to find the basic principals of what a strong culture is. And it’s all really interesting stuff.

I know we’ve all probably been a part of a crappy company culture. But I don’t know if we’ve all been lucky enough to be a part of a strong, productive, enjoyable company culture. Cult-like almost. Tight-knit. But one that watches each others backs.

So this is the part where I tell you that there is no magic bullet for a strong company culture. But I can tell you that it doesn’t come from an employee handbook that talks about your values. It doesn’t come from a mandate given out by the C-level suite. It isn’t a department or a position or a line on the checklist of accomplishments.

Maybe it’s because cultures are organic. Maybe it’s because your culture is created by everyone who works there. It’s owned by all of them. And it will only thrive in an environment that allows for everyone to own it. Yes, the C-level guys can set the tone and direction, but they can’t create the culture. Culture it botton-up.

Then, once it starts to flourish, the handbooks embrace and extend it. Your gear starts to make sense – because they are just the tactics – not the underlying drivers of the culture.

I’ve been at Brains on Fire for nine years now. And I’ve seen the culture evolve since 2000, but it’s always been a strong one. Why? Because the principals have created an environment where we all feel valued. Where we all can contribute in our own unique way. We can come up with our own ideas about handbooks or underground websites or merit badges or rituals and implement them on our own. In short, we all have ownership of the culture. And we know it’s our job to keep it healthy and strong. Maybe it’s why after something like 2400 work days at Brains on Fire, I still can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and go to the office. These people are my family. And we endure the good and bad together, because we (not he or she or them) are in this together. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Like this post?

Why not share with a friend?