As I was writing about how cultures can be established, I began to think about the cultures I have experienced throughout my career. Thankfully, I have been a part of many very positive cultures, which is what I will discuss here. However, negative cultures exist in many companies, but I will save my thoughts on that subject for another post. I look back at what I have experienced in order to build a framework for any future company a work for or build myself. Below are the ideas and practices that I feel make the largest impact on a company’s culture (in no particular order).
Unlimited Days Off: A practice from a former employer that meant a lot to me was not having a set number of days off for the year. This was an incredible amount of trust placed on individual employees and allowed for an excellent level of work/life balance. Studies have shown that these policies end up yielding fewer days off taken, on average, per year compared to individuals with a set number, but the job satisfaction in those with no limit is higher. I believe the reason for this is the comfort of knowing those days are always there if you need them. For me, I ended up taking about 15-20 days off over a six-year period. That’s not to say I didn’t take a lot of half days, but I was also highly productive and never worried about the time I spent working or taking off. I found a great article that lays out reasons this can and cannot work with different companies.
Autonomy: Trust is a major factor when it comes to job satisfaction. One of the aspects that has allowed me to be the most engaged is autonomy to completely control the work that I am responsible for. This really does take an incredible amount of trust, especially for a new employee. It comes down to making sure your hiring process is excellent. However, the results prove, at least to me, that the effects of autonomy allow for higher-level results. That is not to say that mistakes are never made, because I have certainly made them, however it is about the learning experience that comes as a result. By having to find solutions myself, I am put into a position where I will continue to grow and enhance my skills. Daniel Pink discusses autonomy and how it relates to intrinsic motivation in an excellent Ted Talk.
Setting, Knowing and Living Your Values: At the heart of what builds a culture are the values a company is built upon. It isn’t enough to simply have them, but they have to be established as the fundamentals upon which all decisions are based. The way this is done is by living those values. In a previous job, my employer paid special attention to holding regular discussions on the topic of values, as well as discussing how we made decisions based on them. This had a tremendous impact on me regarding what we did and, more importantly, why we did it. This is probably the most important aspect of creating a culture that I would want in every employer I work for.
Creating a Team: Working to ensure everyone in the company (or everyone in some work unit depending on the size of the company) is integrated and understands they are part of a singular unit with a common purpose is vitally important. Unless there is a negative culture built-in, I will choose to be part of a team, rather than work alone, 100% of the time.
Transparency: Knowing what is going on and how your work is contributing to that of the success of the entire company helps to create a real connection between the employee and the company. Free flowing information about how things are going and where work needs to be focused has made me a more engaged part of the team. While this doesn’t have to mean that every detail is announced to everyone, knowing the big picture creates an atmosphere of trust. However, this does not need to go as far as sending all emails to the “all staff” email group.
In every aspect of work I have experienced, the items above are the ones that have stood out the most as having contributed to creating a positive culture. It is the culmination of these experiences that has guided me in how I have and will choose to manage and lead in the future. Culture has become one of the most important leadership and management responsibilities that I have learned during my career and I will continue to absorb as many ideas as possible.
To read about establishing a culture, click over to my previous blog post – Company Culture: Setting the Tone.
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