TECH STACK <> CULTURE
Cultivating Healthy Company Culture in 2022
As I write this, it’s May 2022, and it’s fair to say that the past few years have seen some substantial evolutions and revolutions in company culture.
Covid accelerated the shift to remote work.
Employee activism and corporate activism have seen groundswells and backlash. Two examples are Coinbase’s “clarification” on employee activism and Disney’s troubles in Florida after disagreeing with the “don’t say gay” law.
There are also nagging corporate culture problems, like dysfunctional decision making, and too many meetings, that most companies have struggled to solve since long before the 2020s.
Now, we’ve got the Great Resignation.
The good news is that there’s an emerging blueprint for building a healthy company culture and some tools to help you do it that are worth checking out.
Granted, there’s no single right way to build a company culture, and it’s a bit subjective. For me, there are two KPIs for judging the health of your culture: employee churn, and profitability. If churn is low and profitability is high, congrats. You’re the corporate elite.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into it.
Teamwork that actually works
It does, in fact, make the dream work. The VC world likes to talk about “first principles”. As in, “a foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone” (from https://fs.blog/first-principles/). That healthy teamwork is necessary (but not sufficient) to create a healthy for-profit company is a first principle. If the whole isn’t greater than the sum of the parts, your company is going to fail. I would go further and say that if the majority of your team doesn’t enjoy working with their colleagues, your company is going to fail.
Now to get a bit prescriptive:
- Management training: It’s been said a lot. People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. Yet, how many companies have you worked for that take management training seriously? How many promote people that want to be team managers, instead of high performers who would rather not manage a team? I would guess strikingly few. Maybe none. This is nuts. Anyone with direct reports should actually enjoy and excel at managing teams of people. This is why 360-degree reviews are important. Check out BetterUp.
- Responsiveness: Projects that require a high degree of collaboration and iteration should be like a game of speed chess. The team needs to commit to at least acknowledging a request within a few hours and then providing an estimated time of response. Otherwise, you have folks idling or context switching while they wait for the input they need to get the job done.
- Async/remote: Companies that are thoughtfully built to be remote-first are leading the way on culture because there are critically important culture implications to running a successful remote-first company. Write things down and build institutional knowledge. Check out Guru. Read the Basecamp employee handbook. It’s one of the best around. Buffer also does a great job. Read their Open Culture Blog.
- Meetings: Less is more, both in terms of attendees and number of meetings. Limit mandatory attendees, and optional attendees for that matter. If people feel left out, you can always record the meeting and post a link to the recording in a public forum. Nobody’s weekly calendar should be more than 60% meeting time. Most employees should have at least 40% of their weekly calendar free for deep work. Try Fellow (on Medium @Fellow app). And for goodness sake, get used to using asynchronous video messages! They greatly reduce the need for meetings. Use Loom (https://www.loom.com/) or Dropbox Capture (https://www.dropbox.com/capture).
- Approvals/decisions: In my Intel days, we used the RAPID framework, and while it wasn’t perfect, it was better than nothing. Decision-makers need to be few and clear.
- Performance feedback: This is important. Most companies do an awful job of providing each employee timely, actionable feedback that is constructive. Check out Matter to help solve this.
- Marginalize email: If email remains the primary communication medium for your company, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem. It’s 2022. Make Slack or Teams your primary comms method, at least for internal comms.
- Universal tool usage: Most companies have tech stacks that are too splintered. To avoid that mess, enforce as close to universal adoption of key apps as you can.
- Data input and hygiene: Garbage in, garbage out. Make sure your team knows how to properly use the tools in your stack. Elevate your various ops teams to help set expectations and engineer a comprehensive stack. Ops teams are indispensable heroes and should be treated as such. Chronic abusers or ignorers of apps in your stack should get on board or go to a company that doesn’t care about this stuff.
- Transparency: You don’t have to take it as far as the Build in Public philosophy, but it helps! At the very least, have each team take OKRs seriously and publish their objectives and key results publicly to the rest of the company…not necessarily in public public. This helps build a “trust but verify” mentality that allows teams life-giving autonomy but also keeps them accountable. Try Lattice (on Medium @Lattice).
- Prioritization: Part of your OKR should include a high-level prioritization. Note what you’re not going to tackle until you achieve certain key results. At the micro level, your department head might be known to lob pet projects your way, forcing you to drop everything else. You should have a priorities list that is visible to at least your extended team. That way, people that drop projects on you can see how it impacts your work flow.
- Hiring: Consider using the points above as a hiring filter. If someone disagrees with this approach, they may not help in building the teamwork culture you’re going for.
What did I miss? Feel free to drop a comment. Are you using a tool that helps your team? Let us know.
In the meantime, let’s get to work building better teams and cultures. In fact, let’s include that in our OKRs.