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Culture Vulture – 5 Interesting and Practical Ideas for Improving your Company Culture

This past year was exciting for Lighthouse Software. With the help of our partners and our clients, we built some fantastic new applications that will help not only our clients but the public as well. Our team’s dedication to delivery and quality has caused our project list to grow, and as a result, we added 15 new amazing staff from the Twin Cities!

 

Organizational Growth is exciting because it’s an indicator of more: more revenue, more work, more success today and more potential for the future. However, growth can also pose significant challenges, and if your organization isn’t prepared, the impact can be severe. The foremost challenge for Lighthouse this year has been a physical one; our home office in Woodbury grew tight enough to prompt a move to a new location. While an office move presents a substantial operational challenge, I’m also considering the cultural impacts of growth as well.

 

I’ve been with Lighthouse long enough to see us grow from five developers huddled around an IKEA conference table to an organization employing dozens and dozens of people in offices throughout the US and India. We’ve always been experts in custom software development, but who we are and how we do it has changed during that time. Of course, our culture has changed as well, maturing from late night, Mountain Dew-fueled hackathons into scheduled product deliveries celebrated over single-malt whiskey.

 

For many of us, work is like a second home. For entrepreneurs, this is especially apt since you likely spend as much time at work as your actual home. But if a business is a home, then its culture is its backyard: something’s going to spring up, whether you attend to it or not.

 

Which of these most closely resembles your workplace?

 

Whether you’re a seasoned enterprise executive or a visionary with a brand-new startup, it’s easy to understand that building a strong culture is closely tied to your company’s success. For a business to operate well, the culture of a company should embody its core values. At its best, company culture can create a sense of ownership among your staff and acts as an attractor and retainer of top talent. At worst, it lands you in the news.

 

To follow the previous analogy, your company might be a mansion estate worth $50 billion, but if its cultural backyard is choked with poisonous weeds, a half-empty swimming pool and a dilapidated Dodge Dart full of sexist bees, well… the property value isn’t what it could be, to say the least.

 

Hopefully, you’re not in that position, and instead, you’re looking to implement intentional practices that guarantee cultural strength through carefully cultivated growth. If you’re reading this, you may be like me, doing what I’m doing: in-person and anonymous interviews with your staff, reading articles online, meeting with peers for coffee and discussion, or even buying hardbound books with catchy titles. Like me, you’re circling overhead, searching for any juicy tidbits left by those who have come before you.

 

In short, you might be a Culture Vulture. If so, I’m here to help.

 

I’m a developer by trade, and a millennial, so I was present for the software development changeover from yesterday’s bookshelf full of O’Reilly volumes to the all-knowing oracle of StackOverflow today. Google has become the first stop for any research effort. Unfortunately, when it comes to questions about changing your company’s culture, a lot of the answers Google provides are well-worn buzzwords like Transparency and Empowerment. While both of these are of huge importance, often the advice under these headings is too general to assist in brainstorming, much less practical application.

 

To that end, I’d like to share the most interesting results of my internet research this month on the culture question:

 

  1. Embody One Core Value a Day

This one comes from Ben Peterson, CEO of BambooHR. Ben suggests taking a few minutes at the start of each day to choose one of your company’s Core Values, and then intentionally embody that value throughout the day. He goes so far as to suggest writing an email to your staff explaining your intent and prompting them to do the same.

 

  1. Hold Company Q&A Sessions

Co-founder and CEO of STRV, David Semerad will organize monthly Q&A sessions to encourage his employees to “ask him anything”. He suggests the feedback he receives is invaluable to his organization, adding that the process promotes Transparency (Buzzword Bonus!)

 

  1. Consider Your Physical Space

This was a timely tidbit for us personally, from Jeremy Bloom, CEO of entrepreneur.com. He questions the current trend of open-office floor plans, which are particularly popular for software development office spaces. All people are different and may work best differently, in different spaces.

 

  1. Create a “Just Culture”

John Allspaw, former Etsy CTO, was an outspoken advocate for creating a developer culture that balances accountability and moving forward in a positive way. John suggests that when mistakes happen, the best path forward is not to blame and shame, but rather dig into the reasons behind the failure to achieve lasting improvement.

 

  1. Welcome to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

I’m a big fan of Trello, so when I came across the idea of “Mr. Rogers” on their blog, they had my attention. Trello’s “Mr. Rogers” activity randomly pairs two employees each week for a 15-minute video call to help them get to know one another. They describe it as a simple way for remote employees to “make one another human” rather than just faceless entities in the workstream.

 

These were five of the most unique answers to the culture question I found that was also practical(rather than conceptual). Perhaps they’ll get your mental processes spinning as well!

 

How does your company culture look? What are you seeing in action that has made a positive change for you and your coworkers? Have you heard of anything interesting being done to foster culture? We’d love to hear from you!