Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
The Culture Chat Podcast: Startup Life and Workplace Culture

The Culture Chat Podcast: Startup Life and Workplace Culture

February 16, 2017
Maddie Grant

In this episode we chat with Jonathan Herrick, CSO/CMO, Co-Founder and Chief High-Fiver of Hatchbuck. Jonathan is passionate about building a Culture of Engagement, helping individual employees develop personal and professional strengths. He says that "in this environment, innovation blossoms, and customer expectations are exceeded, resulting in unprecedented company growth." We asked him, "How do you balance a focus on culture with the priorities of startup life?"

Here's an excerpt...:

Jamie: One hing that we find a lot in our conversations around culture with organizations, and to be honest that we probably push them to see a little more, or to make it a little more explicit, is that connection between what's valued and what makes them successful, right? I'm assuming you're on the same page as us so that it's like you're not really kind of like Enron. You just don't choose the values that sound good, that make everyone happy or that look like Google. You value things internally, like doing the right thing or keeping it simple in your case, because it makes you more successful when you do that. 
 
Like you assume that connection is made explicit. So I guess my question is, have you guys gone through different stages of growth where there was a big shift? Where it's like, “Man, earlier on we had the value X because it made this stuff happen. But now where we are in our growth curve, we need to value things a little bit differently because it's different things that drive our success.” Have you seen that?
 
Jonathan: I have. So when I set up the values for our business, I believe they are rooted in the fabric of the type of people, the type of customers, the type of businesses we wanted to grow. So our five core values are our main stay. Everyone here knows them, and there are customers that feel the by-product of us living those values. I would say one value on our list of values, communication, is just implied. But what's interesting is, as the business grows, that's the one that sometimes becomes more of a challenge.
 
When you're working in a startup environment, and all three individuals or five individuals that started the business are a rock throw away from talking communication doesn't seem to be as big of an issue. But as you scale and grow and you start to layer in leadership and management, and the founders get further away from some of the daily things that you used to do, communication can be suffer. So I believe that's a value that we've been working on extremely hard here. It's something we've had to improve on, and ultimately it maybe wind up being one of our values down the road.
 
But it's something we definitely value and we're starting to find ways that we can improve that. Because ultimately we want to make sure that the purpose and the vision of the business goes down to every level of the organization. When you have a handful of people, it's easy for everyone to be on the same journey, chasing the same purpose, but when you get to 20, 50, 100, 500 employees, then obviously you have to be more intentional about communicating that.
 
Charlie: I love the example that you gave there around communication. I think it's a great one and it plays out in a lot of different ways. But the notion that not only do you have to have the value, but you’ll have to have the right things around it to make sure that it can in fact flourish. The things around it, the “stuff” that we like to call, it needs to be thought of in terms of, "What's going to facilitate and/or get in the way of our ability to communicate the way that we want to communicate?"
 
So we look at stuff like the artifacts and the rituals, we look at process, we look at structure, we look at people, we look at technology, and do those things actually facilitate or hinder our ability to live out that value? That seems to me to be some of the hard work that organizations won't do or don't do or forget to do, which is… We all have great intentions around living this value, but we have not created the environment in which it can actually flourish. I think that's just a great observation.
 
Jamie: Yeah, I want to piggyback on what you said, because we've seen this with clients that we've worked with that identify those specific areas that you just mentioned, where they need to make changes in order to strengthen what is valued inside their culture. One company was writing their playbook on how they were going to improve their culture, and they distinguished between offensive plays and defensive plays.
 
And I love that distinction because that defensive play is the idea of, “Hey, there is something in our culture that, if we're not careful, we're going to lose it. We need to reinforce it, we need to maintain it, we need to defend that piece of the culture. That’s why it made the example around communication that you gave Jonathan, made me think of that. It's like, “Hey, we just sort of took it for granted that communication was going to happen. But in fact, that's so important to our success, we need to build some defensive plays around that to make sure that it doesn't get lost.” 

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