Kickstart the year right! Learn to revamp and level up your company culture with advice from the best of the best
The new year brings about a tantalising prospect — the promise of a brand new slate, fresh opportunities, a brighter, sparkier future heralded by fireworks and alcohol. But come the second week of 2016 and the crash from the New Year high will descend, leaving you demotivated.
This cycle of falling back to the same old patterns can be dangerous, and not just when it comes to the New Year.
To remain competitive, a company needs to break out of its routines to continue its growth. It’s only when teams dare to try new ideas and to innovate, that breakthroughs are made. While a startup’s products and services are seen as the most important aspects to encourage and push for innovation, it is its culture that often needs the most attention.
As Airbnb Co-founder and CEO, Brian Chesky, eloquently sums it up, “A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneur’s job is to build the foundation.” This foundation affects and trickles down to all aspects of a startup, whether it be product, customer acquisition tactics, social media strategy and so on.
And the best way to get started in revamping a company’s culture? Learn from the pros of course; the companies whose cultures have visibly shaped their journey and success. Here are seven cool culture hacks to try out in jumpstarting the new year.
We used Quora as a source to write this feature.
1. Funky furniture — Amazon
Amazon used to have a bunch of desks made out of doors to convey a sense of frugality and ‘startup-ness’ to its employees. This was around the time Jeff Bezos first started the company. Some are still in use today, but less so. Ironically enough, it turns out that these desks are actually pretty expensive and were more chosen for culture than as a cost-savings measure.
When working for a startup, the office often becomes its employee’s second home. Personalising decor and sprucing up furniture to reflect a company essence can go a long way in motivation its inhabitants. Shelling out hundreds of dollars for fancy desks and chairs may not be feasible for a young, growing startup, but simple DIY projects like an inspiration wall or colour-coordinated desks for different teams not only brightens up an office but also instils a sense of identity and purpose.
2. Project collectibles — Palantir
Palantir runs on a monthly release cycle for its core software. To celebrate every release, it produces a custom run of T-shirts signifying each release with the name of the release on them (typically elements from the periodic table). At 12 releases a year, that is a lot of special T-shirts and apparently employees treat them as collectibles. You can tell how long someone has been at the company by the T-shirts they have. It’s pretty cool, and makes everyone proud of each and every release.
Who doesn’t love a collectible? That’s why brands — from fashion labels to alcohol distributors — create limited edition variations of their products, whether through collaboration with other companies or crowdfunding.
Scarcity creates demand, and for a startup, being part of a significant event experience by a group of employees encourages belonging and ownership. T-shirts are a nifty highly customisable option — you can even get your team to collaborate on making them!
Non-sartorial options include “You Survived It!” or “Way To Go on that Thing You Did!” medals, pins and cups. On a tight budget? Affordable yet useful items like pens, notebooks, are a simple reminder of the accomplishments achieved.
3. Switch up the office — HubSpot
We have a number of culture hacks at HubSpot:.. No offices for anyone.. Every quarter the product team goes through a random desk shuffle.
Though rising in its popularity, a lot has been debated over the productivity and value of open-plan workspaces. Despite the disagreements, many companies have taken to a cubicle-less office and observed that it encourages communication between colleagues, fostering a better exchange of ideas and solutions.
If privacy and silence are needed, an area can be set aside in another room or separated by shelves. Having a permanent desk does facilitate organisation, but when done right and not too often, shuffling employees around can break the monotony and spark new, important conversations and solutions.
4. No managers — GitHub
GitHub has changed over the years but its emphasis on keeping a flat organisational hierarchy is reflected in its avoidance of the word ‘Manager’, instead preferring ‘Primarily Responsible Person (PRP)’. It can be argued that this distinction is purely etymological. However, the policy goes beyond words, giving everyone the authority to make relevant decisions when it comes to how things are implemented.
A chain-of-command is the backbone of every company; when s**t hits the fan, having one person to handle and execute damage control can be critical. For startups, however, each hire is carefully assessed as an essential component to the company. Thus having a too-strict chain-of-command could be holding back the company from fully leveraging its talent.
Ownership, after all, encourages contribution and dedication. The idea of no managers seems too wild? Conduct a week-long trial to measure its efficacy.
5. Being transparent — Buffer
Buffer’s claim to fame is transparency. And not just regular transparency, but a transparency that goes above and beyond what a regular company is comfortable with. It has published the formula it uses to calculate the salaries of the entire team as well as the top brass.
Secrecy can be a big necessity in startup land — for yet-to-launch companies in stealth mode, for building new proprietary products, for keeping mum about funding rounds.
But for smaller teams, confusion and a lack of clarity over certain aspects of the company can prove detrimental to its culture. By opening up about, and clarifying, hiring and payroll processes, company roadmaps and partnerships, a sense of trust is established between employees and the company, which is important in not just keeping existing talent but also attracting new ones.
6. Connect over food — LinkedIn
Food Truck Fridays: As you may know, San Francisco’s food trucks are very popular and well known. To bring a bit of the SF culture to Mountain View, LinkedIn pays a bunch of food trucks to come out to its HQ every Friday and serve free food for its employees (this is in addition to the free cafeteria it already has.)
The way to a company’s heart is through the food its employees eat! The best conversations (and shenanigans) often happen over a warm, hearty meal, so incorporating the joy of delicious grub adds to company culture. If food trucks aren’t an option, a monthly potluck at the office or at someone’s home is the next best thing.
7. Teamwork makes the dream work — Facebook
After working on a particular team for a while (typically one year), FB tells you to pick any other team at the company and for one month, you’d have a project on that team. If at the end of the month you liked the team and the type of work, then you can stay on that team.
If you didn’t then you can go back to your old team or maybe even pick a new team to try out. I think this allows engineers to gain knowledge and experience with all of the different parts of Facebook. Also it ensures that your job isn’t siloed to one particular team and task like at many large companies.
One of the biggest frustrations employees face is finding the right fit when it comes to building a great team. Professionalism should be upheld despite less-than-pleasant teammates, but the right combination of personalities and talents can change the direction of the company for the better. Allowing employees to assess their role in the team and to experiment with new possibilities can help optimise the elusive, magical quality of synergy.
To prevent issues like cliques from interfering with experimentation, monthly or quarterly peer-to-peer review sessions can be conducted to better understand the needs and the motivations of employees.
So, what cool culture hacks has your startup come up with? Do share with us.
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