Always Build Culture (the ABC of effective organizations)

NM Mid
Last year, a conference attendee asked Tony Hsieh (founder of Zappos) what he’d do differently, if he knew then what he knows now.  “Build culture from Day One,” was his thoughtful and profound reply.  Not technology, partners, product lines, marketing – culture building! 

In his book, Delivering Happiness, he described several ways he and his team cobbled together a customer-obsessed culture … including offering new-hires thousands of dollars to quit at the end of the customer-mania training program.  But his point: You need to build culture starting the minute you create a company, organization, group or even project team.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to build. 

Here’s my fave definition of culture: How Things Are Done Around Here.  Culture building is a conversation about values, led or allowed by leaders, that creates a group-intuition.  When the culture is strong, everyone knows what ‘the right thing to do’ actually is.  And they proactively do it all the time from hiring to product/process design to conflict management.  This is the only way you can scale your success into greatness.  PS – when culture is weak, the default behavior is ‘what does this mean to me?’, which results in silo building or selfish actions.

I am CEO of a startup, Net Minds.  We came together as a founding team last year, and currently we are hiring two developers to work for us (in Los Angeles).  We are building a market place platform for creative ideas and the talent that works on them.  (PS – if you know any brilliant people, please send me a note at: tims at netminds dot com or here.)

Prior to hiring our first person, though, we’ve contemplated culture.  What is “The Net Minds Way?” and in this case, “Who is a Net Mind?” I’ve read often that when you are a startup, your first employees become the framework of your culture, thousands of hires later.  So these first picks are highly important!

While working at Yahoo, I spent a lot of time with Libby Sartain our Chief People Officer.  She ran HR at Southwest Airlines, and built a great culture there.  She explained to me that step one was to define the quintessential Yahoo’s common attributes (The were: Fast, Fun, Friendly, Easy To Work With, Human) and let that be the guide to hiring along with technical proficiency and background.  Using these attributes, the first interview is all about this question: “Does she fit?  Is she a native Yahoo?” 

Apply this thinking to your next hire.  Even if your organization is established, it’s not too late to identify your-way and the DNA of your-best-talent.  The exercise will help others come into the fold, and might identify some changes you need to make in the lineup.  Immediately, you’ll notice that the process empowers everyone on the team.  Often, when you define the values of your culture, and the ingredients of the perfect team member, you’ll realize how worthy and special your mission is.