If you read through the litany of commentators who wax extemporaneously about what workplaces will be like in years to come, you hear about things like “open concepts” and “remote workers.” You also hear a lot about creating effective workplace culture and crafting maximized organizational structures. And of course, you hear a lot about the benefits of AI. These are buzzwords, and if I had a nickel for every buzzword that gets thrown at me on a daily basis, I would have retired many years ago. That said, if you peel away the buzzwords, you uncover some truly impactful trends that are driving the workplace of the future.
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“Introducing [new employees] to the culture has been very important; it’s important that the people we hire are growth-oriented,” PacketZoom co-founder Chetan Ahuja says. “We want them to already be useful to the business, but their main goal is to grow and to grow with the company. They’re much more valuable that way.”
“We want people who have historically been lucky. People who have demonstrated the ability to go out and create their own luck,” CEO Michael Katz says. “People who are curious, who engage and ask questions and generally listen, [who are] not just waiting for a pause in the conversation. “
Getting rid of job titles and helping people detach from job titles are two of the biggest challenges around refocusing a company on its culture and its values, CTO John Schnipkoweit says. At Choozle, the culture is focused around the product it is creating, and allowing that product to drive the company.
“It’s really important that [staff] understand how their work contributes to the company objective, rather than just being busy and doing things and not knowing whether it has an impact on the company goals and outcomes,” says the company’s CEO, Ian O’Rourke .
Wholesale ecommerce retailer Boxed is taking its position as team leader seriously. The company pays for its employees’ kids to go to college. It looked at the industry-wide “pink tax” and started a campaign against the higher prices. It even started contributing $20,000 to pay for employees’ weddings.
Hooch isn’t hiring right now, but they expect to ramp up technology and data positions in fall 2017. Dai says his secret to hiring is to be brutally honest about the challenges and struggles of working at startup.
“In the hiring process, we often use the terms ‘smart, hungry, and humble,’” says Zaius CEO Mark Gally. “This notion of being humble is really a critical component of culture. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take our work extremely seriously.”
A spinoff company from a larger mothership might already have culture built in. At Conichiwa, a Berlin-based proximity agency and beacon company, that’s not quite what is happening.
While some company founders sit down and write out their core values and identify what their company’s culture should be before they even find the people who will help them, others just go with their gut. For Pete Gombert, founder of local marketing company Balihoo, his gut feeling about culture has turned into a whole new company.
The company’s mission is to build a new operating system for the physical world, and to get there the team needs zero bullshit. Culture is far too important to leave to chance, says John Cieslik-Bridgen, Estimote’s VP of culture. But it’s also important to allow natural evolution.
Environment, talent, and process all encourage the growth of innovation, according to IT research firm CEB, which was recently acquired by Gartner. But there’s a balancing act that must take place between structure and exploration — especially for smaller companies on a fast upward growth curve.
“I think it’s important to have marketing leadership from a cultural standpoint,” the company’s VP of marketing, Corey O’Donnell says. “Marketing isn’t just what you tell the world about your business, it’s also what you tell your employees.”
“The culture starts at the top and stays with the top and there is nothing more important than leading by example in that respect,” says CEO Kristen Stiles. Her company, Sitter.me, connects parents with local babysitters.
Every month, one half of the company’s employees travel to visit the other half of the employees — the engineering team is located in Oslo, Norway and the commercial team is in New York City — as a culture-building activity, giving employees a chance to connect while in the same time zone.
The right way to build a company culture: it’s different for every company, every leadership team, and every squad of employees. CEO Tim Fagan says that when G/O spun off from TEGNA, the strategy to build culture was intentionally developed with just three short, simple values: accountability, quality, and urgency.