startups and code

Culture Disruption

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Culture disruption is hard thing to identify in an interview and a harder thing to teach. I have worked at several companies and the most interesting company experiences always occur when significant change is occurring. Most people are terrified of change and that probably is a healthy fear in certain situations. However, I have noticed that the biggest improvements occur when things get turned sideways. I have always seen people express the intention of embracing change and have an all-hands meeting to talk about the change that is going to happen. However, usually people are cynical about the rah-rah meeting and they go back to their "business-as-usual" work to make sure they don't get fired. One skill that I have, and never really considered it a skill until recently, is that I can disrupt "business-as-usual" environments. Now, that being said, it is not always a good skill to use, but it is always a good skill to have.

I have attended numerous "rah-rah, welcome aboard" meetings and I pay attention, very good attention. Those are the meetings where you get the most leverage from management. You hear phrases like, "My door is always open", "We want you to be excited to be here", "We are investing in you to make the company great". Test those phrases... I have walked into CEO's offices and said "Hey, you got a minute I have a few questions and thought if anyone would know it would be you." I usually, get a nervous response, "uh, yeah, sure, what is your name again?"... or the other typical one is, "who are you? I really don't have time right now.". You can follow-up that last response with something like, "I completely understand, I will check your calendar for tomorrow and schedule something. Thanks and see you tomorrow". It's not pushy, it is just calling them on their words: "My door is always open". Really? Is it? Or is that just fluff because your heard a bunch of other management people spew it. "We want you to be excited here" Really, ok then make one of my review goals to be something personal to me: Attend a baseball game with your family, Complete a 10k, Take a class in photography. Everyone claims to want a good work-life balance, but do you really tie your goals with that? Is my bonus/raise dependent on me attending a baseball game with my family? Maybe it should be? It is goals like that which make me excited to work here. I know the technology side of things is important, and I need to be able to deliver features/product to the client to make sure we have our bills paid and more importantly our customers are excited about our products. However, it is just as important that you retain me and have me excited about delivering that.

Having video games and free soda does not make a culture. Culture is part of everything. Dress, interactions (hallway and meetings), desks, cubes/offices, diet, meeting cadence, etc... If you want people to be on time to your meeting, then be on time to theirs. If you want people to be comfortable, then don't wear a tie when a client comes in, be real, client or no client. I am known for my sneakers, not sure how that happened but I am. I have 2 pair that glow in the dark (thank you new balance!). But if I am meeting a CEO or I am going to big dinner, I will still wear my sneakers, and if it is warm out, I'm wearing shorts. I'm not going wear a suit and tie to impress someone by how I look. I want them to want to work with me because of my skills and talent... not because I look the part.

It takes a while, it is not an overnight process to change a company's culture. It takes a lot of "buy-in" and it takes a lot of patience and persistence. If you are doing the right thing, then no one will question it over the long-haul. You will have to defend every action using their words as evidence. "Open door policy", "We are embracing change", etc... Hold them to that. It is then that they will either change, or you will get fired. Either way, it will put you in a place you want to work.

The Dalai Lama said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I don't think he meant when it was safe and convenient, but more so when it was difficult and against the grain. Be the change in your company, and make it the place you want it to be... I know you can, because I work at place that has truly embraced change, that they listen, and are willing to take risks on their employees to allow them to be innovative.