When Emily and Kathleen founded Borders+Gratehouse, they had some strong opinions about the kind of company that they would create. After much debate and reflection, they committed to the core values of Impact, Imagination, Intelligence, Drive and Experience. At a glance, clients, prospects, partners and employees should be able to form a reasonable impression of the agency.
But corporate culture is more organic. How do you define success and how do you celebrate it? What is the social contract between team members day to day and how does that foster a team of enthusiastic ambassadors? What is the alignment or difference between what you say and what you do? A deliberate and consistent focus on culture can pay huge rewards and ensure everyone has fun along the way.
RightScale, the leading cloud infrastructure management company, has one of the strongest and most exciting corporate cultures we have ever experienced. Located in sunny Santa Barbara, the executives realized that not everyone would want to live in a lovely, laid back beach community (though, why they wouldn’t is a mystery!) From the start, they embraced a distributed work environment, powered by the cloud, of course. Today, they employ hundreds of people on five continents. Three times a year, they bring the whole company to Santa Barbara for a RightScale Employee Meeting (REM). Even former employees send videos, warm wishes and sometimes warm cookies. We asked RightScale, CEO Michael Crandell about the secrets to creating such a zealous culture. Here is his advice:
How would you describe the RightScale culture?
Our website says that we take what we do seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We believe that we can achieve a fun, friendly & supportive atmosphere, while simultaneously driving hard to be an innovator and leader in a new market. In fact, the market we’re in is one we’ve pioneered — cloud computing management. We believe that we’ll succeed fastest & best if we’re willing to be experimental, to push limits, and to iterate quickly on our products & services. Being experimental means making mistakes, so we try not to get hung up on them when they happen — just acknowledge, learn, and push ahead.
Has it changed over the years and if so, in what ways?
One of the cool things about having an open, accepting culture is this: when you hire talented, smart people, they will constantly amaze you with what they create. As a result, while the basic themes of our company culture have remained the same since the beginning, the forms in which they are expressed are continually blossoming. We have entirely new cross-departmental teams that didn’t exist a year ago, new ways of communicating, new traditions for celebrating success together, and new restaurants supplying our free Monday lunches!
As a leader in the company, what do you personally do to maintain/reflect/celebrate the RightScale culture?
I try to set the highest standards for myself in the work I do, but I also try to help everyone recognize the humorous side of work and life. When you work as hard as our people do, it’s important to have some relief valves when the pressure builds, and laughter is one of the best. I also invite others to poke fun at me, which lucky for them is not too hard to do.
Have you had any setbacks or missteps?
Of course — many! It’s such a myth that progress comes as one unbroken march forward. What’s interesting is that, now that you ask the question, I don’t actually remember the setbacks as much as whatever we did to overcome them. I like that about our approach.
What advice would you give this new generation of startups about creating a strong culture?
I think it all starts with how you look at what you’re trying to do with your company. Remember that being part of a group of people who work together to make a new business is fundamentally one of the most exciting privileges you can have. It’s inherently creative, full of possibility, hope and promise. Remember that you’re working with other humans — we all are born, someday die, and are trying to do something interesting and meaningful in-between. Ask yourself some big questions:
“Would your children (if you have any) like being part of your company? Have you created a place where people look forward to coming to work, and where they feel they can shine? When you look back after it’s over, will you feel content not only with what you accomplished, but how you accomplished it?”
As we celebrate another strong year at B+G with 66 percent revenue growth and 50 percent growth in our team, we dedicated a large part of our 2012 kick off to examining our culture and recommitting to each other to make B+G an exhilarating, supportive agency that delivers creative campaigns designed to affect business results. We asked each other to define the B+G Culture and here’s what we said:
What would you say about your culture and what are the steps that you, personally take to maintain it? Please share your thoughts or, better yet, just do something special for your colleagues and your culture today!
- By Carol Carrubba