(Company) Culture

“The foundation of a brand is the psychological contract – the contract between a company and its employees and between those employees and their customers. Great consumer companies are built on genuine passion, plus a day-to-day commitment to great execution. Employees won’t feel the passion, and can’t maintain the operating discipline, unless they feel good about what the company sells and the values it stands for.”
– Dan Levitan, Maveron (from Mavericks at Work, p. 137)

The other morning at coffee we were discussing the idea of “company culture.” I think the quote above by Dan Levitan from Maveron applies not only to consumer companies, but to all companies. At its core, it speaks to what creates a strong, positive company culture. No matter what you sell, from iPods to coffee to ideas, bringing passion to the equation differentiates you from them.

The contract is that promise of the brand, which in turn is the promise of the culture. You’d have a hard time finding a strong brand with a weak internal culture, or at least a strong brand that’s gonna last. People that believe in their company’s brand and philosophy are inherently more likely to contribute and strengthen the company’s culture, and make the company successful. There’s a company here in Portland called Nau that walks the talk. They believe there is no separation between their internal culture and their products. They’re all part of the brand. They’re all part of the culture.

We talked about Best Buy a couple weeks ago, how they’ve eliminated mandatory meetings and allow people to work when they’ll be the most productive. This doesn’t translate directly to the staff at the store, but the idea of changing the way things are done does, and that’s really what the culture is about. I read something from Fast Company about a guy in the Best Buy delivery department who was seeing all these flat panel TVs come back because they were damaged during delivery. So he came up with a new, soft shell carrying device that greatly reduced damage and returns. Which means Best Buy deals with fewer complaints, makes customers happy, and reflects positively on their brand. It’s part of their culture to innovate, from the way they work to the way they deliver TVs. Does every employee feel the need or urge to innovate? Probably not. But those that do, can. The culture allows it.

As David and I create a Substance culture, we’ve discussed the contract between the company and its employees (that would be David and me). Finding a genuine passion was logical… we love to design and create and develop and come up with ideas. But we wanted to make sure we combined this with things like integrity, courage, adventure, beliefs… the emotional stuff behind passion. Everybody says they “do great work.” It’s a given. Without the emotional drivers, we’d just be another “great” web agency or design studio. We should not only “do great work” but also “do what we believe.”

Which leads to the “day-to-day commitment to great execution.” We’re committing to great execution on things like digital brand strategy and online experiences, with clients who share this passion. Those that have integrity, courage, adventure… those who have a lot of the same beliefs that we have. We’re not going to say we do everything, and we’re not going to say we can do it for everyone. We simply can’t. We can focus on our culture, and we can focus on the cultures we want to work with. That’s how we can feel good about what the company sells (ideas, iPods, coffee) and the values it stands for.

Okay, I realize I went on a tangent and got up on my Substance soapbox (isn’t that partially what this blog is anyway?). Maybe I should stick with haikus.

If you believe the quote at the top applies to the company where you work, that’s awesome. It means you’re a part of something you believe in, either as an owner and/or an employee. If it doesn’t ring true, maybe you don’t believe in that culture. Which is fine. Just decide… how much does culture mean to you, as an owner, employee or client? How much does it matter to your brand?

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