A new founder was venting to me recently that she can’t afford an impressive office space for her growing team. As a result, she lamented, her company’s culture was clearly going to suffer.
It’s easy to see why she’d think that.
After all, the internet is filled with stories that equate a strong culture with “things”: laser tag outings, wine tastings, flashy retreats– and yes, award-winning office spaces.
Good news, I replied. Your culture has nothing to do with your office space.
What Really Matters
In contrast, I described what really matters– like Core Values that mean something, or the way the team behaves when a mistake is made. But I could see that she struggled to fully connect with my explanation.
Searching for a fitting analogy, I told her about a trail hike I’d recently taken.
It was a quiet, sunny August morning, and I was hiking the trails of Block Island. When I rounded a bend, I came upon this tree: majestic and wild, with the sun glowing from behind.
I paused in my tracks, captivated by its mystical beauty. And then I imagined how strong its roots must be, to keep its tangle of branches anchored to the earth.
Your company is like that tree, I explained. And your company’s culture are the roots.
Like a tree’s, your company’s roots are mostly invisible to the naked eye, but contain the substance and energy that feeds your company. They need to be strong and run deep in order for your team to thrive as it grows.
Grow Strong Roots
Your company’s roots become stronger when you:
- Know- and act in alignment with- your company’s Core Values. This means hiring people who share your values, and making tough decisions that keep you in line with your values.
- Reward behavior that strengthens trust, collaboration and psychological safety– and avoid acting in ways that weaken or destroy it.
- Listen to- and act upon- what your employees tell you they need. Are your benefits too basic? Do they feel it’s too hard to get things done? Probe for what really matters.
- Commit to continually improving- as a founder and as a company. Rather than being a sign of weakness, treating yourself and your company as a work in progress encourages people to be more open and creative.
If you’re still unclear about how to cultivate your culture, let these two questions lead you:
Is what you’re doing nourishing your company?
Will it help keep your company anchored for the unexpected setback?