Company Culture – What it Really Boils Down To…

digidenCulture is a really, really big deal at GroundFloor Media (GFM). It’s something we talk about regularly, and it’s something both our president and founder present on quite frequently. As the team member who prepares and submits award entries for GFM, I end up writing about our culture a lot. And by virtue of working for a marketing communications agency, I get a glimpse into a whole variety of company cultures as we meet and work with all of our clients. And with all of this talking, writing and observing, I’ve come to believe that a healthy and vibrant company culture – one that results in a business that employees and clients/customers are excited about – really boils down to four main things.

  • Trust and respect – These two factors are absolutely key and, I’m afraid, all too often lacking. GFM’s founder often talks about the importance of hiring good people and then trusting them to get the job done. It’s amazing how empowering and motivating this kind of trust is. On the flip side, I’ve been in environments where people are micro-managed, and their every decision is questioned or criticized. Not surprisingly, employee attrition rates in those companies are typically pretty high. When people are allowed to make decisions and empowered to act on those decisions, they take ownership and pride in their work. They don’t want to let their colleagues – or their clients or customers – down.
  • Open communication – This is another area where GFM really excels. Our leadership team is transparent about what they’re up to – their vision for the company and the path they foresee taking to get us there. But it’s also about open communication among team members. While respecting confidentialities when needed, we also have a very open style of working, looping all team members in on all aspects of client projects, which encourages mindshare and leads to some really creative solutions to client challenges.
  • Collaboration vs. competition – It’s amazing and exciting to see what gets done in companies where employees are encouraged to work together toward a common goal as opposed to being in competition with one another. GFM’s flat organizational structure certainly helps foster this spirit of camaraderie and collaboration – but I don’t think such a structure is necessary. In fact, I’ve worked in a traditionally hierarchical agency where some team leaders really harped on employees’ titles and roles, while others treated everyone on their team with equal regard (back to both the trust & respect and open communication pieces). Not surprisingly, the teams with the latter style of leadership were both more productive and had happier individual team members who genuinely enjoyed working together.
  • Leadership – Perhaps most importantly of all, a company’s leadership must walk the walk when it comes to company culture. They can preach all they want about openness, transparency, trust and balance – but if they don’t live the virtues they espouse, those virtues won’t trickle down through the company. I’ve been attending a weekly Pilates class at noon on Wednesdays (as my schedule allows), and my instructor said something about my having to sneak out and pretend I was heading to a meeting – which isn’t the case at all. In fact, I change clothes at work and very openly holler (yes, holler) that I’m heading to Pilates – something that is both accepted and encouraged by everyone there. In fact, I used to attend a regular 4:30 yoga class with our president. Having her model making time for health & wellness in her day brings that company value to life and encourages all of us to find ways to do the same.

When I read about companies that win awards for being great places to work, I often read about video games, basketball hoops and company kegs. All of those things are fantastic and fun – and yes, we have all three – but they don’t count for anything if you don’t have trust & respect, open communication, a collaborative environment and leaders that model the culture they espouse. I’m extremely grateful to work for a company that excels at all of the above.

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