The way we do things around here
If culture is basically the way we do things, then stories are the why.
“If you want to learn about a culture listen to the stories. If you want to change a culture, change the stories.”
All of us are living out our own personal stories everyday. Everything we experience and the decisions we make are interpreted through this lens and whether we see things as conflicting with, or supportive of, our unfolding story. This lens has a huge impact on the places we choose to work and the way we choose to approach it.
If I see myself as a bit of a maverick I might be attracted to a startup environment, where I get to dress down everyday and where my provocative point of view energises the team. Drop me into an 800lb corporate gorilla though, and I’m going to feel very much like a misunderstood outsider.
Recruiting for cultural fit is massively important to team productivity and happiness. As we started to grow our team here at The Sandpit we took the time to think about why we exist, the story we want to tell and the role of that story in advancing the individual stories of the people we want to work with.
If the story of your culture advances the story of your people they’ll move mountains for you.
If you haven’t watched Simon Sinek’s TEDx talk, Start with Why, you should.
Startups and the zeitgeist
Startups operate on the edge of convention by nature. At a startup you’re more able to make stuff happen, outside the system. You work in smaller, cross-functional teams where role players have fewer places to hide. People join because the possibilities inspire them and they’re restless to start realising their potential.
The startup culture and story is increasingly drawing the next generation of talent outside the system, away from the safe but bureaucratic corporate track. Company cultures that can capture this energy and help people to advance this story will be well placed to win.
As we talked about what we were really excited about at The Sandpit, we realised – based a lot on our own individual stories and past frustrations in corporate roles – that it was helping young startup talent to disrupt the establishment. Which gave us our purpose:
We’re assembling next generation talent around disruptive digital products to push both out of beta and into the world faster.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
So said Pete Drucker. Or put another way, strategy directs while culture inspires. If strategy figures out the steps a business needs to take to get from A to B, culture builds inspired consensus around what B is, and motivates people to do the work.
This isn’t to say that strategy doesn’t matter. We’ve spent a ton of time developing an innovative business model that is best described as “private equity for early stage startups”. Maybe Max McKeown’s assertion that culture and strategy should eat breakfast together, is closer to the truth.
In a lot of our favourite companies culture has become a core pillar of strategy. It defines the goal of the business beyond shareholder returns, as well as encapsulating the beliefs and behaviours that’ll be employed and the story that’ll be told to get them there.
Toms sells more than shoes. They sell a new belief system for consumer culture. Method sells more than soap. They sell a non-toxic worldview. HubSpot sells more than marketing tech. They sell a vision for how work should be.
Looking at these examples it becomes pretty clear that culture and a compelling story aren’t just critical when building a motivated team, but they’re a pretty awesome foundation as you start to express your brand story to the world too. Which I’ll save for another post.
1. If the story of your culture advances the story of the individual they’ll move mountains for you
2. Next generation talent thrives in next generation work environments
3. Culture and strategy eat breakfast together – while strategy direct, culture inspires