Develop a Culture Roadmap

December 17th, 2008   |   by Frank Addante

My (now former) assistant, Mallory Portillo, was the very first employee outside of the founding team at the Rubicon Project. We’ve grown quite a bit since she started just over a year ago. With our strong commitment to team development and culture, Mallory is now moving on to a new role. She’s going to be responsible for culture, training and communication (see our Cultural Values.) I did a Twitter post about how we do culture surveys and I got a lot of requests from people asking about the process and the questions that we asked. So, I asked Mallory to write a blog post about it, so here is her contributed post…

Contributed by Mallory Portillo:

Cultivating, maintaining and growing a motivating culture at a fast growing start-up company is not a simple task. When I joined here, we were a small office of six and now we are rapidly approaching 75!

As we got bigger, one of the major things we wanted to focus on was gathering culture development feedback and learn about areas for improvement. We knew our team was relatively happy, but we wanted to know what exactly we could do to make their daily experience better and not feel like “work.” We developed a survey to be administered to our entire team using a great survey generator and delivery service called Survey Monkey (you can access the survey builder and deliver it to your team at We kept it completely anonymous because we wanted honest, valuable feedback and not what people think we “wanted to hear.” The survey asked our team to describe their daily experience, including why they get up for work in the morning, what they value about coming here, and what they would do to improve communication and the feeling of appreciation among employees at the company.

From the results of the survey, we learned that our team feels our overall company culture is high but wanted to improve on specific areas like communication between departments and employee appreciation. From this feedback, we improved interdepartmental communication with the adoption of Yammer, a new micro-blogging tool which allows everyone in the company to discuss ideas, post news, or ask questions to the entire company. We even devoted a large plasma screen in our office to the feed, which is constantly broadcast to the entire team and anyone who visits our office. It has become a great way for people to interact between departments, remote offices and traveling team members.

From feedback on employee appreciation, it became apparent that the feeling of appreciation across departments was the lowest. In order to encourage people in different departments to show that they value others outside of their own departments, we developed a program called Rubi Rewards. Each employee gets a $75 Rubicon Visa gift card each quarter to show their appreciation to one or more people in the company who they feel stood out in the organization. Examples of why people have given Rubi Rewards includehelp/assistance on a project, having a really positive attitude or inspiring them in some way. Both of these programs, which came as a direct result of the survey, have been in effect for only a few months but the feedback from our team has been extremely positive.

There were, of course, things that surprised us about the survey. We expected our team to rank our company culture a 7 out of 10 (I even thought it might be a 6!). Our average was an 8.44, which while is not close to the 9 out of 10 that we are someday hoping to achieve, it does mean we are headed in the right direction (we will never rate ourselves a 10 because that means we are no longer trying to improve). It is great to know that the time, effort and resources we are investing into maintaining our culture is valued by our employees. However, just like our technology, we are never going to stop improving and innovating!

These were our takeaways from this experience:

  • Culture is something you have to cultivate, reflect on, and constantly improve.
  • You cannot be afraid to ask tough questions and confront things that aren’t working.
  • The only way to know what would make people happier, more effective, and ultimately keep them around is to ask for their feedback.
  • Every group is different, as is every individual. Culture is driven by reaching and inspiring individuals to act together as a team. What works for some may not work for others.
  • A strong company culture is not mandated but rather created by the very people who live and breathe it everyday!

We have included the questions we asked our team for reference, in case you were interested:

Culture section:
1. Please pick four words that describe the term “entrepreneurship”
2. Please pick six words that you feel describe the Rubicon Project.
3. Please pick three things that you like most about working at the Rubicon Project?
4. Please pick three things that you like least about working at the Rubicon Project?
5. What motivates you to come to work each morning?
6. How would you rate our culture, on a scale of 1 to 10? Consider 1 to be the lowest and 10 the highest.
7. How do you describe the culture of our company to your friends and family?
8. How would you like to be able to describe the culture of our company?
9. If you were in charge of improving culture, what changes would you make?
10. Please suggest 3 activities for company bonding events (ex: bowling night or wine and cheese tasting).
11. Do you normally attend company events?
12. What suggestions do you have for improving company events?

Communication section:
13. Overall, do you feel that people in the company are supportive of each other?
14. How often do you feel valued and appreciated as an employee in your department?
15. Do you feel valued by others outside your department?
16. Do you feel comfortable approaching leaders in your department to discuss ideas or problems?
17. Do you feel comfortable approaching leaders of other departments to discuss ideas or problems?
18. Are you motivated by other people in your department?
19. Are you motivated by the other people at this company?
20. Are you motivated by the overall leadership at this company?
21. Do you feel that you always do you best to be positive and motivating to others?
22. How can we improve the process of getting feedback on company culture? (ex: this survey, anonymous suggestion box, etc.)

Given our commitment to transparency (also a key part of our Culture Values), below I have included the results of our survey (it’s the exact presentation that we delivered to the team). It is a Culture Roadmap (just like you would have a business roadmap or a product roadmap)

the Rubicon Project – Culture Roadmap Q3/Q4 2008 – Get more Business Plans

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