Great company culture isn’t just about ping pong tables, free lunches, bouncy ball chairs and free gummy bears. In fact, it’s not about that at all. It’s about creating an environment that facilitates and fosters a high performance culture of winning.
As CEO of Rubicon Project, a lot of people ask me what defines the culture of our company. It’s not a simple question to answer. Here’s my take on a few things effective company culture is about…and a few things it’s not about:
1. COMMUNICATE “THE CAUSE”:
From sitting on the Board of CASA, a non-profit that serves neglected and abused foster children, one of the business lessons I have learned is that people are inspired by a cause, not a company’s profit margin. Working for a great cause or “the why” inspires passion, and as research has repeatedly shown, passion drives higher performance.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he points out that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work, meaning only about one in eight workers feel that they are making a positive contribution through their work. As business leaders, we have the ability and responsibility to change that. Meaningful work that is tied to a greater cause, to a “story”, is one of the most important things we can impart on our team.
Understanding the cause is a key element of great storytelling. As a new father, my mind goes to great children’s stories. In every famous children’s story, there’s always a memorable lesson learned, a purpose, a take-away. We often remember children’s stories years later. This is tremendously helpful when communicating the story of your company … starting with the “why” will inspire the highest performance from your team.
2. WHAT GETS MEASURED GETS DONE:
By measuring performance, you actually inspire it. It’s human nature to want to do better than your last best. If you set high performance standards, and measure them, it gives your team a high bar to reach for. And nothing beats the feeling of realizing you’re capable of reaching higher than you ever thought possible.
A big challenge in measuring performance is deciding what areas to measure. It isn’t as simple as just tracking revenue growth; it’s about recognizing and measuring the key drivers of your company’s value.
A great example of this is in Michael Lewis’ bestseller that was adapted to film: Moneyball. Moneyball recounts the true story of how the Oakland Athletics discovered the right statistics to build a winning baseball team without breaking the bank. They realized the baseball recruiting business was rigged to value batting average as opposed to a player’s ability to get on base… the latter of which was actually a much better predictor of the team’s overall likelihood to win. After taking Lewis’ advice, and changing what they measured, the A’s filled their team with players who could get on base… and became a winning team.
Moneyball points to a greater point: as a leader, it’s not just about measuring standard, vanilla metrics and goals, it’s about determining and measuring the right metrics and goals.
3. BUILD A WORLD-CLASS STADIUM:
Olympians prepare in world class gyms, and perform on groomed playing fields. Nobel Prize winners have access to renowned libraries and laboratories. Writers have beautiful studies, and spaces for solitude. Even Superman had a “Fortress of Solitude”. As entrepreneurs, it’s important we give our team the tools and environment they need to be elite performers. That means curating a space that’s designed to facilitate work, innovation and collaboration.
At Rubicon Project, we provide our team with all kinds of amenities that could be written off as “office perks”. In reality, what we’re doing is giving our team the time and space they need to work at their highest level. This carries over to work schedule as well. If output is improved when an engineer works from home, or a business analyst takes the day to work in the “Garage”, a lab created for disruptive innovation, we allow for that. Great things don’t take place in a vacuum, but in a place with the resources necessary to facilitate world class work.
Culture is a critical part of the success of any company. By fostering an environment that rewards leaders, appeals to a higher sense of purpose, measures the right outcomes and fosters world class work, you can create a wellspring of innovation and a natural order that’s competitive.
Companies are powered by people, and people are empowered by company culture.