Robert Richman is a Culture Architect who’s worked with major brands like Zappos, Google, and Toyota. He spoke at Red Ventures about our unique company culture, what impact our rapid growth has on that culture, and what steps we should take to protect it.
What is company culture?
Spoiler: the answer doesn’t necessarily revolve around our bowling alley or the crazy events we’ve built a reputation on.
While those things do play a role in making RV an amazing place to work, our events and amenities are not at the core of what makes our company special. It’s the principles behind them that count.
So, I sat down with the culture guru himself to figure out just how a company should build and strengthen those principles.
What are three ways to protect company culture during periods of rapid growth or radical change?
1) Foster positive energy
RR: You can tell something is off when you walk into an office and it’s eerily quiet. It’s very distinct, as if people are ducking down below their cubicle walls trying not to get their heads chopped off. That’s definitely not a positive work environment.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Culture is driven by intangibles – and if you pay attention, you can get a sense of a company’s “energy” right away. (So what we’re saying is, in this game, silent is deadly.)
2) Set clear, simple goals
RR: If you have 20 different goals, nobody’s going to remember them – let alone DO them. If your focus is clear, then no matter your department or role, everyone can work toward that goal in his or her own way.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Strong company culture follows the same formula as any popular board game: simple goals, clear rules, and an opt-in system (meaning no one is forcing to you play).
3) Reiterate goals often
RR: New leaders are often surprised by how much of what they say is forgotten. You have to stay on message – and repeat that message constantly until it hits home.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Once you’ve established clear goals, repetition is key. Don’t assume that just because you’ve shared your vision concisely, it’ll stick. I repeat: repetition is key.
Is there ever a time when company culture should change?
RR: Certain key principles – your core values – should stay the same over time, even if they are expressed differently between offices or across departments. What you do and how you do it will change. But who you are should always remain the same.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If we want to build a culture where employees feel invested in our mission and energized by their work, we must hold ourselves to a set of common principles. Then ensure those principles guide all our decisions.
How can a company align its culture across multiple offices?
1) Address uncertainty – upfront and in person
RR: When you have tough conversations face-to-face, you’re not only opening the door for new information – you’re building a bond with your teammates. A candid conversation is the quickest path to positive change.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Identify what people on your team are most concerned about and ask tough questions. More importantly – be vulnerable. Make a point to have these conversations in person, even when it’d be easier to distance yourself through online communication.
2) Provide constant, real-time feedback
RR: People need feedback constantly – on the job, while it’s happening. When you only provide feedback during structured 6-month or annual performance reviews, there’s too much loaded into those meetings for feedback to be meaningful. And by then, feedback can feel out of touch. Constant feedback is key.
THE BOTTOM LINE: At RV, we have an extensive Annual Review process that gives every employee a clear picture of what they’re doing well, and where they can improve. These reviews are a critical component of our culture – but should not be a replacement for consistent 1:1 coaching throughout the year.
What’s your 100% honest impression of RV culture?
RR: It’s clear that people are trusted with the autonomy to decide what they need to do for themselves. There’s nobody breathing down your neck, telling you what to do or where to be. That symbolizes a lot of freedom. You have a true opt-in culture. It’s in the small moments that culture shines through. And from what I’ve seen so far, Red Ventures is an awesome place to work.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Culture is what sets Red Ventures apart from other companies – even more than the innovative work we do or the amount of cold brew we’ve got on tap (a lot). However, the elements that seem so central to Red Ventures culture today – feelings of autonomy, empowerment, and ownership – are not guaranteed tomorrow. It’s up to each one of us to make decisions that support these values, starting with the energy that we bring to work each day.
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