Culture. It is almost unheard of these days to see a job posting that doesn't mention culture. Virtually every company description includes some plug for their great culture or relaxed culture. But what does that really mean?
When I started working for Springthrough in late 2016, I was excited about the culture. They had a ping-pong table, free fountain drinks, flex-schedules and many other appealing amenities. This being my first job in software development, I was wide-eyed with anticipation. However, I fundamentally misunderstood what culture really is.
So, what is a business's culture? How is it defined? And what does it mean to have a great culture in a workplace?
Firstly, itis a subjective concept. What makes a culture great to me may not be what makes it great for someone else. Thus, what defines a great culture is largely dependent on the individual. With that in mind, with Springthrough's culture as the example, I will examine what workplace culture really is.
A workplace culture isn't a ping-pong table in the lobby or free fountain drinks; it is a mindset with which hiring and work is done. It is the driving force behind managers interviewing to find the right candidates that will be a good fit and will make the team stronger. It is also the guiding mentality of the team as a whole, driving the individual to high productivity and morale. So, the burning question, what is it about Springthrough's culture that I love? Simple, it can be summed up in two words: "freedom" and "responsibility."
As a software developer, I have the freedom to work in my own way and get things done how I see fit. I'm given the liberty to work from home if I need to or go to the office early if I have to be somewhere in the early afternoon. I don't spend my mornings fretting over what to wear or whether or not my slacks are clean and pressed, because I have the freedom to wear whatever respectable attire I wish. The freedom level of Springthrough is something I have never experienced in my career before.
The freedom of our culture though is worthless if not paired in a Yin and Yang-like fashion with responsibility. Responsibility refers to the idea that with the freedom, outlined above, the individual must hold themselves responsible, not just to the organization but to his or her workmates, supervisors, clients... but most of all, to themselves. The responsibility portion of the Freedom and Responsibility credo is ultimately personal responsibility. My mistakes are just that, my mistakes; I cannot and should not try to pass blame for my mistakes to anyone but myself. Responsibility isn't all doom and gloom though, it also includes kudos where kudos are due. When I take the responsibility to go above and beyond, I am recognized for that. Recognition is one of the greatest motivators for productivity and quality work. The positive atmosphere created when we are held responsible for our successes also is a great boost to morale.
The bottom line is a good culture is simply a company treating its employees like the adults they are. This gives them the freedom to do their jobs in an environment free from the stresses of micromanagement and unnecessary bureaucracy, but also requires them to be responsible for their decisions whether the results are good or bad.
So, the next time you read about a company's culture, take a closer look at what is said. Are they truly promoting a culture? Are they explaining their values and how that impacts their workforce morale and mentality? Or are they boasting about amenities? Don't get me wrong, amenities are great. I love being able to grab a glass of soda anytime I want to. But the amenities are only made viable by a culture of values necessary to prevent them from becoming counter-productive distractions. Culture is the driving force, and the environment is the result.