Our Thoughts

More Than Ping Pong, Our Culture Balances Freedom & Responsibility

Posted by Kevin Johnson on May 24, 2016 8:30:00 AM
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Ping Pong Table in Workplace

As the Manager of Talent for Springthrough, I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of people. This is pretty perfect for me because I like to talk a lot… just ask my family or the people lucky enough to sit by me in the office. One of my main responsibilities at Springthrough is the hiring of fantastically talented people who help us solve complex problems for our clients. I love interviewing candidates for open positions in our office. I truly do. No two interviews are alike, and whether we decide to hire the person or not, I learn something new in every interaction with a candidate.

One of the things I really enjoy about interviews is when I have an opportunity to go into detail about Springthrough’s culture and how that affects the way we work together to get stuff done. Beyond defining what culture is, I define what culture isn’t. Culture isn’t Ping-Pong in the office, the ability to wear jeans, or team happy hours. Culture isn’t a cool office space or flexibility with your work schedule. These things are important but are more environmental factors than culture. We pay close attention to our environment at Springthrough, which is pretty darn awesome, but I try to make it clear to people that this doesn’t define our culture. Our culture is defined by our organizational values and the idea of Freedom and Responsibility. I will tackle Springthrough’s values in a future post but want to focus on the idea of Freedom and Responsibility today.

Kevin Johnson presents Springthorugh's Culture and Values

Last week, I had the pleasure of explaining our culture to a group of teachers from Kent Intermediate School District


I’d argue that no document on company culture has been more widely discussed and shared than the Netflix Culture Deck. Published in 2009, the deck revolutionized the way organizations across the country view their employees. Freedom and Responsibility is central to Netflix’s approach to culture and a critical aspect of their culture deck. We’ve borrowed a number of key ideas from this deck as we work aggressively to create and maintain a healthy company culture.


Netflix is transparent on their Jobs page about the type of person they want to hire.


When I think of Freedom and Responsibility, I focus on the ability to hire really good people to do amazingly good work. You can (and should) put together a process to evaluate someone’s ability to perform their job and feel comfortable with the way they interact with people. From there, give them the freedom and autonomy they deserve to get work done and ultimately hold them accountable for what you are hiring them to do. In looking for new team members, the difficulty comes in finding people who embrace both sides of the freedom and responsibility environment. 



Read why CFOs should invest in leadership development programs



Fostering a culture of freedom is increasingly important as the modern workplace evolves. Let me be crystal clear that I don’t see this evolution as a millennial generation thing. My blood boils as I read article after article with sweeping generational stereotypes about what the younger generation wants. In my experience, high-performing employees, regardless of age, desire a high level of freedom. Freedom to work non-traditional hours if needed, to work from home, exercising creativity in career goals and development, and having more ownership of one’s career trajectory is critically important as traditional ways of doing business are challenged. Our experience has been that when you grant people these freedoms and treat them like adults who you trust to get their jobs done, great things follow. Creativity follows. Inspiration and innovation follows without the fear of making a mistake. Collaboration and teamwork follows. People end up expecting fantastic things from themselves and their coworkers, which is critical to long-term success and is central to what I classify as organizational culture.


Springthrough ShipIt Team

Every year, we host an event where team members work together to complete a project of their choosing. 


For freedom to be successfully implemented in an organization, it needs to be tied to a high level of responsibility, which can be more complicated to vet out. Everyone wants the freedom we discussed, but few embrace responsibility with the same enthusiasm. The unique balance comes in creating an environment where failure is expected and supported while also not allowing a free pass when mistakes are made over and over again. We do this by clearly evaluating individual’s ability to take ownership of mistakes they have made and more importantly, their ability to change action in the future to avoid similar situations from arising. How do they respond when they are criticized for work they do? Does the flight response kick in, or do they respond in a way that demonstrates ability to grow and learn moving forward?


When I’m asked about our culture at Springthrough, I often start with this idea of Freedom and Responsibility. We’re consistently looking for ways to tweak and perfect the way this manifests itself day to day, but it’s central to who we are. Hire people who embrace the freedom and autonomy that comes with being a high performing professional and hold them accountable for doing really good work. That’s way more exciting for me to talk about than Ping-Pong and jeans.


Topics: Company Culture

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