The Biggest Culture Mistakes These 6 Business Leaders Made and How They Bounced Back
A Note From The Editor
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When it comes to company culture, one bad apple is all it takes to spoil the bunch. A single dreadful hire can wreak havoc on a company’s culture, particularly when it comes to how well employees work together.
Kris Duggan agrees. The CEO and co-founder of BetterWorks, an enterprise software maker, says hiring someone who isn’t the right cultural fit -- like a disc in the spine that’s out of place -- undermines teamwork and cohesiveness all throughout a company, top to bottom. Picking the wrong individual for the job, she says, has “a negative ripple effect on the organization, as the new hire pulls in a different direction than the team.” In other words, it’s a pain.
Onboarding a poor cultural match is far from the only company culture blunder employers make. We asked six business leaders, Duggan included, what their biggest culture-related mistakes were and what they learned from them. Here’s what they said:
1. Hiring employees who don’t have that certain 'sparkle.'
Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.
As most startups know, your first initial growth spurt can be challenging to company culture. There were a couple instances when we weighted the candidate’s experience and background more heavily than their “sparkle.” This can have a negative ripple effect on the organization as the new hire pulls in a different direction than the team. We learned quickly that employees with passion and drive for our mission will ultimately be a better long-term fit, even if they have slightly less experience. That being said, we’ve been fortunate to secure employees with both the experience and the sparkle and have grown our team very successfully with these priorities in mind.
Now we’re preemptively working to prevent future mistakes that could be caused by our own growing pains. Our vision, alignment techniques and mission for becoming one percent better every day are the fundamental pieces to our company culture.
-- Kris Duggan, co-founder and CEO of BetterWorks, a company that provides enterprise software to carve out and manage goals.
2. Not staying on top of employee engagement as you scale.
Headquarters: Boulder, Colo.
Probably the biggest thing we’ve learned is that not everything we try is going to work forever. For example, in a remote company, the way meetings are conducted has a big impact on how useful they are. We came to a point when our typical meeting format was no longer useful to our team. We’d grown and we needed to change the way we were conducting meetings to make them more collaborative and action-oriented, so that everyone’s time was used wisely. We did research, asked for ideas from the team, tried out new meeting formats and found one that works much better for us…for now!
-- Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, an online job service that helps people find part-time, flexible and telecommuting jobs.
3. Failing to regularly remind your team about company values.
We learned that you have to remind people about company culture. It doesn’t just happen -- or at least a positive, productive one doesn’t. It takes constant attention and ongoing conversations. We also learned that saying there’s an open door policy doesn’t mean people will proactively take advantage of that. We now have multiple channels for people to give feedback and suggestions. Culture changes and building that reality into the culture itself makes change less traumatic for people.
-- Nancy Lyons, co-founder and CEO of Clockwork, an interactive agency specializing in digital strategy, content, design and technology.
4. Not hiring 'nice' people.
Headquarters: Boulder, Colo.
There are three key attributes of people who thrive in our company culture: being nice, being self-directed and communicating well. If any of those three pieces are missing, a person won't succeed. We've been good about only hiring nice people, but we've occasionally missed on the second two components and those folks didn't last long. Communication, in particular, is absolutely crucial in a distributed company. If someone can't gracefully operate in chat, email and video, they'll frustrate their teammates and create a roadblock to success.
-- Andrew Berkowitz, co-founder and chief creative officer of TeamSnap, an online service and management software for sports teams.
5. Winging it without a process or structure.
Headquarters: Atlanta, Ga.
Early on, when MailChimp was still in startup mode, we were nervous about imposing too much structure on our teams. We thought that process would crush our creativity and thought that our values were obvious to everyone in the company. But as the company began to get bigger and bigger, we realized that we really needed—and that our employees really wanted—to deliberately promote our values and organizational processes in order to grow. Resisting structure early on made it more challenging for us to put it in place when we really needed it.
-- Marti Wolf, chief culture officer of MailChimp, an email-marketing service.
6. Not investing in tools and resources.
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.
We’ve made a lot of mistakes throughout the years. That’s part of the adventure, and I think it’s important to take some chances that don’t work out; otherwise, you’re likely playing it too safe. Some of the mistakes that we’ve made throughout the years include not investing enough in training and tools for middle management and not prioritizing the candidate experience aggressively enough early on. Navigating some of the challenges that come along with global scale and culture has also been trying, such as not investing enough in thinking through tools and programs to help employees connect across offices. We’re always looking to improve, so mistakes are part of the fabric of our culture. The goal is to just keep addressing them every day and getting better.
-- Katie Burke, vice president of culture and experience at HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales platform.
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