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Company Culture is a chinese Finger Trap

simpsons-fingertrapThe Starr Conspiracy is known in Texas and the global human capital space for having a kick-ass company culture. I recently wrote about how we are growing quickly (if you want a job here, you better get on it) and how the culture breathes and shifts with each new hire.

That thought sparked several conversations around how to maintain a good company culture. Primarily:

  • Do you hire the best talent you can find and accept that culture takes on the face of the people in your company?
  • Or, do you hire based on culture first and talent second?

Culture is a strange beast. Even a company with The Starr Conspiracy’s track record of maintaining a near-unmatched culture of cool couldn’t tell you in bullets how to create it for yourself.

I do, however, have a few thoughts about protecting culture:

  • Don’t put your company culture on a pedestal. It’s not God. It’s not Buddha. “Company” does not have intentions. “Company” does not have feelings. “Company” does not reward you. People have and do those things, and they don’t belong on pedestals either.
  • Company culture can’t be put in your trophy case. The Starr Conspiracy has won a metric ton of Best Places to Work awards. Year after year, publications in Texas recognize The Conspiracy for the partners’ efforts to foster innovation and make this an awesome place to be. But even with all of those awards, we can’t just say, “We did it! We achieved the perfect culture!” Culture breathes and changes. Like a baby, culture needs its proverbial diaper changed. Even if it’s full of diarrhea and it’s your turn.
  • It’s not just a job. Apathy, distance, emotional withdrawal, engagement and interest have to be carefully balanced. Encourage employees to be engaged in their jobs and interested in their work, and at the same time, foster personal growth, distance for personal opportunity and — for lack of a term I hate less — “work-life balance.” Whatever you do, never suggest to your team that their work for you is “just a job.” It can’t be that. So much of our personal identities, time and emotional investments are in work. And “it’s just a job” almost always precedes an assumed, “and I’m going to treat you badly. Don’t take it personally.”

The more you obsess over company culture — the more you try to hold on to what was instead of moving forward into what’s to come — the weirder things get.

If you had an ultra-professional, respectful culture and things start to get a little more relaxed with an unlimited PTO policy or casual Fridays and you freak out about how unprofessional things are … who has created the unprofessional environment? You or “Company”?

Be cool. Give your culture some time without your hands around its neck and let it breathe. Don’t think about it all the time. Instead, think about small steps you can take to make your employees feel like their investment makes a difference to you, not “Company.”