Treat People Like Humans...and Other Lessons in Putting Culture First

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People matter. We’ve always thought so. Which is why we continually strive to be better humans, doing better work, in the best workplace. So what better place to reflect upon these building blocks and create forward-thinking strategies than at the first-ever Culture First conference, held in San Francisco.

Studio Manager Mackenzie Pion attended the two-day summit, absorbing content that spanned themes of diversity and inclusion, culture as a competitive advantage, and new ways of working, led by companies like Netflix, Warby Parker, Reddit, Fitbit, and Github.

A few key takeaways demonstrate how putting culture first is really in the interest of good business.

Culture is Strategic, Not Superficial

Culture does not equate to your snack game, or whether you have Kombucha on tap. It goes beyond employee perks. Though those can be great, they do not make up a culture.

Culture is really the output of our intentional values, executed by actionable mechanisms that directly impact profitability. It’s why we come to work every day. And this why determines how well we work. So, why be well? Because being culture first is not an alternative outcome to success; it is how to achieve it.

To get there, companies need to get comfortable with being vulnerable, and foster a similar feeling among employees. Because to be vulnerable is to be human, and we don’t just stop being human when we walk into work. Honesty, approachability, and positive communication, when executed at all levels of an organization, lead to an openness that strengthens the connective tissue, resulting in a more powerful collective body. And if folks feel part of a collective, the value they feel in their work increases, too.

But anyone can talk about having a great culture. Or putting it first. And employees tend to recognize when words like “diversity” and “inclusion” and “meaningful” are inflated, not practiced. To breed a culture congruent to those noble aspirations, continually assess how well all employees are behaving compared to those aspirational values, and develop ways to bridge the gap between aspiration and reality.

Be a Great Place to Be From

People leave. And that’s ok. What matters — whether someone leaves because they found something elsewhere, or because it wasn’t a good fit — is their lasting impression on the workplace itself. Cultivating a culture that strives to be a great place to be from is how existing and potential employees know it’s a great place to be. It’s putting into action transparency and honesty, even during tough times. It’s inviting employees into the conversation and listening to what they say.

As Culture Amp reminded us, “We spend more time at work than anywhere else. We have a moral responsibility to support our employees, people of all generations, backgrounds, and genders, as we face the unique challenges of modern work.” Being human is hard. But by beginning with an understanding of what work culture is — and behaving in ways that support it — great work comes a heck of a lot easier.

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