In my experience working for many different marketing, consulting and big data agencies over the past decade I’ve come to find one thing rings true. You can bring on specialists, you can write down and define, emulate other company cultures like Netflix or Amazon, and you can try to manipulate company culture and tailor it based on others successes but it will never actually ‘happen’ in the way that you’re prescribing. The people within the company (personalities, motivations, entrepreneurial ventures, needs, etc.), metrics that you measure success for the company, leadership, opportunity for growth, and the overall rituals that you participate in as a company and as individuals will inevitably drive and define company culture.
When those company-culture-building experts and leading trainers from business success companies would come in and try to find the pulse or drivers for company culture, I noticed they would often fall short or fail. What I noticed is that the people, whether it be leadership or employees would defy that manipulation of company culture and they would often default to what they know. Take for instance Navads, it’s a company I currently work for and it’s based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I want to use this as an example because I noticed we tend to have a strongly defined company culture, I attribute this to a key point being that the Dutch are very open and direct and in turn, so is our company. We have an open-door policy with leadership including 360 annual reviews for everyone in the company. The good part here is that you always know where you stand, and feedback is given to you on a regular basis as professional coaching so it’s no surprise when your review hits.
I think this culture of transparency is refreshing and gives all employees a sense of importance and worth to the company. It’s also really refreshing to see those values in a self-funded bootstrapped start up. As some of our team (myself included) is also in Charlotte, North Carolina there can be challenges in communication due to the distance. We use communication technologies such as Skype, Google hangouts, flock, social media and WhatsApp to stay in constant communication. We also try to do monthly live meetings either in Charlotte or Amsterdam which keeps the pace of expansion and development consistent. As a team, we’ve committed to over-communication rather than to leave areas for interpretation or gaps in knowledge-base due to location. We have bi-monthly company meetings and then weekly planned / impromptu individual meetings with key leadership within the company, it’s a clear differentiator for success.
Whenever our Charlotte, NC team is in Amsterdam we attend the regular company parties, outings and events, but the main bonding metric is lunch. Every day the company supplies a traditional dutch lunch to the team. This allows the team to connect up on internal challenges, future planning, and even our personal details (the bonding metric which makes us all human). We sit at two, long farmhouse tables and share a meal and conversation. It’s a nice perk that the company provides, but it also keeps all of the employees in the office and it makes it feel like a very comfortable atmosphere. Our team is from all over the world, so between operations, sales, marketing, tech, and our finance team we all have something to offer and learn from each other. One thing I learned this year is the universally sharing a meal with one another is the most human thing you can do to find common ground.
Because the company is Dutch, and many of our leadership team comes from the mapping industry whether it be TomTom or Telenav, mapping is in our DNA. It’s nice to have the vision statement so close to our hearts, and that’s the passion that drives us as a team. The other thing that drives us is our leadership team, our CEO Lex Ten Veen is always on the road driving in-person client visits in the states and forging partnerships, he seemingly works within all times zones. As well as our COO Johan van Vulpen and CIO Tjerk van der Lande being available all hours of the day to answer questions and troubleshoot. This really creates the pace of work at which are other employees should aspire to and fuels my motivation.
I had the pleasure of attending a company-wide event for the holidays in Amsterdam, it was a scavenger hunt around Amsterdam that took us all day and was carefully planned by our Digital Marketing Lead Michael May. The company broke into two different teams and were prompted to find clues all over Amsterdam including research the history, culture, geography and city limits of Amsterdam in order to win the hunt. This threw the team into a high-powered and thrilling day of working together and seeing each other outside of our daily work element. It was a great exercise in team collaboration and overall strengths and weaknesses. As a team, our entire company did better, no one could have solved the scavenger hunt by themselves. We had to record videos, craft poetry, take photos and push each other to complete tasks. We were rewarded with a lovely dinner with great food, drink and company. Company outings like this help to unify your tech, marketing, finance, sales and operational teams by eliminating any communication barriers. Employees outside of their element can feel vulnerable and ultimately put down their guard and communicate better in different environments.
At Navads, they support with a people-first management approach, meaning they encourage you to take your time off because you earned it. It’s refreshing to see that human aspect of it all and as an employee you tend to feel cared for and sometimes with work – you need to slow down to speed up. It really provides you a sense of security communicating that your colleagues are more like family than workmates and it creates a very supportive work environment in totality. It’s also a motivator for success, and it only makes you want to work harder for them. The other challenge the company recently addressed was hiring on more women, as last year around this time we had only one woman working for the company…Navads now has nine women working for the company. It’s nice to see a change in recruitment focused on equality in this positive company growth metric.
It’s been an exciting and wild ride to be a part of Navads this year, and I look forward to growing further with in the company in the coming years. The reason I’m talking about my experience, is because I think many companies try to push the culture aspect in a more commercialized way – they try to manufacture it. Company culture is not prescribed and it’s not easily replicated. It truly boils down to the heart of the company, how the team communicates with and supports one another, how the company supports individual growth and overall vision. I share this experience because I learned a very valuable lesson…company culture is born it’s not made.