A company is a community – a group bound by fellowship shared goals and common values. Beyond the paperwork, the reports and the job responsibilities, a company is bound together by friendships, achievements, and the occasional pained grimace exchanged over burnt coffee. These relationships, and the interactions they inspire make up a company’s culture.
A company’s culture can be the key to brilliant success, or the catalyst to brilliant failure. It’s the beating heart that powers a company’s vitals. It’s a company’s special sauce.
To put it differently, to understand a company’s culture is to understand the motivations and needs of community members, and thus the social contracts they form in the workplace. The nature of those relationships, and the spirit in which they’re made impacts how a community, and members within it, operate.
Does Culture Indicate Performance?
A company’s culture is important because it shapes how a company performs.
It makes sense, then, that at some point in a company’s lifecycle, company leaders are inspired to define their company’s culture. This process often results in the creation of artefacts that get incorporated into business practices. Businesses use these artefacts (ie. Manifestos and lists of Corporate Values) as tools to help influence and shape company culture as business scales.
As we work to chart a path for us and our clients, we’re very interested in examining those communities we seek to serve. We want to know what makes them tick. What makes them lose sleep at night (other than burnt coffee).
So, as part of our efforts, we turned to the “culture decks” of three B2B SaaS companies of approximately the same size (~250 employees), Nanigans, Asana, and Percolate, headquartered in Boston, San Francisco, and New York, respectively. We reviewed the corporate values of each business. We then combined those values in a single list, 26 in total, augmented the list with context from each deck, crossed our fingers, and hoped interesting patterns would emerge.
Some interesting patterns emerged (albeit from a small and subjective data set).
We identified 11 unique “Intents” represented by the set of 26 values, where an Intent is the identified purpose behind a value. In other words, an Intent describes the characteristic or attribute of a company’s culture that the company is trying to capture with a specific value.
In more than one company, the list of corporate values contained more than one value with the same Intent. We also identified three shared Intents across these three companies (Accountability, Empathy, and Startup Spirit); and two Intents that were unique to a single company (Innovation and Pride, both reflected in the corporate values of a single company).
Accountability, Empathy, Startup Spirit
Each of these three companies deliberately selected values that encourage a sense of ownership and accountability in every team member. When it comes to scaling a team of individuals, what better way is there than to empower every single one to be the strongest individual they can be?
But strong individuals don’t necessarily make strong team players, and so it comes as no surprise to see Empathy as the second ubiquitous Intent amongst these three companies. Without empathy for others, a strong individual is a weak community member.
The third Intent we identified to be present in the company values of all three companies, is Startup Spirit. Understandably, each of these companies is interested in preserving that early-stage willingness to throw mud. It’s that sense of freedom, that ability to fly forward in the face of risk, that inspires creativity, and inspires community members to take leaps of faith in solutions and their own decisions.
What does this little bit of information tell us? A lot, actually.
It helps us to understand the motivations and needs of the community members we seek to serve with our software. It helps us gain a little more insight into our customer; which is a lot more insight into the product-market fit. We can see that the communities we seek to help care about scaling mindfulness, and inclusion, and sound judgment. Now it’s up to us to build productivity tools that can help with that.
It’s often said that a company is only as successful as its people. We’d say that’s true, but not because Hiring The Right People means Hiring Rockstars. Rather, because a company is a community, and a community has a culture. Though culture emerges organically, it can be defined, and then shaped, which in turn shapes the community from which new culture emerges.
So, as we consider the future of work, we should also be considering our company values, and the role they play in describing and influencing company culture. Perhaps instead of asking ourselves: What is the future of work? we should instead be asking, What is the future of our communities?
Accountability – Values that encourage employees to take ownership over their work, and recognize their responsibility as a contributing member to a larger group. Those values that fall into this group include: Invested (Nanigans), Ownership (Percolate), and Company as Collective of Peers (Asana).
Communication – These values celebrate aspects of a company’s culture that encourage clear communication, such as Unfiltered (Nanigans), and Transparency by Default (Asana).
Empathy – Each of these three companies list company values that encourage the practise of empathy, whether it’s building bridges between employees and product users, or creating connections between employees. Examples include: Caring (Nanigans), Thoughtful by Design (Percolate), and Mindfulness (Asana).
Inclusion – Values that promote the inclusion of all; a niche for every person. Examples include: Fun (Nanigans), Egolessness (Asana), and Balancing or Integrating Opposites (Asana).
Innovation – These values encourage a productive creative process of development within a company. An example is, Constant Questioning (Percolate).
Pride – Values in this category encourage a sense of pride in identity as member of the workplace community, and in the output produced by the group. An example is, Not just a job (Percolate).
Productivity – These values emphasize the importance of productivity as a balanced outcome, through-out processes of innovation. Examples of values that belong to this category are: Shipping > Not Shipping (Percolate), Led by Product (Percolate), and Pragmatic Craftsmanship (Asana).
Quality – Whether it’s to emphasize the quality of work, or the nature of people a company is looking to hire, values that belong to this category encourage an appreciation of quality as a part of a company’s growth. Examples include: Impressive (Nanigans), and Judge Percolate Against Percolate (Percolate).
Startup_Spirit – The values that belong to this category seek to capture the essence of that special something that makes a startup a startup, so that the quality is never far from sight, and can grow with the community. Examples include Growing (Percolate), Willing (Nanigans), and Aiming to Maximize Impact (Asana).
Culture is a highly subjective topic. We’ve done our best to interpret each of these community’s values based on the decks posted. We tried to be fair in our interpretation, but as we well know (and as Nanigans puts it): Culture emerges organically as a company persists. Interpreting it from the outside, much less from a list and static deck from the outside, is bound to miss some of the nuance. We welcome any feedback and corrections to our understanding.