Company culture is a complicated topic for many managed services providers (MSPs). If you’re struggling to build or define your own culture, it’s important to note that it can actually affect more than just your day-to-day. Personally, I want to look forward to coming into work every day, and I want our employees to feel the same way. Today, my company considers culture our greatest competitive advantage, but we got off to a rocky start.
In the first post of this series, I talked about five important lessons all MSPs should know before beginning the journey to $10 million. In the second post, I discussed how you can optimize your current team for success. Now, it’s time to think about your company culture and how it can play a role in your business’ long-term growth and success.
Here are five of the incorrect assumptions we made about company culture and what we learned when we tackled them.
Assumption #1: Culture Is About Fun
Many modern culture initiatives focus on entertainment and social engagements as if to say, "hey, you may not love your day-to-day but we're doing what we can to make you forget about that." Our own fun culture was quickly exposed as shallow. Anyone can buy a ping-pong table and some beer, but we were missing something that anchored people to the company for the long term.
Our team members wanted work they could be passionate about. They wanted to be trusted and to be treated as adults. They wanted to show up to work without having to be fake. We learned that the best company culture is a deep culture that connects our team members together authentically. These are not things that can be bought. Now don’t get me wrong, our team still has fun, but we don't pretend that is enough. What we started pursuing was a culture of depth.
Assumption #2: Employees Will Naturally Trust Our Good Intentions
I was naïve to think that building a deep culture would be easy. I assumed people understood that I was genuinely invested in the wellbeing of everyone in the company and that it should be enough. I thought trust would come naturally, but the opposite happened. What I found out was that it’s natural for employees to be skeptical of their employer. I learned that my intentions were being drowned out by the negative impressions of some team members. I then realized that culture success can't be defined by me. We have to understand what our team and our people are actually experiencing.
Assumption #3: Employees Will Openly Share Their Needs
Understanding the employee experience requires intention. We had a string of employees quit because their needs weren't being met. Our biggest problem was that we assumed we knew their desires, opinions, needs and experiences, but we didn’t.
We learned that most employees don't want to be a squeaky wheel. Many times, it feels more comfortable to leave the company than to stand up and call out things that should be different. So, we recognized that we needed transparency and open feedback to be part of our culture—and it had to be consistent. We threw away traditional one-on-ones and annual performance reviews and implemented a bi-weekly system of two-way communication and candor. We were surprised by what we heard, and realized that we were fighting many of the wrong battles.
Assumption #4: We Need to Be the Perfect Company
Authentic feedback from employees is humbling. It was tough to find out that many employees had been silently struggling with their work experience. The ensuing list of things to fix seemed insurmountable, and the perfectionist side of me struggled with this.
Then, a funny thing happened. The feedback started to change as soon as we started talking about addressing the issues. When we pretended to be perfect, we were too focused on that perfection and we never lived up to those expectations. But when we began to admit we were human and connect our team members into that reality, things began to change. We became a team fighting the battles together.
Assumption #5: Culture Is the Most Important Part of Our Company
The main thing we grew to understand is: culture isn't part of our company. Our culture IS our company. It's the sum of all of our decisions and all of our actions. Sure, a shiny exterior can be good for recruiting and marketing, but culture is what exists underneath. Every policy, process, promotion and new hire impacts our culture on some level.
All in all, we still make culture mistakes. It’s simply a part of being a modern business owner. However, these lessons have given us a foundation to address our challenges as a team:
- Culture is about depth, not just fun.
- Employee experiences define culture success.
- Open feedback and communication must be a foundation.
- Being human is more important than being perfect.
- Culture is not part of our company. Culture IS our company.
Attend Navigate 2017 and come to our session "Boss or Babysitter? Hire and Lead Driven, Accountable, and Loyal Team Members." You’ll hear more stories about our journey and learn about the systems we built in our company to deliver a deep culture as we grew to become a long-term, successful MSP.
By Gretchen Hoffman
By Meaghan Moraes