Leadership Series:  On Culture

Culture is the big buzzword in today’s business environment. But what is it? How do you create it? Can you create it? Here’s what Investopedia says about culture:

Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. A company's culture will be reflected in its dress code, business hours, office setup, employee benefits, turnover, hiring decisions, treatment of clients, client satisfaction and every other aspect of operations.

Recently, I sat down with CWS, Inc CEO and owner, Alan De Keyrel, to get his take on culture.



Me: How would you define culture in a business environment?

Alan: A company’s culture is much like a personality profile, but instead of any one person, it’s the personality and “spirit” that occurs when all of the team members work together. Some places are very serious and professional while others are fun and quirky.

Me: What makes for an ideal culture?

Alan: There is no one ideal culture. The culture that works for CWS may not work for another business. It has to be unique for you and your team. Once you understand your culture (who you are), you have to make sure to hire new employees who match the culture.



Me: What "damages" culture?

Alan: Hiring the wrong people. If you have a serious culture and you hire people who would prefer to bring their dogs to work, that won’t work. Those who don’t fit in with the company culture will feel awkward and unwelcome. They’ll be uncomfortable and that upsets the overall environment.

Me: What are the benefits of a great culture?

Alan: Everything works better once you know who you are. Everybody is happier. One of our core values is: Building positive team and family relationships. If everyone understands that families are important, then when a family issue occurs, we rally around our people. Another core value at CWS is to build open and honest relationships. We know we can talk out issues and work through it. In other companies, it may be taboo and it’s not okay to talk openly.



Me: How would you describe CWS's culture?

Alan: Professional, yet fun. We are a blend of both. Professional, because our clients rely on us to supply complicated solutions. When you develop complicated solutions, higher standards come with that. On the other end, we are a young company with many employees under the age of 35. That era hasn’t bought into the “you need to wear a tie to work” philosophy. We are also fortunate to be a relatively gossip-free and drama-free environment.

I’d also say we are a high praise culture with frequent shout-outs. Props come from not only management, but from peers also. There’s a tool we use to electronically send shout-outs when a team members does something great. They are sent immediately and everyone sees them.

Me: How is your culture different than 10 years ago?

Alan:Wow, well, we’re almost 17 years old now. In the beginning, we had a very casual, loose culture. We played video games, wore shorts and baseball hats, you know, the typical start up. Then we shifted in about 2004 to a more formal culture. We grew a lot and hired more professional “suit-type” people. We had more work, went after bigger clients, and our culture evolved with that. Today, we’re slightly less formal. We’ve added some “fun things” into our office environment like daily funny videos, foosball games, etc. We’re still kids at heart. In our very formal years, it was a testament of our time and who worked here. The culture changes depending on who you hire.

Me: Where do you see it in the future?

Alan: After being in business for 17 years, we know who we are and hire people who fit into that. We have enough generations in our business that it’s evened out. We are a blend of professional and fun. I really don’t see any big shifts coming.



Me: Any parting thoughts on culture?

Alan: Figure out what works for you and your people. There is no right or wrong culture. If you really want to learn more on culture and know how it affects your company, I’d recommend reading: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos. I was so intrigued after I read it that I toured their offices in Las Vegas. They have a crazy, crazy culture where anything goes… not quite my style, but hey, I don’t work there!


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