January 18, 2018

The Importance of Cultural Contribution

Working at a company heralded for its unique culture, I am often asked how we are attempting to scale it. There is a general feeling that to grow quickly means your culture will suffer as a result. While this is indeed a potential, I don’t believe growth has to equal watered-down culture. I’d offer that strong culture is one of the key components to that very growth in the first place.

That said, we need to be laser-focused on how we adopt that culture with the onslaught of so many new people. It’s not just about handing over a coffee cup with your core values on it or directing people to a handbook where they are listed; it takes hard work to help everyone understand your company’s values, as well as to embrace and embody them as well. While each of our companies is unique and has their own set of values and culture, my hope is that if your company is in growth mode, you’ll find this perspective thought-provoking.

It’s Not Just About Culture Fit...

Though I have been actively focused on identifying and scaling culture throughout my entire career until recently I was fixated on helping to understand and enable culture “fit.” Loosely defined, I thought of this simply as meaning that the candidate’s beliefs and behaviors were well aligned with our company’s. When we identify that alignment, we’ve got someone with good “fit.”  

And yet, I’ve discovered over the years, there is so much more to it. If we center all of our attention on someone fitting in and blending with what’s important to our organization, we potentially risk building a team of thinkers who are overly myopic in their thinking.  In other words, while we are busy trying to identify people who believe in the same things your team does, we could also inadvertently create an environment where we are limiting innovation by hiring people who are a little too similar. While fit might seem like the right dynamic as your company is growing, the larger you scale, the bigger this concern this becomes. And no growing company wants to limit its ability to innovate and adapt.

...It’s About Fit AND Contribution.  

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” While it is still vitally important to understand if your candidates - and employees - share an aligned mindset about the belief system of your organization, it’s just as critical to explore what those individuals are going to contribute back. When we think about cultural contribution at work, we need to consider things like inviting people with different mindsets to the conversation to expand the ideas and innovation.  Or perhaps celebrate those who don’t just show up and “live” the values, but actively work to enhance them with their energy and actions.

In our company, we have a very simple formula to reward and recognize those who are truly contributing. We don’t just consider skill, or them doing their job well. We also carefully balance a positive attitude, a high aptitude to learn, and their embodiment of our core values. It’s not rocket science; we celebrate those people who are additive to the organization as they stand out as exceptional. Of course, it’s certainly easier to just show up and “fit in”, and thankfully at our company, we are fortunate to attract a team who strives to go above and beyond. However, a thriving company won’t just hire cultural contributors; it will nurture and reward current employees who behave in this manner.

It’s an incredible place to be, establishing the culture of a growing company. Attracting people who share a similar belief system and working together towards the same mission can build serious feelings of belonging and community. Keeping it strong and thriving as you scale, however, takes care, nurturing, and editing. At our company, we refresh our approach fairly frequently.  

This year, we’ve created a series of examples that are being introduced to all of our people in the coming weeks that clearly outline what behaviors we think are great - and not so great - to help people really understand and internalize our values with more clarity. At the end of the day, however, it’s all important. Having a clearly articulated set of values and beliefs that are vital to your organization’s ability to align all of your people activities (hiring, promotions, development, communication, terminations, etc.). Be mindful it’s not just about finding people who “fit in” to make your culture thrive; balancing that with what they contribute back is just as essential.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.