Maintaining a Vibrant Company Culture: Why You Should Hire, Promote, and Terminate Based on Values

Who you hire, promote, and terminate should all be aligned with your company’s values. Learn how emphasizing internal alignment in culture is critical.

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Wayne Sleight is the COO of 97th Floor, an award winning digital marketing agency. With Wayne’s leadership, 97th Floor has created a company culture that has been recognized as one of the best in the nation by Inc., Entrepreneur, and Fortune Magazine. He was recognized as Maverick of the Year in 2016 at the American Business Awards and Utah Business Magazine named him one of their 20 in Their 20’s picks for 2015. Wayne shares his experience of hiring and promoting based on company values, and leading by example.

Do as I say, not as I do. While there are instances where this saying works, it unfortunately doesn’t work for leaders in a company. It would be really easy to create an amazing company culture if all you had to do was paint a few great values on the wall at the entrance of the office. It sounds ridiculous when you think about it like that, but the crazy thing is is that most companies do that and think it will work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying your company’s culture sucks if it has inspiring values plastered on the walls. What I am saying is that merely having those words on the wall doesn’t necessarily result in a vibrant culture. It’s a nice reminder of what your company aspires to be and that’s it. Your true company culture is found in what you do, not what you say on your walls.

In a GQ article back in 2013, Sheryl Sandberg is quoted as saying, “It may well be the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.” The ‘it’ she is referring to is Reed Hastings’ famous deck on Netflix’s culture. Hastings published the deck on SlideShare in 2009 and it’s one of the main inspirations behind our culture here at 97th Floor.

The first of the seven aspects of Netflix’s culture has to do with their values. Hastings says, “The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.” There’s a huge difference between aspirational and actual. Like I said before, it’s easy to have aspirational values—any company can do that (and most do). In fact, starting by determining aspirational values is absolutely critical; the key is not to stop there. What you should care most about is your actual values; the only way to maintain those is by hiring, promoting (and other forms of rewards), and terminating people based on the values you wish to maintain.

In the past, I thought I was really good at hiring great talent. Now, I realize that all the great hires we’ve made had hardly anything to do with me being able to spot the best talent. During the hiring process, most of it is really just a guess or a hunch when it comes to how good someone will be in a particular role. That said, a successful interview should allow you to understand the interviewee’s values, and that is where much of your focus should be when hiring. Of course, still ask questions about their experience and ask questions to test their knowledge. But spend at least an equal amount of time with questions and a discussion aimed at understanding if they possess the same values that your company wants/has. Keep in mind that they may not hold all of the same values equally as strong as your company does. Many people will come into a great company culture and it will change them into living the company values. In the hiring process, try to see if candidates reveal a value that contradicts or is in opposition to your company’s values. In that case, move on.

As a ROWE certified company, we are constantly encouraging our employees to produce results. However, we need to constantly remind ourselves that not all of our results are based strictly on objectives or numbers. One of the “results” we judge employee performance on is how they contribute to the company culture. We expect all of our employees to actually live the values that we aspire to have as a company. Remember, when it comes to the workplace, people do as you do, not as you say. So, if we want our company to be selfless, we need to base promotions and rewards not solely on individual performance, but also on how the employee collaborates with others and contributes to company success as a whole. As you make the decision to promote those that are living the company values, you’ll be much better off in the long run.

The toughest part of maintaining the company culture you desire, is letting go of team members that aren’t living the company values, especially if they’re very talented. It’s terrifying to let go of great talent, but if culture fit isn’t there, often it’s the best thing for the company. As you look at the situation from a macro perspective, you’ll start to see how much damage one person can do to your company culture if they aren’t in line with company values. Once the culture is damaged, it will start to affect the work of others in the company. Have the confidence and trust that by letting that person go (hopefully with compassion and a good severance package), your hiring process, promotion process, and overall great company culture will work to get someone else in that position that will not only deliver great work, but also contribute positively to the culture.

I often tell people at 97th Floor that everyone’s first job is to help 97th Floor with whatever it needs, and that their second job is the one that pertains to their specific position or title. Don’t allow quality of work and productivity to be your sole measuring stick of employee contribution. Focus also on the values employees demonstrate. People that are in leadership positions need to show everyone else what type of values are wanted as part of the culture by hiring, promoting/rewarding, and terminating based on those values. Anything else will come off as ‘do as I say.’

This post originally appeared on 97th Floor on May 16th, 2017.

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