On Culture and Values

A company’s culture is defined by a set of traits and behaviours - often called values. Company values state what kind of behaviours and actions are encouraged. A value that is a truism doesn’t tell much how a company likes its people to operate - a lot of companies fall into this trap. A good company value is supposed to split people’s opinion. It’s supposed to make a percentage of people think “this is not for me”. Any value that makes a group of people think “why it should be any other way”, is likely a bad one. Beyond that, they are the company’s guiding principles. They help people navigate difficult decisions. For example: should we cut corners and see how it pans out, or should we be methodic? There’s no right or wrong answer and different companies will answer differently. The famous “Move fast and break things” is a great value. It’s a deterrent for people that would rather take their time and be more thorough. It states that by default they should go faster, even if at a cost. It’s also a great sieve for candidates. People that join Facebook know what to expect. But they also know how to behave in order to be successful.

Cultural mismatch happens when what drives an employee is not endorsed by the company. Their actions, beliefs and behaviours are misaligned with how the company operates. It’s like swimming upstream. No matter how many good intentions one might have, the company won’t support their actions. For example someone that is overly pedantic when developing a feature in a fast-paced environment. It doesn’t matter if the solution is correct, if it takes two or three times longer than what would be expected.

A manager in this regard, acts as an amplifier. They are fully bought into the culture and values of the company. Their goal is simple: make sure their reports act according to what’s preached. Make sure that when a difficult decision comes, they leverage the guiding principles laid out by the values. The task is simple, but can be quite difficult to execute - specially as a company scales. When a company grows beyond ~50 people, pockets will blossom naturally. Certain groups will value other things more than what the company preaches. Maybe some prefer to be slower and make sure things work well, while others the opposite. And I want to reiterate that there’s nothing wrong with one approach or the other. Asking a startup of 5 people to behave like Microsoft, is a death sentence. As a manager you have to be attentive to situations where the decision made by the group goes against what the company values. You have to balance if you should intervene, or do nothing.