Even today's non-tech companies have become tech dependent. The most traditional businesses are harnessing technology for efficiency and measurement. The faster technology integrates with standard business practices, the more people have to adapt to different cultures. A huge challenge for most companies today is solving communication issues between those who focus on tech and those who mostly use tech to supplement their work.
I recently interviewed separately the leaders of PubMatic, a venture-backed company that's helping some of the oldest and biggest media publishers drive digital revenue through a more targeted and personalized user experience. Not only do their 400 people need to understand technology, they must support less tech-oriented clients and consumers. CEO Rajeev Goel is a diehard Silicon Valley techie and works closely with his New York-based counterpart, PubMatic President Kirk McDonald, who studied English and has a 2 decades long executive background with Time Inc. and Conde Nast. Together they have bridged the gap between digital and analog inside and outside their business, resulting in a 2012 Deloitte ranking as the third fastest growing company in the US Internet sector.
Here's how the ultimate geek and the consummate content provider created a blended culture of success. Any company or department, tech oriented or not, can use these 6 tips to build a team ready for 21st century prosperity.
1. Hire for compatibility. At PubMatic they require highly skilled people who understand technology as well as experts in content management and marketing, but they frown on isolationists. Their culture is focused on blending and sharing, so they look for people who are open and can commit to cooperative communication. They find people who are natural explainers. It's nice if they already know specifically how to communicate in other areas... but with the right sharing attitude, that skill can be learned.
2. Create a learning culture. Employees at PubMatic are encouraged and rewarded for learning and growing outside their area of expertise. Both Goel and McDonald have been lifelong explorers of new and different arenas and they encourage their employees to do the same. In a blended company, self-directed learning should be enthusiastically expected and empowered. Then the employees themselves will drive the cross pollination of ideas and understanding.
3. Develop common vocabulary. Walk into any tech environment and you'll immediately be bombarded with jargon and acronyms that will seem foreign to those who don't code. But as strange as a language of letters may sound, it's now more foreign than the language of finance or marketing to those who live outside that culture. PubMatic makes a point of teaching common language so all employees can find a way to understand each other and their customers. Just a simple communal glossary and some training can improve communication gaps in a flash.
4. Foster humility. When you hire top talent they have to be good at and proud of what they do, and they need to passionately advocate for their area of expertise. Often, however, this sort of behavior can come across as condescending and dismissive. PubMatic creates an atmosphere where being humble and respectful is considered a virtue. Ego is necessary but only in the service of the company, the clients and the consumers.
5. Create practical empathy. Goel and McDonald each spoke about the importance of having employees experience the perspective of all aspects in the company. People need to understand clearly what others do. This means getting comfortable with processes such as code, content creation or pitching. They encourage making employees actually practice each other's work. Marketers may actually try their hand at simple coding and engineers get to pitch a product. The perspective change can surface important issues and create more uniform understanding and continuity.
6. Unite with shared goals. So much of the cooperative approach among employees is dependent upon motivation. Many companies silo their people with individual focus and objectives. Goel and McDonald believe that aligning employees around the shared mission of the company as well as departmental goals and projects motivates them to find pathways to understanding and collaboration. It's worked well at the top and PubMatic's results seem to say it's working throughout the company as well.
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