Culture Comes First. The Rest Is Noise.
The most important thing in your business is not what you're going to sell but what you value. That's according to Bill Kanarick, chief marketing officer of global services company Sapient, who helped steered this former startup through the ups and downs of the digital age.
Culture was so integral that when the company finally reached 49 employees, Sapient dedicated two of them to keeping it intact. Today, Sapient has a global workforce of more than 11,500 people and culture remains, as ever, an integral part of the business. Here are six values Sapient has found help its culture remain solid, even as the business has grown.
Always be open
"We can't ever get better unless we're actually committed to the idea of openness," says Kanarick. Even in client meetings that go extremely well, the first thing teams do afterward is ask what could have gone better. Realize it's not good enough just being good. You need to be open to feedback so the company can always improve.
Let people lead
Sapient believes there are two forms of leadership: within the company and within the market. Creating a culture of leadership sometimes involves putting people into positions that are a bit of a stretch. Which is a risk but necessary, especially if your business needs several leaders. If things don't work out, it will be okay: "Our culture creates the kind of environment where people are encouraged to take risks and supported when taking those chances may not always work out as planned," says Kanarick.
Focus on clients
"This is code for client success," says Kanarick, whose business lives by a do-or-die deadline. Once, when a large client was running its retail site on an outsourced Amazon platform, they decided to house it internally. Knowing the site would shut down one day, he realized nothing mattered more to that company. And for the employees working with that company, nothing mattered more than that day as well.
"When you hire the best and the brightest, they want more than they had last year so you have to grow the company," says Kanarick. He had been at Sapient two years before he asked to relocate to London. "I had no idea how to grow a business in a part of the world I knew nothing about, but they trusted me. We make these decisions daily."
It's much easier to change a small company than it is to change a 11,500 person company. But creativity remains a core value. Sapient needs a culture that helps it adapt to the marketplace and to achieve that, it has to merge creativity and tech.
This is the last value on the list but also the first one introduced to new hires at Sapient. Rather than let them figure things for themselves or refer to a handbook, they receive names of contacts. And because of the strong culture, these new hires actually find their way. That is, they forge a relationship. This continues for years, enabling people to accomplish more because they understand their colleagues.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.