I started LaSalle Network 17 years ago with two employees in about 1,500 square feet of office space. I opened up a second office that I didn't work out of as regularly. Then a third, and so on.
I would visit weekly and spend time with staff; however, I wasn't there every day, and I was rarely there for consecutive days.
Over time you forget. Even having a few people in a bigger space is different than the same number in a smaller space.
Why Small Offices Are Different
We opened up an office in San Francisco last year, our first location outside of Illinois. I spent several days working in that office this week, and I realized the mental change that needs to take place about how I interact with them and how people who move into a small office interact.
Everything anyone does can be annoying. I'm not talking about my team annoying me. I'm talking about me annoying them. When I want to have a conversation with one of them, do the others feel left out? If I don't speak because I am focused, do they think I'm mad? If they don't talk to me, are they happy?
New hires are truly accountable as they sit five feet from co-workers. It's the same at any other startup office or location. As leaders, when you don't think about how every new situation affects different employees, you are losing your grasp on the culture.
Does this office feel attention from IT? From HR? HR is really important when it comes to remote employees. The connection to feel a part of something is crucial.
Now don't get me wrong, I believe the culture and the attention derives directly from the employees in the group. What is their attitude? How much activity are they producing? We only grow if they succeed and excel.
When you hire someone who has worked at a big company, it's not just about the "big" issues: IT support. Marketing support. Expenses. Salaries. It's about the culture of a small environment and how people play off one another.
Even a great personality may not be great in a tiny office. These are things that need to be discussed and also issues that need to be heard once people start. People say they like a close-knit team, but when you're staring them in the face all day, do you really?
I believe a manager's ability to create an environment and a culture within a small office is a true skillset. To create a place where people can coexist and create revenue is terrific. A lot of it is about the people you hire, and then what a leader does with them is where the turning point is.
It's Not Always About You
Now as you read this and you think, I'm the CEO, what difference does it make? That should be a light bulb going off as to why you don't know your culture. It's not about you. It's not always about what you like.
Of course it can be, and your company can grow and be successful. However, your people will most likely turn over, and the "we" will never be a team. It's a collective group of "I's" all playing in the same space at the same time.
If that's what you want, I'm all for it, but don't talk about wanting a great culture. When you have empathy for your staff and think about how they feel is when you have a culture where people don't want to leave.
I'm not talking about not driving people towards goals. Not working people hard. Not having high expectations. I do all of those things and our company has been an Inc. 5000 company for nine consecutive years.
I have empathy as to how they feel, how I make them feel and when they feel appreciated. And if they don't, why not? I'm not nave enough to believe I get through to everyone; however, I know my goal is to relay my feelings, and I can't be accused of not truly wanting a great culture.