Ross Resnick is the CEO of Roaming Hunger, a service that makes it easy for consumers to book the best food trucks for any event.
When I started my company, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was building, how my product would be accepted (or rejected), how to make money and who I needed on my team to help me get there. Not once did I stop in the earliest stages and think, "What should my culture be?", and it didn’t become a real concern until I had many more team members.
Today, I run a business of nearly 40 employees that relies on helping other companies who are building awesome workplace cultures and who want to feed their employees with gourmet food trucks. Culture matters to me more than anyone — in fact, the act of building great work cultures is the core driver of our consumer demand.
Most people have a hard time defining their company culture, but when you boil the idea down to its essence, you invariably end up with some version of how “we” act together as a defined group. As the boss, this is what you have to think about: your company culture has a real and measurable effect on your company performance, your success as a leader and the type of people you attract to work for you. Real money is on the line.
Below, I’ve outlined some of our internal cultural core elements that were either purposefully or accidentally created, why we have them, and what their individual effect has been on our culture at Roaming Hunger.
Don’t Impose a Formal Dress Code
I started the company in my pajamas. Comfort was import to me when I was working long hours into the night; therefore I believe each person who works at Roaming Hunger should be able to choose what they feel most comfortable working in every day. For me it's a baseball hat, tee shirt, shorts, and sandals. For others, it's jeans and a blazer. I’ve found that when people are dressed like “themselves,” they act more naturally. And when someone dresses up, everyone notices! On April Fools Day, the entire office wore suits and didn't tell me. It was the perfect prank.
Make your staff feel comfortable being themselves. Imposing a dress code might hinder that one person from fully realizing their comfort level at the office and make them more hesitant to contribute that big idea.
Find a Way to Bring Your Colleagues Outside Together
Our company is dedicated to booking food trucks and helping people cater their events. If we don't put our mouth where our money is, then we can’t help our customers. At my office, everyone congregates outside the office informally at least once a week when we have a food truck onsite. Something magic happens when we all step outside of our work environment: people start mingling without any pretense. We've had a number of great collaborative projects and ideas emerge from our “food truck lunch” days.
To replicate this effect, bring your employees together (however infrequently) out of the office. It can be a food truck outside or a trip to the local park, but having a change in atmosphere will get the team interacting in ways you might not have thought possible.
Set Personal Goals Each Week
As we grew, it became apparent that we needed to have some sort of regularly updated goals system in place. I bought a huge gong and put everyone's name on a chalkboard with space under for three Post-It notes. Instead of making everyone adhere to set rules about their goals, we instead decided to let people set goals for themselves.
This tactic helped us to align incentives: If a goal comes from someone else, it has the potential to be accomplished, but with no added incentive to go above and beyond. Only the individual can know his or her true limit, and I see people continually smashing goals or expectations at a caliber I may not have initially held them to.
My advice? Listen to your employees. Each of them has a distinct and unique motivation for wanting to work at your company. Embrace that wholeheartedly and allow them to flourish by outwardly encouraging those goals.
Make Every Decision as if You Were the Employee
When my feelings or pride were hurt during my early years on the job, I felt less inclined to do a great job. I've even had a boss who excluded me from an important brand strategy session because he didn't think it was necessary for me to be there. Ouch.
From these experiences, I’ve discovered that empathy wins out every time. There doesn't have to always be full alignment between employee and manager, but just a nod to the underlying emotions triggered by the decision are enough. You’re both human beings with needs, after all.
Keeping the team focused on their work is the most important thing you can do as a leader. Treating everyone with respect is the best way to keep everyone on the team happy and focused.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open (And Also Your Work Space)
I never thought that just because I was the boss, I should have my own office. Occasionally I do need privacy, so we built conference and discussion rooms designed for that purpose, but day to day I can hear phone calls, client discussions, internal discussions, you name it. (If I do need quiet, I just pull out noise-canceling headphones.) The more people I interact with internally on a daily basis, the better I get at shaping our core strategy, product direction, and — you guessed it — our culture.
If you don’t have an open floor plan, an open door policy can work just as well. Being accessible as a leader is one of the hardest skills to master, but if you do it right, you will learn a tremendous amount about the underlying variables that directly affect major performance metrics.
Regardless of the individual elements you choose to make your workplace epic, the most important thing to remember is that the key elements of a workplace improvement program should tie in to your brand and should feel authentic. Only the founders of the company can truly know their authentic path--and if you don't, a group vote works just as well.