By Steven Lee, founder and CSO at Opternative.
When it comes to building a company from the ground up, many organizations are moving at such a fast pace that they forget to take into account the culture. What is the culture of a group, anyway? Let's look at the prerogatives of companies over the last, say, 30 years -- the pre-Silicon Valley versus the post. In the not-too-distant past, there were hierarchies: clocks that needed to be punched; forms of address that were considered polite depending on relative position; a general sense of how to abide within the structure; sit-down desks and fluorescent lights. It's different today, in an age where the progressive companies derive loyalty from ping-pong tables, relaxed dress codes, and time dedicated to personal development.
And while those environmental aspects have definitely performed a 180, elements of interactions have adapted in their own way. In short, the culture has changed, along with expectations of behavior. It sounds a little cynical, but there's an old-school axiom: You can always tell a person's character by how they behave toward someone they're not obligated to be nice to. A little while back, I met a CEO of a thriving, medium-sized Chicago-based company at a networking event. She said that she conducted all her interviews over dinner. Her mind would already have been made up over the individual's credentials -- she just wanted to see how they would behave with the waiter.
Unbeknownst to the candidate, this CEO had a close relationship with the manager and waitstaff at the restaurant. Occasionally, orders would be (intentionally) messed up. Oversights in service would take place. In one case, a glass of Coke was spilled onto a candidate, all carefully planned out. Malicious? Not quite. The takeaway is pretty cut-and-dried. If the person dealt with unexpected situations with grace, respect and humility, then it was a pretty sure bet that this individual would have the gumption to take those characteristics to the workplace. If, instead, they became annoyed, irate or dismissive, that was a pretty fair telltale sign, too.
A person who is a good team player is likely to appreciate the fact that a restaurant is a multi-faceted place and that sometimes, things get mixed up. A person who is willing to accept that a problematic situation is out of their control and deal with a solution gracefully is a person who will likely conduct themselves with the same demeanor in the office.
At my company, we've focused on asking new hires specific questions that help to allude whether or not they will be a good fit for the culture. One question that I'm particularly fond of is, "What are the top two things you are most proud of, work-related or not?" The answers really help you find out what motivates them. For some, this may be monetary.
For others, they may value team collaboration. Once great candidates are hired, it's also important to maintain a strong team culture. We do a monthly Kaizen, which is based on learning from Toyota manufacturing. At Toyota, they stop the assembly line whenever any issue occurs, allowing the team to uncover issues and solve them before re-starting.
Our monthly Kaizen allows individuals to bring up any issues that they wish to share, whether good, bad or anything in between. We then discuss ways to solve those issues and work to ensure we've corrected them by the next month's meeting. This not only allows for great team transparency, but also allows team members to feel they can voice their comments and concerns on a regular basis.
The workplace has changed over the last several decades. But the glue that holds a high-functioning team together consists of the same elements as it always has: humility, respect, cooperation and an atmosphere that is conducive toward streamlining goals and solving problems quickly. If the leader of a group has these obligations in mind, it's not too far of a reach to assume that they will be the most productive by surrounding themselves with individuals who share those characteristics.
Steven Lee is the founder and CSO at Opternative, the first online vision test that delivers a glasses/contacts Rx.