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Company Culture Trumps All

by Hesam Lamei

Company culture is taking over as the key factor in the battle for talent and retention at companies all over the world. With the rise of review sites, social media networks, and word-of-mouth referrals, a company's culture simply cannot be fabricated. Companies with positive and strong cultures are coming out on top, not just for finding and retaining talent, but also in increasing productivity. When employees are happy and find synergy in their culture, more people want to work there. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon has said, "Part of company culture is path-dependent—it's the lessons you learn along the way." Well, I've learned a few things along the way that I would like to share with you:

Build It & Great Employees Will Come

When I first founded Aventis Systems, I was under the impression that if we posted an IT position, top job candidates would flock to apply and come in droves for the opportunity to work for a fun, innovative startup. However, I soon learned that was not necessarily the case, and in fact, it takes more than a great job to attract top talent. In today's competitive career landscape and improving economy, candidates are looking for more than just a solid job. They are looking for a career and company lifestyle with an organization whose company culture reflects their values, opinions, and way of life. In other words, company culture trumps most factors when attracting talent, even compensation, in some cases.

The key to finding the talent that fits your organization is to create the type of company culture that attracts the type of employees you want. Many organizations default into choosing the candidates based on qualifications but with a low cultural fit. I've learned this is a big mistake. If they don't fit in the culture, then it will most likely be a short term situation. Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh says that, in the early stages of launching Zappos, "bad hires cost us $100 million." Now, Zappos hires and fires based on whether someone is a distinct culture fit.

So how do you determine if someone is a good fit for your company culture? Ask direct questions about the type of organization they worked for previously. Was it a small startup, a structured corporate environment, or an SMB IT company? What was the size of the company, what was the culture like, and what did they like and dislike about it? Do the answers fit with your company's culture?

Steps to Creating Great Company Culture

The obvious question is, how do you create great company culture? My biggest piece of advice is to make your business a place where people want to work. For example, we make it a point to reflect our company culture in everything we do. We strive for a culture of transparency. We have purposefully created a very open and synergistic environment where managers are approachable and open to honest feedback, questions, and suggestions. In fact, each manager's office is in close proximity to his/her team, not tucked away in a corner office. I also personally make myself available and sit where I am approachable to employees at all levels of the organization. Our managers meet with every team member on a weekly basis, to check in on projects, issues, or just to connect. Managers are easily reached by instant messenger or cell phone, and new and creative ideas are encouraged and rewarded.

Employees are looking for a place where they can be creative, be a part of the growth and direction, and add value to an organization, and we do our best to provide these opportunities. This environment creates ambition and results in a fun setting. We're not looking for employees who just come in and punch a time clock. We are looking for employees to help us innovate and grow with their creative ideas and efforts. We recognize these ideas with awards, where we not only announce a winner, but also recognize those who were nominated for the award. We also know how to have fun with each other, including hosting company BBQ's, paintball outings, holiday parties and rafting trips. We offer fun incentive contests in each department for employees to win free domestic flights, restaurant gift cards, etc. And, we are involved in our local community and charitable organizations, such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Walk, Hands On Atlanta, and Ronald McDonald House, and make donations to non-profit organizations (suggested by our employees) for computer hardware or services. We are all working at the same place and striving for the same goal and enjoy making a positive impact on our local community. These efforts have led to great employee retention for us and a company culture we are very proud to cultivate.

Unexpected Advantages

Great company culture has its advantages and rewards. It enhances employee referrals and increases productivity. Many leaders and human resource teams neglect to understand and place value on the impact employees can have on referrals and recruiting. With the plethora of social media networks out there today, company reviews by current and former employees are more and more accessible. Employee referrals from people who like working at a company are critical. It brings a higher level of candidates, supports the culture and brings great prospects to your organization. Productivity benefits from a great company culture as well. If employees are happy at work then they tend to be both more creative and productive, and feel more connected to the company's customers and overall vision.

Listening has been one of the best things I have done, and will try to do better in the future to improve our company culture. I have learned that some of the best changes have been derived by employee feedback and listening to ideas and suggestions from my team. When I identify a consistent theme from comments, I do my best to implement a new plan of action.

If you have a great company culture, people will not only want to work for you, they won't want to work for anyone else. It's well worth the time and investment you put into developing a solid company culture.

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