This is the Signpost Culture Series, written by Jacco de Bruijn, VP of Marketing at Signpost.
I love working at Signpost. I started in 2011 with a handful of people in a small NYC space, and two years later we’re close to a hundred people in different locations across the country. Still it feels like the same company. The main reason is our unique culture that has helped shape our team, inform the products we build and influence the daily interactions we have with each other and our clients. In several posts on our blog I want to share more about the Signpost culture and the values we hold high.
Purpose of Culture
The notion of culture that I’m referring to here is the shared beliefs of a particular group, specifically the people that make up Signpost. Our ping-pong table, kegerator, snacks and regular events are great perks that make Signpost a fun place to work but don’t define our unique culture. Instead, culture is what elevates working at Signpost to a higher purpose and focus that drive our daily actions.
Many smart people have written about company culture before, including profound and insightful articles specific to startups, but all agree it is important. Read any book by a startup founder and culture will be lauded as an essential part of their success, or a reason for early failure due to a lack of it. This ranges from pure software companies to e-commerce to manufacturers of physical products.
At Signpost we’ve always recognized the importance of culture and in 2012 we made an effort to define ours by identifying core values that we all believe in and have been living since the start. This initiative was triggered by the fact that we were growing our team, opening two new offices across the country, and building new products and partnerships. As we have more people in more locations with even more decisions to make every day, we want to ensure everyone has the same focus and framework to make the right decisions in line with our long-term vision. Ideally that comes naturally as we attract and only hire the right people, the job candidates with so called “culture-fit”, but this requires understanding our own culture first.
During the process of identifying what we as a company value, we’ve learned a few things about getting to the ideal outcome.
1) Decide non-democratically. Culture pertains to everybody and so anybody has an opinion. This is great and the best approach is collecting these valuable opinions up front as input to identify common patterns. The matter of fact is that most people haven’t consciously thought about culture beyond the obvious, and therefore a smaller team is best to determine the final outcome. This team should include the founders as they’ve started and build the company based on certain values with a vision of how to scale this going forward.
2) Go beyond the obvious. When you walk into any of the Signpost offices you will quickly notice it is a high-energy atmosphere with young and ambitious people that are driven, caring and want to have fun. While this is an important part of our culture, these are the mere superficial manifestations of our values. It is tempting to come up with values such as ‘We’re serious about fun’, and we did initially, but you want to dig deeper to get to the unique essence of your company.
3) Find what’s truly unique. You can easily find out about the values of other companies, and it is interesting to learn what drives Facebook, Google or Zappos. However, these companies were founded by other people with different beliefs. You want your own culture to be a driving force to realize your own vision, distinguishing yourself from the rest. While there may be overlap, if your values could also apply to any other company they’re most likely not the right ones.
4) Be brief and concise. A founding team will have many ideas about how to grow a company and the team, but to instill these beliefs in others as guiding principles the core values should be memorable. That means ‘less is more’.
5) Ensure long-term fit. Core values are high level beliefs that should be broad enough to be relevant to a company throughout its lifetime. If these are strong beliefs they were already living in the team’s head before writing them down. However, one way to ensure that core values are not determined by the ‘flavor of the day’, is taking a few weeks or even months and applying them to situations and decisions you have to make. By evaluating and challenging them on a daily basis you’ll find out quickly whether they are the right fit for your company.
Signpost Core Values
At Signpost everybody has shared their ideas and we’ve had good discussions about the right core values for our company. At some point in our process we had 10 values we really believed in. By applying the lessons learned above we got to 5 core values that we really care about and believe to be unique drivers of our team and Signpost both in the present and future. Each will be linked as we cover them in a separate individual post.