Gaslight: The Most Important Thing

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” - Peter Drucker

We leaders all say that culture is the most important thing, but what are we doing to foster the culture of our organizations? My goal in this post is to share a few things that have worked for us and that you can try in your companies. But I am not the authority on Gaslight’s culture. This post kicks-off a Gaslight series on culture where thoughts will be shared from other members of our team.

I’ve been with Gaslight a little more than a year. Over this time we have experienced a tremendous amount of change. Much of that change wasn’t easy to go through. With that said, every morning when I look around the office I see 25 people that are genuinely happy to be here. I attribute that to making the most important thing, the most important thing: culture.

Clear Values, Lived Daily

The first part of this suggestion sounds obvious. Although, does your company’s values still define the culture you have, or more importantly, the culture you want? Shortly after I joined Gaslight we had that discussion with the owners. We had a set of five core values, but we wanted to take a step back and reevaluate whether or not they still resonated with Gaslight and its people. We ultimately decided that our core values…

  • We’re Better Together
  • Trust is Everything
  • Practice Empathy
  • Continuously Deliver Value
  • Grow Sustainably

…still described the people and the company we wanted to be after all. The focus then changed to how we could live them more consistently.

Starting from day one, we talk about our values with new employees. During our onboarding, we take an hour or so with our new hires to discuss our values and give them examples as to how those values influence the way we work.

Building on that, we have a daily company wide stand up where each team gives a project update (internal teams like sales and operations are included) so we insert our values into that meeting. When a team provides their update they speak to a value that they are exemplifying, or need to exemplify, that day as they execute their work. Full disclosure, this felt superficial when we first started this practice. As time passed, everyone became more comfortable with this part of the update and it seems to be a natural gut check for teams as they report out.

Leadership That Cares

A year ago, Gaslight had a loosely defined organizational structure. We very quickly instituted one. As part of that structure, we put in place two Development Managers and one Design Manager. This structure remains in place today. Their primary responsibilities are to provide support for our people. The managers work through Individual Development Plans (IDPs) with their reports and we review/update them quarterly. In addition, managers hold weekly 1:1’s to check in with their people and providing coaching. Lastly, the managers review what they’ve learned from the 1:1’s with the leadership team in our weekly meeting.

So those were the tactics. Here’s the secret ingredient…when choosing the managers, we picked the most caring people in the company. Our managers love people, they are great at building relationships, and they’d do anything to make someone else’s life even a little bit better. We can teach tactics, we can’t teach caring.

With a process to support your people and caring managers, you as a leader still need to turn the feedback you receive into something that will meet the needs of your employees. As an example, not too long ago the managers voiced that there seemed to be a high level of stress across the company. So we addressed the idea of how to manage stress. I stood up in front of our 25 employees one Friday at lunch and shared some things that caused me stress, but more importantly, things I was doing in my life to try to reduce stress. What transpired was a very powerful, open discussion on the topic. Everyone voiced that, at the very least, they thoroughly appreciated the fact that we were willing to broach the subject.

Nurture Culture’s Organic Growth

This is all about listening. If Pokemon Go is the hot new thing everyone is playing, kick off a Pokemon Go contest (many of us now still play, myself included - Level 30). When you hear fellow employees talking about how much they enjoy board games (games I’d never heard of before), help organize a game night after hours. When you have a few people who used to play soccer, start a soccer team (we didn’t win a game, but had the most fun). If you overhear people talking about their kickball league, get a team in the next session (still didn’t win a game, maybe next year). If your employees like to cook, have a chili cook off or pick a random Wednesday to have everyone bring in their best dessert.

Fun fact: there seems to be a high correlation between developers and music ability. Allow some instruments to be kept in the office and encourage those musicians to play at company events (we have two violinists, a harpist, and a cellist who have performed three different times).

Your people are telling you how to nurture the culture they want to be apart of, just listen.

Wrapping It Up

I was once in a discussion with a number of other parents regarding the fears we had about raising our kids. Trying to put the room at ease, someone said: “loving them makes up for a lot”. I believe the same thing about developing a culture. Truly caring about the people in your company makes up for a lot. Don’t feel like you’ll get everything right because you won’t. Initiatives that you were sure would be big hits will fall flat with your coworkers. It will be discouraging because you will have worked hard on them with the best of intentions, but you try again. If you always let the caring show through, you’ll be moving your culture in the right direction.

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