Does "Culture" matter?

April 01, 2015

"Do you have a friend in the Company?"

This question was recently posed in one of our internal surveys and I was not only surprised to see it, but also recognized that it's a very powerful question.

"Do you have a friend in the Company?"

I've been in the work force for a while. In fact, when I started working designer jeans were still having a ridiculous effect on everyday corporate wear. Some of you will have to Google "designer jeans" to figure out what I am talking about. Go ahead, I'll wait till you stop laughing and are capable of reading again.

<Jim casually finishes a cup of chai>

Ok, you still look out of breath, but we need to move on.

Back on topic. I've answered lots of "interesting" survey questions in my career like, "Does your manager make your life miserable?", "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?", and "How much power should empowered people have?"

But none of those high dollar, super smarty survey companies ever asked me if I had ever taken the time to connect to someone I work with on a personal level.

Because once you expand upon the meaning of the word "friend", isn't that what we're really talking about?

So why would that question be important?

I think the answer to that question comes from the fact that successful organizations have moved away from the "Dude, do you softball?" business model to developing groups of people who are connected, genuine, and interact in an encouraging way with those around them. What shouldn't surprise you is that includes their customers.

And I'm not talking about Customer Care.

That's what you do when the customer calls you with a problem. You're supposed to be able to do that right. What I am talking about is the development of relationships, establishing a connection, understanding their business problems, collaborating on solutions.

Like a friend would.

One of the things that attracted me to Sparkhound was my perception about their culture. I say perception because as an outsider (i.e. I hadn't joined them yet), I was curious about how they portrayed themselves to the outside world.

When I looked at other company's web sites, I'd see images of sharp, sort of "movie star" faces in suits, trying to look productive. And there's nothing really wrong with that, but it seemed that in a way, they all sort of looked the same.

Then there were these "Sparkhound" people.

They were wearing odd hats, carrying bowling balls, and with a straight face, referring to themselves as "Sparkies". They appeared to be confident enough in who they are and what they do as an organization, to be comfortable showing the rest of the world "This is what we really look like."

As I learned more about Sparkhound, I discovered what really makes them different. It's the relationships they develop with everyone they come in contact with. When you engage "us" (I joined the team), you aren't just getting another body to manage. You are getting someone who is there to contribute to the success of your team.

Because it's our team too…that's how friends are.



So how does this play out in the "real" world?

Your client, let's call him "Bob", calls up to tell you that they've run into a snag on the project. He sets up a meeting for tomorrow and the VP is going to be there because this is a big deal.

When you and Bob and the VP sit down to talk about this, which scenario are you walking into?

1.      Scenario 1 - Bob red faced, pulls out the Statement of Work and points to the third paragraph on Page 27 and tells you that you've "failed to deliver!"



2.      Scenario 2 - Bob says that he has some concerns about a feature and he's invited his VP to sit in because this project has a very high profile.

 I don't think there's any question as to which meeting any of us would rather sit in.

But more importantly, why would Bob react one way vs. the other?

Doesn't Bob's perspective depend on who he thinks you are?

Does Bob feel like he's raising an issue with a friend, or the "Statement of Work" guy/gal?

At this point, I would expect a few people to start thinking, "Wait a minute, I have to like all these people? I thought they were just customers?"

To which I would ask, "Which meeting would you rather attend?"

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to possessing a sometimes annoying habit of answering a question with a question. I blame this on being of Greek extraction and of inheriting some of the less popular personal traits of Socrates and Plato.

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