Creating Culture

No one gave me a recipe for how to create company culture. I wish I had had one. I have been lucky to piece together the wisdom of many who have gone before me. I save the accumulated genius of what I have learned from them, in distilled form, for the end.

Is culture revealed or created?

Most of the time when you need something at a company, you make it. If you want to sell a product, you create it. If you need a head of marketing, you hire one. If you want to create a great company culture, what do you do?

People

The most important people to the culture are those who leave

This is hard to say because it sounds mean: the people you fire are more important to your culture than the people you hire. It’s a half-truth, as you have to hire people who are an outstanding, but it’s an important half-truth because the best way to protect the environment is to recognize where you have erred and course correct. You reveal that culture as a by-product of who stays and who goes, and to effectively “experiment” your way into what your culture is by learning who fits and who doesn’t—and by learning what precisely it is they are fitting into. To do this requires courage and confrontation. You muster both of these by telling yourself it’s what you must do to make the company “safe” for your best people, who should—by the way—be the only people.

Don’t hire people based on their experience

When hiring it is tempting to employ someone who has done it before. You actually don’t want that person. You want someone who is about to do it. After all, if they’ve done it before, why would they do it again? Either they’re not ambitious, not growth-oriented, or weren’t that good in their previous role. No matter which it is, you don’t want em.

Context

You catch more flies with honey

There are two basic ways to motivate people: fear and joy. I think the former is easier in the short term, and the latter is harder but more sustainable for the long term.

Give the company away

The balance sheets of most clothing companies are structured to assume that their owners are geniuses, that their leaders are the only other ones who deserve equity, and that everyone else is a peon. This can’t be true. At Bonobos Inc. we are structured more like a Silicon Valley technology company than a clothing company, and I believe this is a source of competitive and cultural advantage for the long-term. The best way to have a child behave like an adult is for them, over time, to become one. If you want an employee to act like an owner, why not simply make them one?

Context Evolves

Tribalism is your best enemy and your worst friend

We once opened a California office for our NYC-based company. That was a mistake. By creating a second office at this early stage in our company’s history, people couldn’t see who they were working with, and they certainly couldn’t trust them. We ended up with two cultures, a costly travel budget, and a HipChat account that while active was woefully shy of the in-person collaboration required between groups to build a high-performing company.

You learn far more from winning than from losing

There is a saying:

At Last: The Recipe

1 part remembering this is the most elegant challenge in leadership

Written by

Spirit animal @bonobos, swan hunter @redswan, brother @monicaandandy. I love cilantro but love even more the people that hate it

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