Monday, March 16, 2009

Focus on Corporate Culture - Black and Decker Speak at SXSW

One of the most informative sessions I attended at SXSW Interactive 2009 was a "core conversation" hosted by Sam Decker (CMO of Bazaarvoice) and Jason A. Black (CEO of Boundless Network) on the topic of corporate culture.

The two had a very interactive back-and-forth with the 100+ in attendance. They shared their experiences for the how and why to make culture matter in a company.

Investors look at the spreadsheets, while culture is what really makes all the numbers work. Both Black and Decker work for companies that have strong reputations in Austin (and beyond) in regards to employee excitement, loyalty and dedication.

Establishing trust is the key. Many companies talk a lot about trust, but as the company grows, the trust slips away between management and employees. Often management does not even notice (but don't kid yourself, the rank-and-file know right away!).

Bazaarvoice has the "Five Stars of Culture" that the company lives by: Passion, Teamwork, Excellence, Openness and Execution. Every hiring decision is made on these important points.

The presenters shared the belief that everyone has an "entrepreneur" inside them (they want to create), but many companies neglect finding ways to cultivate this within employees. When the individuals let that entrepreneurial spark die, the organization loses. If people are just working for a paycheck they wont have any passion.

Black reminded entrepreneurs to not take money from any source. While investors can be an important part of the mix, if they do not share you enthusiasm for culture, then you are in trouble from the start. Your dedication to culture must run through the all levels of the company "Family", including everyone. Those who don't fit should not be involved - no exceptions.

A company with a real positive culture regularly celebrates the successes, large and small, of the company and the people. Do not wait until the quarterly meeting to praise, do it as the events take place. If the CEO is not prone to remembering to "ring the gong" at each success, be sure to assign someone the task of noting the wins along the way. Always be explicitly conscious about your culture, even if you must schedule reminders in your calendar to ping you to do so!

A tough economy will test the strength of your company's culture. When everyone feels the pressure, will your culture hold up? It will if it is more than just a slogan. RIF's suck, though times suck..... but the leadership of a company must over communicate and let their people know how they fit into the organization. Keep a clear focus on the long-term vision. Be candid and transparent with all team members.

Black & Decker were the best session I attended on Sunday at SXSW, and I think much of the audience would agree.

Have A Great Day.

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