Originally published on Entrepreneur Magazine on August 5, 2016.
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Every organization has a culture. For some it is intentional and for some, it just is what it is.
When I think of culture, I think of how the world sees the organization. I also think of how the people inside the enterprise treat their work and the people they engage. A formal definition of culture is this: Organizational culture is the guiding operating system by which people interact and get things done.
There is so much to this culture thing that I wanted to talk to one leadership team that embodies the idea of an effective culture. One company rose to the top, and it was Ontraport. Ontraport is based in Santa Barbara, Calif. where they provide small business marketing automation for their customers. Ontraport is passionate about software for people that hate technology.
I was fortunate enough to get to know their CEO, Landon Ray and president, Lena Requist, when I was asked to be a guest speaker at Ontrapalooza. This is their chance to connect with their users and partners at a yearly conference. It was my first real connection to the company and their culture. Immediately, I realized they have something different going on and here. I was excited and curious about what they created that makes it considered “a best place to work.”
Here are some of the awards they received in 2015 that demonstrate their emphasis on culture and being a great place to work.
- Fortune Magazine: Best Workplaces for Millennials – Ranked #81 as the best place for millennials to work.
- Fortune Magazine: 100 Best Place to Work for Women – Ranked #46 with 96 percent of employees saying the workplace is great
- Fortune Magazine: Great Places to Work: Best Small Workplaces– Ranked #25 best workplace for companies with fewer than 100 employees.
- Outside Magazine: Best Places to Work: Ranked #45 as the best places to work.
Lena is responsible for making sure everything happens as it should and this means the culture, leadership development and other aspects of a growing company.
“One key to our culture is that it makes our people love to go to work,” Lena told me.
Another part is making sure the staff has an awesome experience here and that their time with Ontraport is remarkable and worthwhile.
With about 100 employees, they wanted a culture that increased engagement amongst the people and shaped the need to create amazing products and services for customers.
In Landon’s previous business (before Ontraport), he shared that he was not conscious of what culture was. He said it sounded like a buzz word. And he didn’t put any thought into it. As a result, he ended up with a business that he didn’t like. He didn’t like the people that much and didn’t have fun. With Ontraport, he decided that he didn’t want that to happen again.
Lena gave me a breakdown of their approach to culture. Now I give you the recipe that makes up their culture.
1. Strong leadership.
Lena was quick to start the recipe with strong leadership. It takes work to define the culture elements and a continuous process to keep the company operating by them.
Leaders are responsible for defining the elements of culture and the work to ensure that the company is leading by the principles that shape the organization.
The mission is the point of the organization. Every organization has a purpose. The reason “why the organization exists.” Leaders define how to take that purpose and make it bigger. It is about the impact on the community and the world. It is not just to make money. Mission guides the future you are creating and how you intend to contribute to it.
As an example, “Ontraport’s Mission is to support entrepreneurs in delivering their value to the world by removing the burden of technology and automating their business.”
The day-to-day experience is the vision of the company. Vision paints a picture of what the organization looks like over a set time frame. Ontraport uses a 5-year vision as part of their culture to frame the experience for each employee and perspective employee.
Vision tells the story of how the organization will look as it is in service to the mission. .
The values are guiding principles of the organization. Values become the tool by which each employee does their work and interacts with the people that come in contact with the company.
Lena said, “Values become the rule book.”
Values become a central part of the company conversation. The key point is to make sure you are using values that really matter to the company, mission and vision of the organization.
Here are more key points to defining the values of the organization.
Share it with the world. Share with current staff and future staff. It is a process to align with the values with consistency.
One huge benefit to clear values is the right talent is attracted to your values.
5. Avoid this mistake.
Don’t fall prey to what so many companies do and put your values on the wall and forget to lead by these values. Lena uses their values daily to lead their people. This is another reason a strong leadership team becomes a central point of leading.
Landon know has complete respect for the value of culture. He said, “Invest energy into growing people. People will be more inspired about their roles.”