Keys to culture form a Cleveland startup CEO

By: Julie Brennan

Culture is a topic that is talked about a lot, and some may find it to be a little overdone.  In my opinion though, having seen it done really well, and maybe not so well, I wanted to take the opportunity to share a few simple and tangible ways to generate a great one.  Like it or not, your company will have its own unique culture, and if you are intentional about what you want it to be (and NOT to be), it can be one of your greatest tools in driving performance, attraction, and retention.

Below are two quotes that I have read over the years and always hold onto that speak to me on culture:

It’s about that eight-hour car ride with someone. Would you look forward to it or dread it?

—Dan Krick, Lincoln Industries

It’s like electricity: You can’t see it but you know it’s there, and it has an effect on everything.

—John Mooney, Abbott Laboratories

In all the approaches and guidance out there on culture, one constant always remains – it is created and driven by the organization’s leadership, even if not on purpose.  Crappy or fantastic, it typically points right back to the guy in charge.

Take the culture at StreamLink Software.  For some context, StreamLink is a Cleveland-based SaaS company that was recently named a top workplace by The Cleveland Plain Dealer based on employee feedback, and chosen as one of the Top 25 Coolest Tech Companies in Cleveland.  You can feel the essence of the StreamLink culture when you walk through the sales floor.  The team is friendly, engaging, seems to love what they do, and you can tell that they’re doing “culture” right, even during a brief visit.

Recently, I listened to the CEO of StreamLink describe the culture in his organization to a candidate.  He said:

  • We have clearly defined expectations for our employees
  • We have open and direct communication with every level of the company
  • We engage employees in an fun way
  • We understand there is work, family and personal, and do things to deliberately encourage these to be in balance
  • While the points made above may seem simple and not all that magical, they’ve been deliberately thought about and are imbedded in the very essence of how the company operates.  They point back to a mindset and an approach that starts at the top.

So in all the fluff that the word “culture” may evoke, and all the endless reading you can do on the topic, I would challenge you instead to keep it simple.  Ask yourself today, do the people in your organization want to jump in for an 8-hour car ride with you every morning?  What would they say if you asked them to explain what it is like to work for your company?  Would you be happy with the answers?

. . . If not, consider some of the very basic concepts that StreamLink lives by, and how you might apply them in your organization.

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