My story begins in the small town of Ames Iowa. Not exactly the kind of place you would expect to go to study organizational culture but I find myself at a small but rapidly growing tech company called Webfilings to talk about their culture and their recruiting systems.
I already had a copy of their culture report based on comprehensive surveys of their employees. Two things that stood out in the culture survey became immediately apparent moments after walking through their doors- Friendliness and Pace. Webfilings oozed both of these qualities- a rare combination. First and foremost what struck me was the warm and welcoming atmosphere. From the receptionist to senior management I was immediately welcomed. I felt like I had walked into a family gathering and was an honoured guest. During my stay I was always greeted with generous smiles and sincere queries into my accommodations and wellbeing. I have no doubt that some of that friendliness was a result of the Iowan culture in general which is well known for its hospitality. It was also clearly a deliberate result of Webfilings management to create this atmosphere. As a software company, they compete directly with attractive employers like Google and Facebook for talent. Webfilings had built itself from the ground up to be a sharing collaborative environment that could attract smart, young programmers and support personnel. A large lunch hall provided free catered meals served at long tables with bench-style seating to encourage sharing meals together. Team rooms dotted the scattered complex to encourage open discussion. Senior managers dressed in casual clothes and it was often impossible to tell by looking who was in charge.
I noticed that everyone’s workspace was dotted with rubber ducks and I asked why these were everywhere. It turns out that the Webfilings buildings are located near a large concrete water drainage structure and when it rains it turns into a temporary stream. To blow off steam some of the founding employees decided one rainy day to race some rubber ducks. Now all new hires find themselves purchasing their own lucky ducks- some are decorated in racing stripes and other identifying features. When it rains Webfilings employees can be found racing them together. A shared moment of joy in the rain to break up a hectic day. One more part of their friendly culture. It was hard not to have a corporate crush on Webfilings.
However, to say Webfilings was hectic is an understatement. Their Pace score compared to over 1200 companies in our culture database was off the charts- well over the 90th percentile. Hectic frenzied activity was a hallmark of this junior company. Webfilings was abuzz with activity, an excitement that permeated the place. In preparing for my visit it wasn’t unusual to receive e-mails sent at 2 or 3 a.m. from senior managers taking care of business in the wee hours. I got a sense of what their daily schedules were like. During my day and a half workshop the attendees were constantly changing with people darting in and out to take care of urgent business. Smart phones clicked, buzzed and whirred and you learned quickly to cut to the chase or risk losing your preoccupied audience. Despite the frantic pace of activity, Webfilings employees seemed genuinely excited and happy to be there. In a country that has experienced considerable setbacks in employment, I sensed that the employees were proud and energized by their shared success.
Moving forward, rapidly growing companies like Webfilings are the most vulnerable to unintended cultural change. Each new hire has the potential to influence the corporate culture- particularly at the management level. It was clear that they liked who they were as a company and hiring new employees who fit into their culture was a priority for them. It was one of the many levers they were pushing to steer their little company in the direction they desired.
Derek Chapman, Ph.D.President & Founder CounterpartMatch.com