Angie Stocklin: Company culture is not pingpong, free lunches

When my co-founder, Randy, and I started hiring people to join One Click in 2007, we had serious conversations about the environment we wanted to create for our team. I don’t remember the exact words we used, but we focused on ideas like collaboration, autonomy and fun. We wanted to take our work seriously, without taking ourselves too seriously, so we decided against any type of dress code and to let our team members set their own hours. We also knew we needed to hire scrappy, self-motivated team members for our small team and bootstrapped company.

Once the two of us were on the same page, we assumed our team members would intuitively understand and follow our lead. We were wrong.

Fast-forward a few years, and our team of about 25 people had created a company culture of their own because we had failed to verbalize our expectations. Once we realized our mistake, we sat down with our team over a period of several months and created our first mission statement and set of core values. It took us a few more years to get all the pieces in place, but this first step was an integral part of creating a culture framework for our team.

Mission, vision, purpose

I am a firm believer that every company needs an identifiable north star in the form of a mission, vision or purpose statement. Not just a statement to add to your website and hiring materials but a simple, identifiable purpose that drives your company forward and defines the reason you exist. At One Click, we were on a mission: “To be the world’s most people-focused eyewear company.” The simplicity meant our team could remember the statement and easily explain that people-focused meant we were focused on our team members, customers and community. Every person in the company was not only represented in our mission statement, they were also given a higher purpose and reason for existing other than simply selling eyewear.

Core values

Core values are the fundamental beliefs and guiding principles of your organization. They help your team understand what is accepted and expected within the organization and help guide teammates through the decision-making process.

Core values should complement your company’s purpose but are prescriptive about behavior instead of a description of your company’s ideal future state. In addition to core values describing how to treat our team, customers and community, One Click’s values also directed our team to “act like an owner,” “embrace change” and “think big.”

Like your company’s purpose, your core values should be embedded in everything you do. We crafted interview questions around our core values, handed out a core value award at each all-company meeting and added a core value component to every annual review.

Goals and objectives

Setting goals for your company and team is a common practice for any founder, and we understood the importance of setting clear, specific, attainable goals for our team.

Early in our company, we created company goals and had each team create department goals and objectives based around those goals. However, this often created misalignment around priorities and chaos in the tech-que and ended up discouraging cross-departmental collaboration and cohesion.

When we realized the importance of tying our company goals to our culture framework and cascading the same goals down to every department and person in the organization, magic happened. Suddenly, each department had the same four overarching goals, and each person understood their personalized objectives for the quarter designed to help the company meet those goals. Not only did this align our organization from top to bottom and side to side, it also helped our individual team members understand the value they were bringing to the organization and the direct impact they were having on our company and our mission.

To sum it all up, our culture framework provided clear expectations and boundaries for our team, so we could step back and give them the autonomy they needed to do meaningful work. I like to visualize our culture framework as a big box. The walls of the box consisted of our mission (top), core values (bottom), and goals/objectives (sides) that created enough structure to set expectations and reduce uncertainty but left enough room for our team members to develop and grow, safely take risks and meet their objectives. Pingpong tables and free lunches are perks that help your team feel appreciated, but they shouldn’t be confused with your company’s culture.

Leadership

Leadership is the final piece of the culture framework puzzle. While I don’t think every organization needs to adopt a singular leadership style, I do believe the leadership styles in the organization need to complement the mission of the company and also complement each other. An organization on a mission to be people-focused wouldn’t work as well with a bureaucratic or autocratic leader, but our mix of democratic, coach-style and servant leaders complemented the other pieces of our culture framework and allowed our team to thrive.•

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Stocklin is an angel investor and exited founder who currently teaches entrepreneurship at Purdue University.

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