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Culture Comes First. The Rest Is Noise.

Culture should drive the business at your startup, not the other way around. Here’s how to keep yours intact.

The most important thing in your business is not what you’re going to sell but what you value. That’s according to Bill Kanarick, chief strategy and marketing officer of consulting agency Sapient, who’s steered his startup through the ups and downs of the digital age.

Culture was so integral that when his company finally reached 49 employees, Kanarick dedicated two of them to keeping it intact. Today, Sapient has a global workforce of more than 11,500 people and culture remains, as ever, an integral part of the business. Here are six values Kanarick has found help his culture remain solid, even as his business has grown.

Always be open

“We can’t ever get better unless we’re actually committed to the idea of openness,” says Kanarick. Even in client meetings that go extremely well, the first thing his team does afterward is ask what could have gone better. Realize it’s not good enough just being good. You need to be open to feedback so the company can always improve.

Let people lead

Kanarick believes there are two forms of leadership: within the company and within the market. Creating a culture of leadership sometimes involves putting people into positions that are a bit of a stretch. Which is a risk but necessary, especially if your business needs several leaders. If things don’t work out, it will be okay: “Our culture creates the kind of environment where people are encouraged to take risks and supported when taking those chances may not always work out as planned,” says Kanarick.

Focus on clients

“This is code for client success,” says Kanarick, whose business lives by a do-or-die deadline. Once, when a large client was running its retail site on an outsourced Amazon platform, they decided to house it internally. Knowing the site would shut down one day, he realized nothing mattered more to that company. And for the employees working with that company, nothing mattered more than that day as well.

Nurture employees

“When you hire the best and the brightest, they want more than they had last year so you have to grow the company,” says Kanarick. He had been at Sapient two years before he asked to relocate to London. “You could not have sent a bigger idiot to London than me,” he recalls. “I had no idea how to grow a business in a part of the world I knew nothing about, but they trusted me. We make these decisions daily.”

Inspire creativity

It’s much easier to change a small company than it is to change a 11,500 person company. But creativity remains a core value. Sapient needs a culture that helps it adapt to the marketplace and to achieve that, it has to merge creativity and tech.

Forge relationships

This is the last value on the list but also the first one introduced to new hires at Sapient. Rather than let them figure things for themselves or refer to a handbook, they receive names of contacts. And because of the strong culture, these new hires actually find their way. That is, they forge a relationship. This continues for years, enabling people to accomplish more because they understand their colleagues.


    



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Culture Comes First. The Rest Is Noise.
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