Kindled Meme

– exploring the purpose of connection

Hunting for culture – the crumbs you leave

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Im one of those people that goes digging behind the ‘why’ of people and companies – I go hunting to find out what drives people and to get a sense for the energy and vision behind the people who formed and joined a company – especially in the stellar companies – the ‘gazelles and the ‘born globals’ –  businesses that have found a place to make an impact.

I blame Henley for my behaviour. We spent a lot of time assessing the values of our NGO in South Africa and also assessing local charities – how they message and connect through common values with their target benefactors. You could call it branding – but its deeper than that – its not look and feel – its about finding the beliefs.

I look into a lot of tech companies because – whether through chance or design – this is the area I grew up in. But Im not so interested in the nut and bolts of these firms (I’ve seen a lot of tech come and go in my career – its always changing) and I’m more interested in the culture and people in the tribe.  I want to know about the story as much as the growth, success, potential – because its really hard to get behind ‘a cause’ if the purpose isn’t clear to me.

So Im the one that heads straight to the ‘about’ pages on the website to see how do the people communicate themselves.

Are they focused on their product, waxing on about their organisation or talking about how their customers are the heroes in their story, with a passion for the external world they operate in.

I want to see the latter.

When I look at this info I see the companies in three groups:

  • The companies that talk product and ‘org’ – but they are closed – its all blah and grey messaging
  • The companies that tell you who are the founders – the generals in control – they have a bio and the people are impressive
  • The companies that have a human feel – as if the company is a living organism – showing all the folks onboard and telling a story.

What I want to see is some Organisational Openness – and find some real people.

This stuff is quick to get a grasp of. There are pictures – some people smile and some look sinister or earnest. Are they suited-and-booted or are they dressed for the Social Era – are they Gen Y or Gen X, or do they have a scruffy old chairman with woolly eye brows and a suit bought in a department store in the 1980’s. Are they post-academia open-shirted or california-tanned with teeth-too-white: “I micromanage-myself-as-well-as-all-the staff”.

This visual stuff is while Instagram is so powerful – it captures a thousand words.

We need clues as to who you will be doing business with and the more info I get, the closer I am to a connection and an understanding. But not everyone is ‘open’ and maybe they are actually doing me a favour – telling me to back away from the fence. “Don’t look in, James!”

I have a friend who runs one of the ‘closed’ companies – there is grey blurb on the company and why it is great – but no staff profiles – no people story. I asked him why he does this and he thought about it. It was down to the dot com bubble days – when staff were getting poached.

“If I tell people who we have and why they are good – recruiters will call them up.”

What I hear is “The only reason my people stay is becasue I keep them so busy they don’t have time to look anywhere else for employment.”

My staff are resources, a number of FTE’s. Churn is expensive but inevitable – its really not a great place to be… a “Bleak House” – where the “War on Talent” is actually the war to suppress our own staff and just keep them reliable and efficient.

Engagement comes from eliminating substitutes.

At the other end of the spectrum you have the guys who are open – and say something good about their folks in “140 characters or less”.

The first time I really appreciated a company doing this was looking into Innocent – the smoothy company. At ‘school’ we were looked into the Innocent acquisition by Coca-Cola and I was hunting around looking for clues around the companies cultures and beliefs (Surprisingly, they are a good match).

On the Innocent website they listed all their staff – show their emails and super-brief bio. Friendly and relaxed as you would expect and there is no hierarchy shown in the staff pic’s – founders Richard, Adam and Jon all listed alongside the rest of the teams (with their emails).

Innocent also did a great thing that Ive not spotted anywhere else yet – they also have a page for the people who have moved on and left the fold. Most HR folks know that the way you treat your leavers sends out strong messages to the rest of the staff – innocent grab this principle with humour, warmth and transparency – wishing their staff well in their onward journeys – often literally – there are lots of antipodeans in amongst the West London workforce.

Its was all part of the Innocent story – it was the ethical start-up spirit they had.

Are you making it easy for people to work with you – being open and transparent?

Or is strategy about winning? Are you a Prussian General with lots of medals – demanding respect and scaring off the Talent poachers?

Here are three of my favourite Open Organisations.

37 Signals


And one a bit closer to home….


Its not rocket science – its a choice.

Which way do you roll?


Author: jameslramsay

Practice director at the ShelfLife project - digital by day, campfire by night

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