Does Your Culture Match the Posters?

If not, talk about it or pull them down.

Every company has a culture. Whether it is good or bad, whether it is intentional or unintentional, that’s an entirely different matter. But every company has one. And I’m not talking about the branded wall poster culture that’s plastered about in the company’s cafeteria — I mean the deep in its roots, engrained in the cells, company culture that manifests in actions that are taken on a regular basis.

For example, the cafeteria wall poster culture may claim the company is quality-driven. This is a great characteristic; a favorite of technology companies worldwide. However, if in practice, the company signs up for every big customer deal, and agrees to timelines the customer wants, without regard for whether the engineering team can meet that timeline in a quality manner, then that company is not quality-driven. That company is sales-driven…no matter what the poster says. Culture is defined by actions, not by words.

Now don’t misunderstand, being sales-driven vs. quality-driven may actually be preferred depending on the health, stage, and/or maturity of the company. A new, lightly-funded company may need to be sales-driven initially just to survive. Even an older company experiencing some market-changing disrupter may need to be sales-driven for a period to recover their footing. I’m not suggesting one culture trait is any better or worse than another. I’m simply stating that reality is defined by walk, not talk.

It is important for company leaders to look at historical actions and understand the current culture and decide, with intention, if this is a culture that should be kept or changed. Either way, to build trust with employees, it is critically important to openly acknowledge the truth of today. If the company needs to be sales-driven, talk about it — most will understand even if they don’t love the choice.

But it is paramount to not preach one trait, and act according to another. People, especially engineers, have finely-tuned hypocrite meters, and this breeds a lack of trust that, while also a potential culture trait, is never a good one. Employees find it very difficult to follow leaders they view as dishonest or “just talk”. On the bright side, having an open communication about where the company culture is today vs. the desired culture of the future, bodes well for transparency, another wall poster favorite every company is talking about these days.

P.S. I’m also not claiming wall posters are a bad idea. Just do as you say!

Fearless and forever curious — a life-long learner, explorer, cat-herder, and engineer, leading software projects for some of the world’s coolest companies.

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