Every company brags about its culture. But when you pull back the curtain, does it really walk the walk? Or is it just a smoke screen?
My Old Company
Company culture was the primary reason I changed jobs in January 2021. My old job had just laid off many friends, and morale was in the toilet. I sold all my company stock the day after the layoffs were announced. (Note: my 401K is very diversified, and the company stock wasn’t a huge percentage of the total.) When I saw the type of employees who were affected, I lost confidence in the company’s direction. Within a couple of months, I had left.
I made the right decision. Company morale cratered, and even more, people were affected by layoffs that were announced this past June. That round of layoffs affected a lot of loyal, “rock star” type of employees. I was stunned at the caliber of people that were targeted. The layoffs seemed incredibly short-sighted. The internal IT department had been reduced to less than a skeleton crew. The internal staff had been supplemented with contract employees, but they simply don’t have the years of experience that the departing employees had.
Culture At The New Company
At the new company, things are very different. It’s a privately owned company and not at the whims of the stock market. If the company has a rough patch, it doesn’t react by laying off employees – it rides out the storm.
The expectation is a forty-hour work week. If there is a big project, it might be necessary to work a few more hours – but the hours dip back down once the implementation is complete. Time off is granted pretty liberally – for doctor’s appointments, kids’ sports events, etc. The organization is much more results-focused, and nobody worries if you only worked 37 hours last week – they know that you’re a productive employee and will still be on track to meet your deadlines.
Procedures are used as general guidelines, with the understanding that there will occasionally be exceptions. When there is an exception, it is considered and most often approved.
My specific role is quite different at the new company. I am an IT Business Architect – very similar to what many companies refer to as an IT Business Analyst. At my previous employers, I had limited exposure to company leadership. There was always a project sponsor who approved various aspects of projects, but they were rarely very involved with the actual work. I very rarely met any of them in person.
At the new company, my role is considered to be leadership-adjacent. I have frequent contact with company executives. While the projects get staffed with subject matter experts who know the minutiae of the requirements, the executives pay attention to what’s going on and provide direction to ensure that the work aligns with longer-term strategic goals. At previous companies, it was common for project team members (including me) to have limited insight into the future direction of the company. This makes it more difficult to “future-proof” a system – to minimize the need to re-architect a solution in the future.
You can probably tell that I’m a big fan of my current employer. One area where we sometimes struggle is recruiting top-shelf talent. There are a few reasons for this:
- The company headquarters is in a small city that has several other large employers. There’s a lot of competition for limited talent in the local labor pool.
- The nearest metro areas are 45 miles away in either direction.
- The bulk of the company’s business is B2B (business to business), so it doesn’t have as much name recognition for similarly sized companies that are more consumer-facing
I’ve been doing everything I can to help the recruiting efforts. The layoffs at my previous employer affected two former team members. I made it my goal to get both of them hired by my employer. This meant that I had to convince my management to hire them, but I also needed to convince them to work for my employer.
When I learned that candidate 1 was affected by the layoffs, I started keeping an eye open for potential opportunities. As luck would have it, my department did a strategic restructuring that created a new position that this guy would be great for. I reached out to him, gave him some background on the company, and got his resume. The hiring manager was very interested and lined up an interview. Due to a backlog with HR (we were hiring many people), the interview was scheduled for a couple of weeks in the future.
In the interim, my friend interviewed with another company and got an offer. He reached out to the hiring manager to see if there was any way to have the interview sooner. The hiring manager had been so impressed with my friend that he had the interview panel shuffle their schedule and scheduled the interview for the very next day.
He got a job offer and joined us a couple of months ago. He jumped in feet first and has already been able to fix a couple of long-standing problems.
I’ve been working on candidate 2 for even longer. I worked very closely with him at my previous employer, and I knew that he was really getting beaten down by the daily grind. He was an expert on many technologies (and always willing to learn a new one) and consequently worked a ton of hours to get everything done. I’d been trying to find a position for him even prior to the recent layoffs that eliminated his job.
It was a shock when the company announced that he was going to be laid off. As I write this, the company is getting through its first day without him. I won’t be surprised if there is a major outage this week.
It was harder to place Candidate 2 because there wasn’t an opening that matched his skill set. But I kept sharing his resume with various managers in the department, confident that there was a spot for him with the company. I knew that he would make any team stronger.
Finally, a newly-minted manager reached out to me to ask about “this guy you know”. He was looking to hire someone, and one of the other managers had mentioned my friend.
My friend’s current skill set wasn’t a complete fit for the role the manager was looking to fill. However, he believed that my friend could quickly work his way into that role. He had another manager interview, my friend, for a different role, with the idea of moving him to a higher role in the near future. They could see that he was top talent and didn’t want to let him walk out the door simply because he wasn’t a 100% fit right now. The skills required for the job evolve quickly. Even if a candidate is perfectly aligned with the current needs, they’d have to learn new skills in the future. To use a hockey analogy, they knew that my friend had the ability to skate to where the puck was going to be, even if he was currently a step or two behind some other skaters (candidates).
My company is reluctantly accepting remote work for some roles. I work from home 60% of the time, while many other roles are completely in the office.
My friends were both going to push for a lot of work from home. One of them lives 70 miles from the office, and the other one lives 85 miles away. Neither of these is an acceptable daily commute, especially for candidates with other options.
Both of the hiring managers made exceptions to allow predominantly work from home for both of the new employees. While the company prefers to have people in the office, they knew that they were going to lose both of these candidates if they weren’t flexible.
Culture is important
What is the company culture at your workplace? What do you like or dislike about it?
Thanks for your article. Culture is so important. I’m jealous of you working for a private company. I’ve worked for my company for 30 years, and it was private at the start(owned by a well know Texas billionaire). Then we went public(and he warned us how it would go) and became slaves to the stock market. Then he sold us to another well known Texas billionaire and it got worse. We are now owned by another huge company and it’s worse still. The company culture is toxic, but my little niche isn’t terrible, pay is good, and I’m 100% wfh. But I’d take a 30% pay cut to be part of a better overall company culture.
I was thrilled to see an update from you, Kosmo. So glad your new position has worked out so well for you and you’ve been able to bring in a few of your former co-workers.
The company I worked for was family owned by a very kind and patient billionaire family. They were almost too kind at times and we pretty much never fired anyone as long as they were trying to do their job. Employees, including me, felt like we were part of the family. The seventy plus year old patriarch even rode a bicycle around the plant in the pre-dawn hours delivering donuts to all my union workers, can you imagine Elon doing that? Eventually they sold us to a very efficient Fortune 200 corporation that had a totally different culture. It was all about quarterly profits and stock price. It was like a professional football team. Loyalty was to the team, not to the player. If you lost a step or they found a better player, you were released, because that was what the team needed. I was running our company and that culture clash convinced me to retire early after just a handful of years with the new corporate overlords. I got paid much more, that was nice, but it just wasn’t as much fun in that culture that did not value individuals like our previous owners.