At many companies, culture is something executives talk about, but it rarely comes to life in the way the company operates. At LinkedIn, culture has become a competitive advantage. Motivation and work ethic are high. Feedback flows up and down without friction. Attrition is low. But perhaps the most fundamental benefit is that our culture makes us AGILE… when you’re growing this fast, you need your team to feel that they have a framework to act autonomously, and our culture is a huge asset in that regard.
Often times people ask, “How to you build a strong culture?” Here are a fairly simple set of rules which I think anyone can deploy.
1) Define the culture: Culture defines a set of behaviors that you want to nurture and reinforce. Get your leadership team together and start writing on a white board how you want your organization to behave. If anything on your list could be said by the majority of companies, throw it out. Keep the list short and simple, and then clarify each item with examples of acting in line with, and in opposition of, your culture.
2) Prioritize culture. You can’t create a culture without talking about it. Whenever we have a global sales conference, we dedicate time to talk about culture. When I meet new hires, I talk first about culture. You can’t spend too much time making sure that people understand what is expected of them, what your culture means, and how it specifically relates to their job. Phrases like “act like an owner”, “next play”, “members first”, and “transformation” are part of daily discussion at LinkedIn because we take the time to make sure the people know what they mean and how to model these behaviors.
3) Don’t sacrifice culture for short-term results: The reason that people hate “culture posters” at work is that companies rarely defend their culture when the going gets tough. A few years ago we hired a manager who delivered great results at a time when the broader team was not consistently performing. This manager’s numbers were strong, but his team hated coming to work each day. We let him go. We’ve held back many promotions from those that deliver top results until they showed that they could consistently live our culture and values. Sometimes top performers leave when they find out that they need to change their behavior to succeed and advance. Their departure is in their best interest as well as ours. The ones that stay, change their behavior, and thrive become some of our most successful leaders.
4) Explicitly (and publicly) tie decision making to culture: Whenever I express an opinion or make a decision in front of our sales team, I try to frame it through the lens of our culture. “Despite the short term revenue opportunity, we’ve decided not to launch this new offering because it’s not Members First (it’s not in the interest of our free membership).” One of our values is “act like an owner”, and we often give our employees more flexibility in decision making because we inherently trust that they will make decisions in line with the best interest of LinkedIn. Culture only matters if it changes the way you make decisions and perform actions, particularly when those decisions are hard… it’s important to make sure that your team understand the role culture plays in that decision making process.
5) When recognizing stars, celebrate culture and results on equal footing: While most sales orgs spend a lot of time celebrating huge deals and top sales numbers, we try to spend equal time celebrating cultural wins and sales results. When we celebrate “rock stars” at our monthly sales all-hands call, we ensure that there are a mix of people that have delivered huge sales results, and those who help their teammates around them succeed. I love sharing a story about how someone came up with a new selling tactic that they invested time and energy sharing across their team and around the world. Also, (and perhaps most importantly) whenever we promote someone, we try to explain why they were selected, and typically it is as much based on that person living our culture (and benefiting the broader team) as their sales results.
I believe that most people want to go to work every day and be successful, and they are looking to their leadership and watching people around them in search of a roadmap to success in their job. If you make that roadmap to success clear, and reinforce it by making business and talent (promotion, hiring, firing) decisions in line with the culture you want to create… your team will be inspired and be excited to build a fantastic culture with you.