Companies with resilient cultures have a much better chance at long-term success than those that lack this sense of connection. Importantly, the best companies in the world have a clearly defined set of shared values. Finding the best employees requires looking for values fit more than a cultural fit. While every company should thoroughly investigate their own criteria, there is much to be gained from shared experiences.
I have always been proud of our culture at Density, and for many team members it’s one of the key reasons for working for the company. After five years and dozens of drafts, we boiled down our core company values to the following: be humble, seek feedback, and always solve the fundamental problem.
These three tenets are the foundation of Density and guide all our decision-making. I wanted to share why we landed on these three and how you can apply them to your own company.
Encourage humility in both client and employee interactions. Humility helps organizations build a logical, socratic culture by encouraging self-awareness. Being open about strengths, weaknesses, and room for improvement is a ballast against politics, arrogance, hubris, and gamesmanship.
Humility is great for business, both internally and within customer relations. It helps employees build authentic relationships with customers, and one another. Humility encourages transparency about the capabilities of a business’ services, allowing companies to be open when they are not the right solution and making employees trusted counselors to their customers.
Humility wins business, it’s inclusive, it keeps us nimble and honest and it leads to high voluntary employee retention. This is why you should hire and fire around humility.
Company cultures that consistently identify conflict are more likely to resolve it. The first step to reaching such a resolution is feedback.
While some people believe feedback should be given anonymously, this approach is not constructive. In a truly open work environment, feedback shouldn’t be seen as an attack or a punitive measure, but as a helpful starting point to improve the company starting at an individual level.
Discreet and polite feedback, especially when given one-on-one, should be constantly encouraged in the workplace. Here are some phrases you’ll hear around the office at successful companies:
- “How can I be better?”
- “How can we be better?“
- “Have you told them that, directly?“
- “Do you have the support you need?”
- “Can I give you some feedback?”
Rapid, direct feedback gets ahead of resentment. It discourages back-channeling and faceless complaints, which are unhealthy and prevent open communication. Candid feedback strengthens the employee-to-employee relationships that are critical to our work, as well as improving clients’ view of our company. This openness encourages humility, trust, courage, clarity, directness, logic, and care. It is a fundamental requirement of a healthy, growing company.
Without an environment that supports feedback, individuals can’t improve, teams become blind to shortcomings, and the organization suffers. There cannot be growth without feedback.
Always solve the fundamental problem
While excelling at your craft is difficult, knowing how and where to apply your efforts can often be even more challenging. For that reason, prioritizing the most important task is the third tenet our company swears by. Some people refer to this concept as “first principles,” while others call it “focus.” We call it “solving the fundamental problem.”
To solve the fundamental problem, you must recognize what doesn’t matter. Through this process, you will know what you can safely ignore — allowing you to allocate all your attention to the most important area. This ability to understand what is most important comes from a combination of experience, good judgement, forethought, ingenuity, imagination, logic, vision and creativity. These are all qualities you should look for in potential employees.
Solving the fundamental problem means engaging frequently with customers, reviewing your services early and often and always experimenting (ask us about the story behind “Can we just put the damn thing above a door?”).
Every company’s product is a playground — engineering, design, devops, security, sales, manufacturing, machine learning, marketing, supply chain, logistics, and more. There are so many fun things to do and there is so much to learn.
However, this breadth of topics provides endless areas where you can focus your expertise, making it difficult to decide where your efforts would be most productive. This is why successful companies value people willing to invest their time in identifying the dilemma we have to address first.
These three values — humility, feedback, and intentional focus — have brought our company success in our field. By paying attention to these rules, you too can find similar success.