Don’t listen to how the founders describe culture. What do the employees say? How do you define company culture in a world of tech buzzword bingo?
Culture is sort of a buzzword in the Denver/Boulder tech startup bubble and the tech world in general. You hear about these great companies with unlimited snacks, kegs in the office, weekly happy hours, Foosball and ping-pong tables, unlimited PTO and exotic trips—but do these things create culture? Some may ask, “How do these people get anything done???”
When I joined Swimlane in June of 2017, it was a pretty small crew of 28 people spread all over the US—and even a few international. There were 15 people actually in our small office in Louisville, CO, and we didn’t come close to filling that space. I had answered a job description for a Project Manager, and I remember in my interview with Cody asking about the culture at Swimlane. He was honest—as he usually is—and said “I’m not really sure. I seem to get that question a lot, but I don’t know yet how to answer it.”
A true culture happens organically. It can be guided but not forced.
Culture can be a hard thing to define, especially with a small and remote group. It can be guided but not forced. A true culture happens organically but within the right system. I was coming from an agile organization that had repeatedly been voted and recognized as a “Best Place to Work,” so I knew what good culture felt like. Honestly, I was scared to join this small company that couldn’t yet define it for themselves, but then again, that meant there was a huge opportunity to influence, guide and help build a great Swimlane culture that could elevate and empower our teams and ultimately our product and business.
Cody had already established a lot of the “typical” start-up perks—snacks, unlimited PTO, free employee healthcare and the occasional happy-hour, but as we grew, we needed more.
- We started having all-hands meetings every other month, which allowed everyone to stay informed on all aspects of the company’s performance, as well as recognize and appreciate colleagues for a job well done.
- We held our first full company on-site, flying in everyone—including our international staff—some of whom had never met any of their colleagues face-to-face before. A week of bonding, with some work, allowed the team to get to know each other on a more personal level and develop empathy across the company.
Swimlane core values to define culture: Punch above your weight class. Always be leveling-up. Have honesty and integrity on ‘all the things.’ Be happy innovators. What values help shape your culture?
- We created our Core Focus and Core Values and began to use them when hiring new staff, reviewing existing, and in our day-to-day work.
- Punch above your weight class: Do more with less. Work smarter.
- Always be leveling-up: Continue to learn and grow your skills.
- Have honesty and integrity in ‘all the things’: In everything you do, make sure it’s the right thing for the right reasons.
- Be happy innovators: Stay positive and think outside the box. You can make anything work. Embrace the freedom to experiment.
- We created an initiative for the year, set long and short-term goals across the company, made them extremely visible and asked everyone to set their own goals in alignment. Getting everyone on the same train with the same destination helped everyone understand why their work matters and how it impacts the business as a whole.
- We encouraged people to communicate in public Slack channels to make sure information was as transparent as possible across the organization. Communication is key!!!
- We made a point to have some kind of monthly get-together, be it bowling, a fun time at an arcade, or a nice lunch brought into the office. Additionally, we started quarterly group volunteering activities to get more involved with our community and allowed our remote staff to take some time to do the same.
- We encouraged our teams to celebrate victories with special swag, outings, or whatever the team needed/voted. It’s important to take that step back and enjoy the work you put in!
- We started a Monthly Employee Satisfaction Survey so we could understand where we needed to continue to focus to keep the incredible staff we had happy and motivated.
- We created Swimlane Day—our own holiday/day off in April to break up the time between President’s Day and Memorial Day.
Culture is more than free snacks and ping-pong. It’s a place of camaraderie, support from leadership and teams, a feeling of purpose and success.
Since I started, we’ve more than tripled in size and expect to keep growing exponentially. Is our culture perfect? Of course not. But, it will continue to be something that is focused on just as much as product and sales. I can honestly say we have some of the best people, and it’s because of the values we have that we were able to find and keep them. It is important to Swimlane that everyone wants to come to work every day and do their best work because they understand why they matter and how they impact the business. Culture is more than free snacks and ping-pong. It’s a place of camaraderie, support from leadership and teams, a feeling of purpose and success.