Why it Pays to Put Effort into Company Culture

When building a company, it pays to pay attention to building the culture of the people building it, said MaritzCX CEO Carine Clark at the Utah Economic Summit last week.

Clark has studied building and defending culture extensively in her own experience, and talks about it often, including at a presentation in one of the summit’s breakout sessions. Clark also sat down with Utah Business for an interview on the subject, which you can listen to here.

“I have a passion for what we’re doing … and culture sits right at the center of that. I think not enough people pay attention to whether their culture is helping them drive their business, because at the end of the day, happier employees equals happier customers, and an employee set that’s loyal, that can thrive, will be ones that are loyal, that will stay with you. You’re making huge investments in this asset—you’re paying their salary, you’re giving them healthcare, you’re hopefully giving them really nice benefits—why wouldn’t you pay attention to how the culture develops?” she said. “I think too many companies just let things happen, they don’t pull out any weeds, they don’t really decide where the boundaries should be—they just end up having it.”

Part of building a strong company culture is reflecting on what things you yourself want and need to be successful, Clark said.

“As a busy executive of a fast-growing company, you have to be really thoughtful about where you spend your time, because you have things that are urgent, and you have things that are important, and so do your employees,” she said. “What we’re building is technology, but we’re also building people … and these people have families and dreams and things they want to be and things they want to do, so if they can be happy at work and see their contribution and get recognition and thrive, then that helps them in their personal lives.”

At MaritzCX, Clark said, the workforce is thought of as a “tribe,” which includes employees’ families, and she tries to be open to the whole tribe. By having a group mentality in that way, she said, each individual benefits from the strength of the people around them.

“I do care about them. I care about when they have illness in their family, when they have personal crises, because we all have those. Imagine working at a company where the whole fabric could lift you when you needed to be lifted, and you could lift people when they need it. What a wonderful place to work. That’s the way it should be,” she said.

Because the tribe is so vital to the company, change, whether it be from someone leaving or someone coming, can be hard, she said, but can also represent new opportunities for growth.

“Change is hard for people. I think whenever there is a change, you leave a part of yourself behind. I think that’s what people struggle with,” she said. “As an organization, you have an opinion of what you like and what you don’t like, and that will change as well, as your company changes and as your company grows and ages. It’s exciting, I think.”

When it comes to finding new people to bring into the company, Clark said she looks for workers who are self-aware and teachable, and can take feedback without getting defensive.

“They’re able to move quickly from problem to problem to problem and get to a safe spot—they don’t have to solve everything, but they don’t get overwhelmed easily. They’re able to just keep moving and stay directionally correct,” she said. “The Eyores of the world, there’s not a lot of room for them in my space, because they’re not really helping me get things done.”

Millennials, who tend to have a reputation for lacking loyalty to an organization, are sometimes looked at with a certain amount of distrust, Clark said, but she finds them to be great employees.

“The reality of it is your business will be better, because they will give you a perspective and be able to do things that other people might not be comfortable with. They usually stay about three years, so if you know that, you can kind of work around that,” she said. “They are wonderful if you pair them with a veteran, because then you can run a three-legged race very quickly, because the Millennial is a learning organism and will take feedback from the veteran—you’ve got to find the right veteran, though, because a lot of veterans think these Millennials are stupid, and they’re not; they’re just not aware, but you can give them direct feedback and they respond pretty well.”

Mentors aren’t only for the young, though, Clark said. All new hires are assigned at least one to help the new employee both learn the ropes technically and feel comfortable socially. This is even more vital when a company has a tight-knit group, she said.

“When you’re the new guy, it’s easy to be isolated. We always make sure we have a number of people assigned to a new hire, that they’re always invited to lunch, that they have a job at release parties—we just kind of draft and graft them in, because it doesn’t do any good to go to all this effort to hire a really talented, bright, capable person, and then not have them feel welcome or have them feel like an outsider.”

Self-awareness on the part of executives, and listening to employees, including asking for honest feedback in exit interviews, can help make the workplace productive and pleasant, Clark said.

“I think the best advice is to think about what you loved in your career, and also what you hated in your career, and then be a force for building things that you love, and look to other folks to see what they loved,” she said. “When we spend so much time at work, why not create an environment where it’s wonderful to be there?”