Culture is powerful. Its definition varies amongst individuals. To me, it’s about the environment I work in, and the collective worldview it creates within the company. I start by asking myself a few questions to diagnose the environment.
- Are the people I work with aligned with my values
- Do my personal values align with the company’s?
- Am I invested in my work, and the work of the company?
- Can I always ask “why”?
- Can I take initiative and create improvement in the company?
- Am I comfortable challenging the status quo?
Alignment of values is a personal, subjective sway, but it's a good indicator for being in the right place. So what makes a culture of constant improvement? And why is it so valuable?
More than a company
The defining characteristics separating normal companies from great ones come from culture. The right culture makes a company feel like more than a company. It’s what makes you feel cared about — that your personal growth is vital to the company’s success. Without that, we’re only there to collect a paycheck and go home. I’d like to say that’s okay, too, but I don’t believe that. We can always improve. And the best companies do.
Everything is an iteration
Improvement. The focus should be on making something better — for ourselves, the company, the users, and the products we’re building. Everything is an iteration. People talk of iteration in the startup world, but rarely is it put into practice within the company. It’s easier to stay with the status quo than to promote growth through iteration and constant improvement.
When the iteration is practiced within the company, it’s a powerful change. The products improve, employee engagement skyrockets, and individual growth coalesces with the growth of the company. Employees feel empowered to bring up new ideas, voice opinions, and find ways for their personal skillset to help shape the company.
Everything is an iteration, nothing is immutable (insert functional programming joke here), and growth drives improvement.
Growth through improvement
Growth is a result of an improvement culture deep within the company. And this isn’t only financial growth, but an individual and collective growth. The company adapts, evolves, and moves beyond its early aspirations into something greater. That foundation is built by a mindset of improvement, but it’s not the easiest path.
Growth is closely accompanied by discomfort. If we’re not uncomfortable, we’re not growing. To truly embrace constant improvement as a culture, we have to find comfort in the discomfort. In that same light, we need to embrace failure.
Being comfortable with failure
Failure is a strong word. It evokes negative feelings, and it’s harsh to think of ourselves — or something we’ve done — as a failure. To embrace a culture of constant improvement, we must accept that not everything will work. We will stumble. We will falter. We will fail. And that’s okay. What’s important is we learn from the failure, and create something better. Improvement is a marathon, not a sprint. Invest in it long-term, and you will reap the rewards.
Start with the foundation
Whether your company has founders, a board of directors, a single leader, or a flat hierarchy, it’s important to have total buy-in. A culture of improvement permeates throughout the company. If each member of the team holds that value, that value will flow through the company.
Cultivate a culture of constant improvement, and you will create a place to work forever. You know why? Because it’s not about work. It’s about growth, improvement, and the endless possibilities the culture creates.