Here's that Meme we promised you.


Beyond The Keg

Presented at Develop Denver Conference on Aug 15, 2019 in Denver, CO

WELCOME!

This is what we’re going to cover today.

But first, let us tell you a little bit about us…

I’m Jon Liu, the Lead UI/UX Engineer at name.com

I’m Angela Daniels, The Senior Product Manager at name.com

We’ve been working together at name.com for over 5 years. This is pretty much a normal day for us.

name.com sells domain names, hosting, web tools and more.

And Yes. We have a keg.

We’ll talk more about Name.com later. But first, what is culture?

Great company culture means employees feel satisfied. They are happy when they are at work.

This is important.

Free Lunch, Swag, and Kegs don’t automatically give you culture credibility, in some instances it has a negative effect.

A bad company can hide behind their perks, masking the fact the the culture is lacking.

But if you already have a strong culture, perks can add more, like frosting on a cake.

One very prominent example of perks != culture is Google.

We’ve all heard stories about working at Google.

It’s long been known as one of the best places for perks.

In 2016, Google was named the #1 Best Place to Work by Fortune magazine.

And why not? They have amazing perks.

The perks were noted as being excellent.

But what is important is that when talking about culture, employees didn’t even mention the perks, only their interesting work on good projects with great people.

Here are some companies that are doing it right.

Hubspot.

They do some web stuff.

Hubspot published their Culture Code which drives the company mission and culture.

They are up front and forward with their commitment to culture, have a strong presence in the industry, and are always at the top of various Best Places to Work rankings.

My favorite thing about the HubSpot Culture Code is that it is a work in progress. According to their website, they have updated it more than 25 times.

This is an example of good culture in action. It is transparent, actionable, and iterative.

Any talk about company culture has to include Zappos.

They’re not a Shoe company, they’re a customer service company.

Tony Hsieh (founder of Zappos) wrote the New York Times Best Seller book Delivering Happiness, it’s about building Zappos and the relentless focus on company culture.

We highly recommend reading it, it is still very relevant.

They even turned it into a separate consulting company that will help your company with their culture if you need it. (https://www.deliveringhappiness.com)

By being relentlessly focused on company culture, Zappos has narrowed down and created their 10 core values that guide everything they do at the company.

It’s expected that every person at the company agrees to abide by their core values.

After new employees finish their initial training, they’re offered $3000 to leave the company. They’re that serious about finding employees who fit in and really wants to be part of the company.

OK, so there’s also some culture bad actors out there.

We’re not going to name names, but a certain tech company recently had a culture crisis.

Last year, their company culture took a major hit.

Doesn’t mean this is a bad place now, but they had a culture crisis and are in rehab.

There’s a certain ride-sharing company that has a bit of a reputation.

2017 was NOT a good year for this company.

They struggled with their culture from the early beginning, and now have a long uphill climb to try and change it.

We’ve probably all experienced some kind of culture problems at our workplace. When I was working in a data entry position at a large corporation, the bad culture made me miserable.

We were given 10 days of sick time per year, but we were automatically written up for using more than 5 days.

We were not allowed to wear headphones in the data entry positions just because the representatives in the call centers couldn’t listen to music.

My breaking point was staying up until 2am on Sundays because I absolutely did not want to go to sleep. Sleeping meant I would have to wake up and go into work the next day.

Here’s one workplace that missed the mark for me:

Company culture was demand more more more and take take take, until employees are used up and discarded.

Some quotes from managers and leaders at the company:

“Just because we give you vacation time doesn’t mean you can take it.”

“We know this is not sustainable, but we can always hire more replacements.”

My final breaking point was sitting in the parking lot staring at the building and wondering, “What if I don’t get out of the car and go inside? What’s the worst that could happen? Is it worse than being at work?”

Moral of the story: Be nice to your people, they are real people, not assets.

Phew, let’s take a second to breathe out all of that negative energy.

So back to name.com.

Between 2013 and 2018, name.com survived 5 splits, mergers, and acquisitions.

Now, name.com is a subsidiary of Donuts inc, which is owned by abry partners.

When you go through all those mergers or acquisitions, there’s going to be culture conflicts.

Culture clashes happened so frequently with our corporate overlords we had to make a Bullshit meter to keep track.

Sometimes, it felt like our company culture was under attack. Bad policy decisions were made that challenged the existing culture.

Deciding the fate of a company from 1200 miles away is not a good way to interact with employees.

Shortly after one acquisition, the HR Manger showed up for their first visit… and fired a bunch of people.

Every visit after for 3 years was full of dread, fear, and wonder of what could happen next. They had to preface every visit with “We’re just coming to visit, no major changes happening.”

The culture of our previous owners was one of disregard and disrespect for others in the company. It was most visible in the way the company handled meetings.

They rarely started on time, attendees were often late, last minute changes were commonplace, and meeting culture was overall in disarray.

One memorable meeting was when a manager from the new parent company requested a meeting with us to figure out how to integrate parts of the name.com culture into the parent company… and they didn’t show up for the meeting. They sent an email later asking to reschedule, not even realizing what they had done.

Even with all those challenges, our culture still outlasted all of those acquisitions.

Sometimes it was like being on survivor.

So what does it take to build a great culture that can live on its own?

This is how we built a culture that survived the dark times. It outlasts individuals and buyouts and mergers.

Of course, everyone on Twitter has an opinion about work culture.

And everyone isn’t wrong.

Culture is unique to the individuals that make up the organization, so it’s going to be different everywhere.

name.com is all about the gif and meme culture. Especially when gently shaming an employee who left dirty dishes in the sink.

The stream of memes and gifs ensued, it’s quite a good story.

You can see the whole thing on the name.com blog.

Regardless of what kind of office you work in, all culture should start with Rule #1:

Rule #1. Basic decency.

Bill had it right. Also, Party on dudes.

Treat everyone at work the way you want to be treated at work. But always maintain a level of basic decency.

The culture at name.com is so strong that we can literally pie someone in the face and be above that baseline.

Rule #2 - Know the people you work with.

Understand who your co-workers are, why they show up to work every day, and what motivates them.

Angela seeks to be known and know those around her, and has the support of everyone else around her.

Rule #3 - Be yourself at work, bring your authentic self.

We value authenticity more than almost anything else in our employees.

When the environment is open and welcoming to everyone who is themselves, great things can happen.

Our current Director of Engineering applied because of this video and now he shows it to all candidates during interviews.

Rule #4 - Work should be a safe space

One of the biggest mistakes made at name.com in recent history was when our Senior Software Engineer lost over $1 million dollars overnight because of a misplaced comma.

He continued working here for 4 more years.

Making mistakes and not knowing things is OK.

Rule #5. Listen. Learn. Support each other.

We do our best to identify and fix problems quickly and efficiently together. Our dev team helps our support team with a Batman model, being on-call for issues and helping the team along the way.

It’s a true team effort.

Great culture doesn’t happen by accident. It can happen organically, but you have to cultivate it.

It’s a fine line between overpowering and mandating a certain culture and letting it form on its own.

A top-down approach to building culture doesn’t last through mergers and acquisitions, and one person can’t hold all of the culture.

It begins by empowering everyone with the ability to drive the culture bus.

When everyone participates and takes ownership for the culture, it can withstand changes in leadership and is more robust.

Some employee-led initiatives at name.com include:

Harry Potter Birthday Party

Pride Party

Diversity/Inclusion training

Taco Bell Days

One example of how we did this at Name.

Nic wanted to host a Scavenger hunt. Half a day of running around Denver solving clues and finding hidden tokens.

He pitched the idea to senior leadership who could have said no, it’s too expensive, takes up too much time, not the right kind of event, or any number of excuses.

Instead they said yes and empowered him to do it. Nic planned it all on his own, and it was a huge success.

Now, it’s 100% employee driven and teams take turns planning it out. One year we even had a murder-mystery version.

It takes a small budget, just a few hundred dollars. It is one of the best events of the year and the most looked forward to by employees. This employee initiative is now a major part of our culture.

We just completed our 5th annual in 2019 and Angela’s team finally won.

We were lucky enough to capture the moment they found out they won on our security camera.

Sweet Sweet Victory.

Once you’ve got it. How do you keep it?

Don’t be afraid to let it change. It’s like a bonsai tree - you need to allow it grow but also shape it.

How do you shape it? Having the pulse of the feeling in the office and having the power to influence it when it starts to dip. Making yourself happy at work.

Examples: Ryan and his magic cards. Kittens in the office. Handstands, hula hoops, dance parties. Taco bell, giant bags of Doritos. Joseph’s candy station.

Each one of these is a new branch on the culture tree

We haven’t written them down anywhere, but we know what our values as a group are. Like a group of friends who all share the same values.

Corporate mission statements and core values usually end up being some kind of PR bullshit made up by a marketing department.

Every new employee adds more to the company culture. Celebrate those individuals and their interests.

When hiring, you tend to look for a “culture fit”, but what if you change that to look for a “culture add”?

One recent example of a great “culture add” is our Director of Engineering Joseph who was hired in 2018.

Before Joseph joined the team, we had a fun-loving culture that sometimes centered on pranks. our most popular company video on YouTube is a stream of endlessly scaring on our Director of Marketing Ashley.

Joseph, while also fun-loving, has added a level of structure and maturity that we did not have before.

While this sounds scary for a fun and loose culture, it has actually empowered us all to grow as workers and leaders.

We have more open and honest conversations with each other, and work together towards company goals.

Cultivate culture champions, not just the bosses and managers, but anyone in the company who cares about being happy at work.

Find those people and empower them to lead your culture efforts.

Timing is everything. Mergers and acquisitions are the best opportunities for major culture shifts in the right direction.

Our acquisition by Donuts inc in 2017 was an opportunity for us to launch name.gives, a charity program we’ve wanted to run for a few years but couldn’t get approval for.

Since 2017, we’ve been able to give away more than $25,000 of company money to local Denver non-profit organizations.

Everyone carries the torch, we all just want to be happy at work.

We don’t take ourselves too seriously, we value openness and honesty, and we hold each other accountable.

Finally, we try to stay grounded.

So kids, what did we learn today?

Get out of the way and let your employees lead.

Be a culture cheerleader, find a place to start and just go do it.

Build a relationship with someone - find your work spouse.

So we did it. We made it. This is the end.

We hope you feel like you have the right tools in your kit to make culture happen and keep it going at your workplace.

But, if you still aren’t sure where to start, we’ve got a really easy step 1 for you, something that has always worked for us:

Find a place to tape shit to the walls.