Culture Is Invisible, So I’m Done Looking For It

I love working at SPARC. Maybe more than anyone. Really, feel free to ask my Team Members. I’m as big of a fanboy as it gets, and the people and culture are a huge reason why.

We, and definitely I, talk about “it” all the time: Culture. I’m not sure I know what that really means anymore. In fact, I know I don’t. There are thousands of blog posts about it, and one those writers may actually know – but not me.

I do know that the people who call SPARC home are a big part of why so many of us thrive there. It may be the only part that really matters. Other companies that put a focus on their people see the same results – and it’s these relationships that really matter in business.

Awesome People Like Working with Awesome People

It’s true: The love you take is equal to the love you make. If you put enough like-minded brilliant people together, with a healthy dose of everyone loving what they do, you’ve pretty much got yourself a Beatles or Lil Wayne song. Either way, that’s a win – for each other, and for your company.

There is nothing more important than hiring a group of awesome people who genuinely like being together. Who LOVE being together. This will always be one of the best strategies a company can have. Period.

We Talk About Stuff Like It’s the Culture

When my days are done at SPARC, I won’t remember the ping-pong table, the couches, or the bikes – they’ll just be props in the epicness that was my experience here. It’s all just stuff. It’s hard to separate the stuff, the evidence, from the culture itself; from the people who put it all there.

I’m starting to see how real relationships, real feelings, and real involvement can make a business run better. Dare I call it intimacy? Teams that throw down, get dirty, and go through some s%!t are going to perform better, and probably have a better time doing it. That has nothing to do with stuff.  When times got tough for my team, we closed ranks, solved problems, and celebrated getting through it; because we did it together. We didn’t need the nerf darts or the free coffee – just each other.

So like music, a company’s true culture is a song that cannot be seen. Like both smiles and mathematics, it’s is the same in every language. And it’s not what holds us together, it’s what we grab onto to keep us from spinning apart. Maybe these feelings, these relationships, are what company culture really is.

Owning What You Can’t See

Make fun all you want, at the end of the day you walk into that office each morning because of the experience you’ve built around each other. Yep, you’ve built. You own creating the work adventure you want to be a part of, and you have since your first day on the job.

When we talk about company culture, it’s often the artifacts and tangible evidence of our presence together as people: celebrations, core values, toys, traditions, or games; most of which can be chronicled on Instagram, seen everyday, or replaced via Amazon. This is not culture.

You can own stuff. I’m talking about owning your experiences, and being a factor. Owning those invisible things that make each other smile. Owning our very lives… and livelihoods.

If You Can’t See It, What Is Culture?

That’s just it – culture isn’t a what. It’s a feeling. A memory. A still-left-to-do BHAG. An inside joke. It’s a story, ten stories, and then a rewriting of company history. It’s a fist bump, a punchy laugh, and the way it’s super quiet early in the morning. It’s an attitude, a style, and the hop in your friend’s step. You can’t #nofilter most of that on Instagram, and you definitely can’t get any of it next-day on Amazon.

We can all work wherever we want to, even if we don’t believe that. True success is found when a group of people choose to work together for each other and their customers, not for the paycheck and an epic office backdrop. They make that choice because of those invisible things.

Your company’s real culture is invisible, and it comes from you. AND that guy wearing boardshorts and flipflops sitting next to you. Find the things that bond you to your Team Members, the invisible things, and you’ll find your company culture.

So I’m going to stop looking for it. Instead, I’m going to hear the melody of my teammates, feel the sting of their high fives, and taste the air of their success. Maybe my eyes can’t see it, but my soul sure can.

What holds your company together? Let me know in the comments!

Categorized as Business

By Chad Norman

Chad is a marketing and branding strategist, proven leader, speaker, founder, and author. As COO of Catch Talent, he leads day-to-day operations including finance, human resources, marketing, and communications, as well as directs all employer brand client deliverables. Prior to Catch, Chad was VP of Marketing & Communication at SPARC, he served on the senior leadership team and lead marketing and communication strategy across all products and services. At Blackbaud, the leading provider of nonprofit technology solutions, Chad managed digital marketing and online training teams. In 2016, Chad founded DisruptHR Charleston, a bi-annual gathering of HR professionals for a night of networking and Ignite talks. His book, 101 Social Media Tactics for Nonprofits: A Field Guide, was published by Wiley in February 2012. Chad has presented at dozens of industry events including SXSW, SHRM, DisruptHR, IHRIM, NTC, DMA, AFP, and BBCON and has lectured at Wake Forest University, Indiana University, University of Michigan, College of Charleston, and The Citadel.

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