When I had the pleasure of joining the Bonfire team over three years ago, I was incredibly excited to help grow the company culture. Bonfire was already a special place, and I had been given the opportunity to help foster and inspire that company culture. At that time, we had seven employees, and since then, we’ve grown to almost 40.
As a leadership team, we’ve been challenged to maintain a thriving company culture while growing in size at a fairly rapid pace. A growing company means a constantly changing and evolving culture that you must try to keep pace with as a leader. I’ll share a few things that have and are currently working for us.
With growth comes change; it’s inevitable. Be open to it, embrace it. Change is constant. As a management team, we realized we had to embrace these changes and face them head on. As we started to grow, we realized we had to deliberately choose how to shape our culture, or we’d lose it. We evaluated what made our culture great to begin with, what had to change due to logistics, and what could be improved. For example, we started having monthly birthday celebrations rather than an individual celebration per employee. We invested in a new space because our former space was just too small to accommodate our growth. And we focused on things that were missing from our culture that needed to be added, like refining processes and creating more structure.
We certainly like to avoid red tape and unnecessary layering at all costs, but with a growing company, we wanted to implement clear processes across departments and a clear company structure. As a result, employees better understand their role in the company and how they best provide value. By establishing and implementing documented processes within and between department teams, everyone is more efficient and operates with rhythm. Ultimately, there is better communication and efficiency, bringing our clients more success.
Sure, the Ping-Pong table, fun outings, and the beer on tap are some of the wonderful perks we all enjoy, but is that really what it’s all about? When you come into our office, sometimes you’ll hear laughter, great conversation, and music playing. Other times, you can hear a pin drop because everyone is working away not saying a word. But, honestly, what we enjoy the most is when we have fun WITH our work. If you could be a fly on the wall at one of our client brainstorms or when our employees are collaborating on any number of projects, you’d see the fire in each employee’s eyes and the excitement in their voice. Don’t get me wrong; we love a good game of Ping-Pong, but what we love more is working on fun and exciting projects and working on them as a team where everyone plays a part. And what’s even better is the pride the team has when we see our collective work come to fruition, and we all know we did it together.
One thing our leadership team has always tried to focus on is not micromanaging our employees. We feel we hire professionals, and professionals don’t need to be micromanaged. We try to define clear goals and objectives and trust our employees to deliver. This has encouraged a sense of accountability among team members.
As a leader, the key to accountability is transparency. But transparency is tough. It’s particularly tough because of two key factors. One, as a manager, you can only be transparent about certain things. Some topics are confidential. Two, as much as you think you are being transparent, you can never be transparent enough in a quickly shifting and growing company. It’s hard to update everyone at the same time all the time. All that aside, however, when anything seems to be problematic to the culture or affects the entire team, we do our best to have an impromptu meeting, and pull the whole team in to brief them on the latest news. We also hold weekly meetings on the state of the industry, the state of the company, and overall updates. And we constantly ask for feedback from our employees. (Transparency goes both ways.) People want to be valued, respected, listened to, and involved, and they respect when you ask for their opinion and input. When we make major changes, we always try to ask for input first before making a move.
Clearly define core values
This brings me to core values. We have worked hard to set, instill, and exemplify clear core values. In fact, we’ve gone through this exercise twice; we originally set some core values, they didn’t quite fit, so we refined them further. Core values guide all of our actions and are part of who we are. They’re in our DNA. Here’s a look at some of our core beliefs:
- Applaud the self-starters, the go-getters, and the strong-willed. Bonfire’s self-motivated, passionate team is in constant pursuit of learning and growth.
- Push boundaries, but always with intent. We encourage employees to take risks and embrace change; we want to constantly be in search of the “why” and adapt if need be.
- Aim for perfect, but be honest if it’s not. Our high standards are driven by people who pursue transparency, accountability, and precision
- Do the right thing, even when it’s the hardest thing to do. We’re the antithesis of “the path of least resistance.” We work hard because we believe shortcuts are bullshit.
We try to balance flexibility with the needs of our clients and the value of collaboration. We aren’t a 100 percent remote company because we think there is great value in the face-to-face contact we have with each other. But we understand that, with the technology of today, our employees can work from anywhere. So we offer a flexible day per week where employees can come in or choose to work from home or a coffee shop. We also try to be sensitive around some of the frustrating things in life, like the unnamed cable company who gives you an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. window when they might arrive for service, or when employees are full of germs but not sick enough to be unable to work.
There is no handbook for how to build a thriving company culture. Even if there was, it would quickly be outdated because people and societal norms change constantly. You don’t know what you don’t know. Even if you think you are investing in your company culture, constantly seek feedback from your employees so you know if you need to make changes. As Richard Branson says, employees first, customers second. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.