A successful company is built on an ambiguous word

A successful company is built on an ambiguous word

Over the past year, Thinker has been in a growth spurt. We’ve added employees to add more services, building on our core competencies. And we’ve moved into a larger building to accommodate the extra talent and to showcase ourselves better.

All the changes have led to conversations, some awkward, on the best ways to interact with each other as the company grows. The conversations are necessary because, as we grow, we don’t want to lose the company culture that Thinker was founded on.

Culture is paramount. It trumps nearly everything else. It’s also a word with a broad meaning. Culture is the intangible energy that determines whether people are happy, motivated, kind to each other, truthful, bounce back from failure … all the words that we judge people by. Hard to describe? Yep. Here’s a clinical definition of culture: “The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.”


Culture is what comes to mind when we say something like “it’s who we are.” At that moment, you are your culture, your culture is you.

At that moment.

The United States, the great melting pot, is a conglomeration of cultures mixed together. Each has its own holidays, its own framework for discussions, its own working out of emotions, its own beliefs. And yet, some common element keeps it all together – values deeper than the disparate cultures.

Companies are the same. Common goals, common values that form the reason we all stay here, working together, enjoying what we do and whom we do it with. On top of that are the individual cultures that each person brings.

At Thinker, we share a few common values. Everyone brought into the Thinker organization is greeted with a document explaining exactly what is meant by each. On those values are built the “do’s and don’ts” of the organization. The minutia.

Here are our values:

  • Honesty
  • Respect
  • Encouragement
  • Excellence

Why those? Because they are foundational, everyone knows what they are, and they build on one another.

  • Honesty: Builds the basis of trust.
  • Respect: If we’re being honest with each other, we can know each other’s true insights and treat everyone else as we would want to be treated.
  • Encouragement: If we’re honest with one another, and respectful toward each other, we naturally want the best for one another and should encourage each other to be better day to day.
  • Excellence: If we’re honest, respectful and encouraging, then we have the elements we need to do the best we can – our “excellence.” When we think “I could have done better,” then we know we’re not yet excellent.

The closing remarks from our Welcome document put it well:

“When we agree to be honest, respect one another, encourage one another and to be excellent, a dynamic team of individuals will achieve more than the sum of its parts. It will be a pleasure to work together, and we will achieve great things. I want to be that team, and I’m glad you’ve joined me in that pursuit.”

In January 2016, Entrepreneur had a strong article on this topic: “6 Steps to Building a Strong Company Culture.”

The tips:

  • Start with a purpose
  • Define a common language, values and standards
  • Lead by example
  • Identify your cultural ambassadors
  • Be truthful and always communicate
  • Treat people right

This is a strong list, but I disagree with assigning “cultural ambassadors” or “assigning an owner.” Everyone in an organization is responsible for the culture and is either concentrating or diluting the desired cultural qualities at any given time.

Anyone who is not on board with the culture should be given instruction on what it looks like (which shouldn’t be too hard to find) and if, after a bit of correction, cannot cope, then that person needs to be asked to leave.

Making culture is like making hard cheese. Cheese is made and then set aside … for weeks, months, sometimes years. If an error was made in the cheese-making process, an impurity could have been introduced. If it was stored improperly, the good bacteria may not mature properly. The trouble is, the impurity will not be found until after weeks, months or years of sitting. The cheese could be bad, and all the effort and investment wasted.

A poor company culture cannot produce optimal results. The effects of poor culture are sometimes unseen for years. So you need to trust that well-worn path of other leaders and invest in company culture today to experience the benefits down the road.