Out-of-the-Box Thinking about Corporate Culture

I’m always on the lookout for unique corporate cultures. There’s no “wrong” corporate culture, so long as three elements are fully present: 1) employees demonstrate high work passion, 2) customers are not only loyal but devoted, and 3) the organization is making money to sustain itself.

A recent Fast Company article featured Jon Stein, the founder of Betterment. The article describes Stein’s investment banking startup’s very unique culture. Titled, “The No-Hour Workweek,” the article opened with citing a powerful study from the University of Southern California, where a researcher shadowed over two dozen new investment bankers during their first two years in the industry. She discovered that 100% of the individuals she observed developed a stress-related physical or emotional ailment during those 24 months (!).

With Betterment, Stein is reinventing financial investing with a cool product, different ways of interacting with customers “on the go,” a values-aligned approach to business, and a nurturing environment for team members. Stein and his team needed to come up with a new approach to manage the demands of a startup business during a global recession while leveraging skills yet balancing needs of the organization’s workforce. Their solution: the “no hour workweek.”

Here is how it works for them. The team is in constant contact. Work is done in their NYC office or in planes/trains/automobiles or in cafes or home offices, as required. Work happens 24/7. Two-thirds of their team take customers calls at night and on weekends. Overtime is inevitable. To offset the stress of overtime, traditional time restrictions for work are eliminated. Staff get to leverage their best times of the day, manage partner/kids/health/social connections, all while getting needed work done with valued colleagues.

To keep the no-hour workweek from becoming all-work, all the time, four values are in place. They include:

  • Respect – team members respect each other and work as a team. Moment to moment, they balance the priorities of the business with the commitments & needs of their colleagues.
  • Focus – each team member, with their leader, drafts specific, measurable goals that are reviewed every three months. This enables autonomy as well as activity towards a common goal.
  • Environment – team morale is nurtured & fostered daily. Despite the options for working wherever, whenever, 95% of the team comes into the NYC office because they enjoy working with their colleagues.
  • Leisure Time – being on duty “in the moment” requires the discipline to go off duty just as quickly. Rest & recuperation creates energy, which creates creativity, which increases performance, which is good for everyone.

A “no-hour workweek” like this may not be effective in your organization. But – what tweaks to your corporate culture might boost employee work passion, or increase customer devotion, which then leads to greater financial success? Don’t be afraid to try something “out of the box.”

What about your organization/team’s culture is “out of the box”? What interesting cultures that work have you seen? Tell us in the comments section below.

Photo © iStockphoto.com/CDH_Design

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