Who Cares About Corporate Culture?

Who Cares About Corporate Culture: My youngest son is going through the high school admissions process in New York City. For those who don’t live here, think about going through the college admissions process- but your child is 4 years younger, parents also get interviewed, and instead of one SAT to take, each school or school type can, and often does, have their own exam. So, it is a pain ☺.

I wrote here about how that process got me thinking about how institutions -including schools- are all over the map when it comes to their tech awareness. But there is another, potentially even more important difference among schools that my son and I were discussing as we were going to a recent school tour. That is the difference of culture. I told him that my experience has been that schools, like employers, each have a personality. On paper they can look great and tick all the boxes, but it is only when you get in there and start meeting the people and understanding the organizational personality, can you really tell if the place is for you. It is the culture that ultimately drives whether you want to spend every day of the next few years at a school- or a job- once the necessary table stakes are met.

It took me a while to understand this. When I was applying for my first job in New York, I was being courted by one investment bank, but I figured while I was interviewing I should look at others. So I pursued a similar opening at an equally prestigious firm. During the interview process at the bank where I ultimately accepted a job, I was impressed by:

  1. How consistent the messaging was from one employee to another about what it was like to work there
  2. How much they all seemed to like it there
  3. How much they all seemed to like each other
  4. How genuinely interested they were in trying to see not only if I was a good fit for them, but also if they were a good fit for me
  5. How clearly they were able to articulate the values of the company — and seem to genuinely believe it

In contrast, the interview with the other investment bank- although very similar in duration, number of people I met, actual job I was interviewing for etc, was notably different in

  1. It seemed that with every person I spoke with, they were describing an entirely different company
  2. They all seemed miserable
  3. They actually said nasty things about the other interviewers
  4. They seemed more interested in showing me how smart they were than in seeing whether we could be a match
  5. There were no company values mentioned

It was an easy decision to choose working for the first bank, where I happily worked for about 6 years. During my tenure there, the CEO quit and a new person came in. The company changed dramatically. That was my first inkling that company culture starts at the top, or perhaps more often is the case “a fish rots from the head”.

As the CEO, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to create the right culture both for today, and for the future of our business. Here are a few things that are key:

  1. Be transparent — creating a culture where people can be themselves and also are spoken to with honesty. No one is perfect but when people feel they can’t be honest about mistakes, that is when they try to sugar coat, or cover up, rather than ‘fessing up and looking for ways to improve. As always it is essential that this openness starts at the top.
  2. Make an impact — we all spend a lot of time at work, and we want that time to matter. Really matter. Working on projects that make the people who are working on them want to jump out of bed every morning to get back to it is the goal- and ultimately that also make our user’s lives better is what it is all about. We only get one shot at this life, and we want it to be meaningful for everyone who works at Pefin. Work isn’t the whole deal but it is a big part of life. We do this by really listening to people — our clients- which are the whole reason we are in business, but also listening to each other. Giving people a forum for new ideas, or expressing concerns. All of this is important and it is also where the innovation happens.
  3. Move quickly- Always being what Jeff Bezos calls a “Day One” company- moving with urgency to solve problems and figure things out is a huge part of who we are. Complacency equals squandering an opportunity, and there is no room for that.

Pefin’s core values reflect all of these points — and although we aren’t perfect at making this happen, we really, really try and we really care about the lives of the people we impact, whether employees, customers, partners, vendors — everyone. Why? Because with every decision any of us make, we have the potential to make the world a little better, or a little worse. So why not decide to make the world as good as we can? It all starts with our employees — so the “perks” of working at Pefin are designed to honestly create the very best work environment to live these values every day.

For more on how the culture of Pefin was shaped from the beginning, check out this podcast with Pefin founder, Ramya Joseph. You will be glad you did!

The article is originally published by Catherine Flax, CEO of Pefin on medium.com and is republished with author’s permission.

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