By: Ian John
In 2015, Datum held a high-level strategy session. The purpose of the meeting was to review the company’s ground rules, as well as define what our values, and our culture, should be.
This is what we did, and what we decided.
We sat down as a group and came up with a list of words, all written on Post-its, that we felt were most important for our company culture, and grouped them all together based on their meaning. Integrity is one that each of us chose, along with a lot of ideas that closely resemble integrity, i.e. honesty, trustworthiness.
My personal suggestions were: ownership, respect, attention to detail. I also suggested “lack of hierarchy” because, really, we’re not very hierarchical at Datum, and our teamwork operates out of that mentality.
After we finished, we eliminated the words and phrases that weren’t quite so important. We kept the “stronger” words.
These are some of them.
A speak-up culture
This kind of culture is one where someone makes a mistake they can feel comfortable saying “I’ve made a mistake.” It helps avoid a culture of blame, where employees are afraid to admit mistakes because someone will blame them, or fault them. In a speak-up culture, if someone sees something that can be changed or improved, we make them feel like they are someone who should be listened to.
This was the strongest expression of all the words that imply cooperation, teamwork, and collaboration–partnership conveys more meaning. Our focus on partnership behavior applies both internally and externally. We want to be partners with our clients in supplying them exactly what they need, they should feel like we’re an ally in their mission, not an obstacle. At Datum we try to work with people, not for people.
Like the others, “commitment” is on posters and motivational quotes around the office, and like the others it has to come from the top down.
Employees see how we act and will imitate that behavior, whether that behavior is laziness, positivity, or otherwise. We have to show by example. It’s not just commitment from employees to show up on time and do their jobs, but commitment also means us being committed to our employees, if someone has a sick child we commit to that employee. We commit to giving them the proper training and feedback channels. We must set them up for success. We should show our faith and confidence in the people around us by being committed to their careers.
I define this as The Mirror Test: If you make a decision, or do something, can you look at yourself in the mirror and say you’ve done the right thing?
This aspect of our culture should not be restricted to just business, but it should include who everyone is, both in and out of the office. The culture should spread to everyone with whom we have contact.
Our CEO, Ben Scott, has talked about this very often. There are always two sides to how we behave as individuals: internal and external. Our goal is that how we conduct ourselves to our coworkers, our family, and our customers, should be the same. Whenever someone meets with us, they should always get our “real” selves, no matter who they are.
We show our customers who we really are because we’re proud of it, not who we think they want to see. Our behavior is more important than the clean face we show our clients.
In the end, we have to trust people to make the right decisions. You have to rely on someone, micromanaging isn’t a viable path to success, especially when it comes to company culture. We need people we can trust and who can make decisions without us having to check up on them. That comes, however, with a list of expectations, and Datum is not shy about our expectations from our employees. Some of these expectations include:
-Always inquire. (This is one of Ben Scott’s personal expectations. We should always ask “why,” we should always challenge the question, or the assignment.)
-Never sit still.
-Always be learning something new.
Obviously they’re all closely linked, they’re all about not taking things at face value, and being willing to challenge and prepare yourself for anything; it’s expecting and wanting to challenge everything.
So, how well do we follow this culture?
Nobody is perfect. I think most people we work with at Datum actually share these values, they’re not imposed on them, but they actually live them and espouse them. We have people that have worked here for 20 years, we don’t really have high turnover across all our locations, all the regional cultures, all the languages. Because our company culture binds us all together.