Not every company is a model for great culture. Those in executive or People roles know that it takes deliberate action to achieve a culture that makes people want to come to work every day—and that makes them eager to stick around for the long haul.
Just ask Kathryn Minshew, Founder & CEO of Greenhouse customer & partner The Muse, a platform that helps companies recruit top talent from a diverse pool of qualified candidates by giving them a peek into what it’s like to work there before they even apply. Having worked with more than 500 employers, she’s learned a lot about what works—and what doesn’t—when attracting and retaining talent, and she knows that having a thriving culture is a crucial ingredient for success.
Even through a period of hypergrowth, The Muse has continued to maintain a strong culture, relying on the following 5 core principles:
1. Attract all-around passionate people
The Muse, like many early-stage startups, seeks out candidates who are passionate about the mission of the company. In the early days of a business, it’s important to look for people who not only get their jobs done, but who care about the health and future of the company and are driven by making it successful for the long-term.
But The Muse also looks for people who are passionate about doing meaningful, high-quality work in general. Whether engineers, graphic designers, or salespeople, The Muse hires folks who are committed to mastering their craft. Many employees take the time to do things like attend industry events and write blog posts about their field even when their jobs don’t demand it. These types of candidates show a history of producing quality work, and they’ve demonstrated their dedication to putting their best foot forward at all times.
2. Champion a teaching & learning culture
The Muse’s employees are a curious bunch! And this goes beyond their individual jobs—many seek out new ways to grow their skills and contribute to the overall success of the organization by taking on additional responsibilities outside their role and team.
And this culture of learning and growing is regularly encouraged in a variety of ways. For example, at one all-hands meeting each month, a team member is selected to present in front of the group something they have recently learned or are working on. Here, employees can inform everyone about an interesting aspect of their job, getting others excited to learn more, or explain to the group the steps it took to complete a recent successful project.
3. Enforce a “no jerks” policy
Simply put, you don’t want your people—especially the highest performing ones—to behave badly, or it’ll seem like this behavior is OK and tolerated. At The Muse, everyone from entry-level employees to the leadership team is held to a high standard of conduct and expected to treat everyone with courtesy and respect at all times; no excuses. As a result, time and time again, new hires comment on how nice and pleasant everyone is. The collegial environment is also one of the first things people outside of the company point out.
4. Be transparent all day, every day
One major key to showing other employees respect, Kathryn notes, is transparency. Kathryn and The Muse co-founder, Alex Cavoulacos, have aimed to be as open as possible with employees since day 1, but have particularly focused on it as the company has scaled. Why? When employees have a full understanding of how their work fits into the broader scheme of things and have visibility into what everyone else is doing—this is when they are most engaged and most productive. And those two factors are crucial for successful scaling.
Further, transparency can mean different things to different people. For some employees, transparency means running them through the company budget at a high level and helping them understand how it relates to their department; for others, it’s being able to ask questions about what’s going on in the business. To that end, Kathryn and Alex allow all employees to ask anonymous questions prior to the monthly all-hands meeting, and they answer them in front of the entire company.
5. Inspire great ideas to emerge
At The Muse, managers are happy to take input from other people on their team—or even another team. They recognize and appreciate that sometimes it’s the newest person or someone who’s further away from the work who will have the best idea—and they should be given the platform to express it!
As such, Kathryn and The Muse executive team encourage people to submit their ideas regularly. At least once a quarter, they book a conference room and allow any employee to come in and pitch a product or feature idea. In addition, The Muse hosts quarterly “hack days,” where people can actually spend time working on developing their ideas and sharing them with the group. (And many of these projects have turned into the features you see on The Muse today!).
As a result of this knowledge and idea-sharing, The Muse culture is known as being highly collaborative. Further, people are pleasantly surprised by how un-hierarchical the company feels—much less so than others they’ve worked for. And this ties back to the principle of attracting passionate people—Kathryn notes that when people feel closely engaged with the work they’re doing, their level of happiness and satisfaction is much higher.
As your company grows, Kathryn notes that it becomes more and more difficult to maintain your culture, so you must take more and more deliberate steps to protect it. It starts with adopting principles you want to stand behind, then making sure that your new hires—especially executives, who steer the decisions and direction of their teams—live and breathe them. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.