Tips for Tuning Up Company Culture

Chili-cookoffs, Movember ‘stache challenges and failed drug tests — the ups and downs of a company’s culture.

Aaron Stern

Google has become notorious for its laid-back corporate atmosphere — bean bags litter the company’s various headquarters, rooms devoted to Lego building promote creativity — and Derek Goldstein, CEO and co-founder of Md.-based integration firm Casaplex, said he has been to Google offices several times. The atmosphere creates engagement between of all employees, breaking down boundaries based on department and seniority.

“It’s a really open culture that I think is the future,” he said. 

So how do integration firms build good company cultures? Back up one step — how do they define a good company culture?

For John Steinhauer, VP of Global Sales at Whitlock, it’s a workplace that values, and is valued by, its customers, employees and clients alike — one that is both productive and comfortable.

“If you’re firing on all three of those cylinders and you’re doing it with compassion… you can create that perfect storm where your employees, your clients and your customers love doing business with you,” Steinhauer said during a panel discussion on company culture during the 2013 CI Summit in San Diego.

Integrators in the audience talked about chili cook-offs and fundraising benefits they organize as ways to promote social activities and make their companies more family friendly. Goldstein said that the thick handlebar moustache he sported during the three-day annual event was the result of a challenge from an employee to discard his typically clean-cut appearance for Movember, the annual awareness effort in each November to raise awareness about prostate cancer and other men’s health issues.

But it can’t be all Lego rooms and fun facial hair. A corporate culture starts with hiring, and potential employees have to meet the job description, and then some.

At ANC Sports, background checks are about more than just making sure employees can pass a drug test — though they are about that too — because the project management skills that are required onsite should also show up in their personal lives.

“We conduct background checks, drug tests on all our employees. They have to pass,” says Mark Stross, chief technology officer of ANC Sports. “I don’t care how good the interview is. If a person can’t handle their personal finances they don’t get hired.”

One integrator said that when his company began conducting background checks they ran into a problem — some of their best audio guys, guys who showed up on time every day, were reliable and did great work, were failing the tests with flying colors. Evolving laws on the legality of medical marijuana and non-medicinal marijuana in different states also complicate matters, said some — your tech might be fine if he can’t pass a drug test in Colorado, if your company is incorporated there, but he won’t be allowed on a jobsite in New York.

Other concerns raised included healthcare and the uncertainty surrounding the new regulations, as well as the bitter financial pill companies have to swallow. Aaron McArdle, CEO of Normal, Ill.-based Zdi, said that he has healthy, non-smoking, single 23-year-old male employees whose monthly health insurance costs will spike 300 percent under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Another integrator said he found a way to keep his company’s expenditures on employee health coverage level under the new law, but it required passing the cost onto employees via higher copays, more expensive drug prescriptions and the like.