Building the culture of freedom and responsibility

What lets companies win on the market is a competitive advantage. The fact that in some aspect, some perspective, some segment, some niche, they can deliver better products or services than anyone else. 

As the world has started to change at an exponential pace, the source of this advantage has changed. 

With hyper-competition, almost unlimited budgets in the hands of the biggest players and the customers expecting 10x better experience for half the price, we can no longer rely on our products, services or even strategy to give us the competitive edge for years. Not even people are the source of it anymore. The times when people spent their whole careers at one company are way behind us and with millennials becoming leaders, the rotation is too big and we’re growing teams too fast to put people at the center of our growth.

Steve Jobs said that if tablets are to push laptops from the market, they’d better be Apple’s tablets pushing Apple’s Macs out. The companies that win are those who can adapt quickly, who embrace the change rather than fight it. Bring new products to the market, find new niches, grow their teams, build new competencies. In such conditions, the only way to make sure that the company can keep quality, constantly innovate, and grow at the same time is to build a very strong culture that naturally attracts the right people.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

In 2016, we decided we want to go big with Neoteric. We took a few days to verify our alignment with my partners – Greg Gwoźdź and Matt Paprocki. We knew nothing about building company culture but we knew it has to guide us through the toughest decisions.

We already had a unique company. With people making life-changing friendships, with whole families joining us, with people saying they love to work there, but we didn’t know why or how to keep it that way. The one thing neither of us wanted to see was our company changing into a soulless enterprise losing the family atmosphere and great capital of trust.

We named our values but didn’t want them to become meaningless buzzwords on our kitchen wall, so we translated them to do’s and don’ts that represent how we expect ourselves and our people to act on those values.

Then we failed at gathering valuable feedback on that from our team. And it was time to find some help.

Learn your culture before you grow it

I met Ania Jakubowski when one of our portfolio companies, SaaS Manager, was accelerated at MITEF. Ania impressed me with how people-focused she was while mentoring us and sharing her experience of leading Coca-Cola, among others.

I got the best advice ever: your culture is already there, you need to learn it before you grow it.

I found out that we are very well aligned with what we value most. I’ve learned that things we deeply care for are at the core of what our people see as the reason for choosing Neoteric over any other offer on the market.

I ended up spending more than 40 hours talking to everyone from interns to the board and stakeholders, asking them what culture means to them, what makes us unique and why they like working with us so much even though we are neither the biggest nor the best paying or the coolest company around.

Having that in mind, we started to implement processes, events, and traditions that would strengthen the fundamentals of this culture.

Building the culture of freedom and responsibility

We are still in the process. I believe that if you can live 100% by your values, you are setting the bar too low. Here are some things that we have managed to implement to support the development of our culture.

  • Offering freedom to experiment, to challenge the status quo, and find new ways of doing things, we learn from failures with post-mortem instead of witch-hunting.
  • Expecting you to take the responsibility for results, we empower you to make your own decisions, trusting you with your budget, hiring, and ways of doing things.
  • Appreciating the family atmosphere, we offer free medical packages for families, organize kids parties, and invite Santa Claus to bring personal gifts for everyone.
  • We share our successes and gratitude over a common meal each Friday (yes, it’s pizza, all tries for changes ended up with riots).
  • We share a passion for personal development and believe that it comes from constant learning, you will have your mentor and you will mentor others.
  • We make deep friendships and spend a lot of time together after work, you can expect team retreats, parties, pub quiz, karaoke, join our football team, play charity FIFA tournaments, join boardgames or hook us on your own thing.

It’s neither Zappos, trying to define your happiness, nor Netflix, focusing only on team performance. We are Neoteric. We make great software products, we are weird, and you’ll either love us or hate us.

Just like family.

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Written by:

Mateusz Kurleto

CEO. A serial entrepreneur, founder of Neoteric, SkillHunt, Appoint.ly, Startups Ocean and AmberHub. Experienced software engineering specialist: solution architect, IT strategy advisor, software development process manager, advisor at Startup funds and Business Angels. Follow him at: Quora Twitter LinkedIn

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