Personally Significant: Inspiration for Assessing Company Culture

April 01, 2014

Imagine a work culture that details how each individual employee should contribute – and expects the same contribution from everyone. Are you imagining a Stepford-like situation? That's definitely not what we're going for here. If you're already aware of SmallBox, you probably know we spend a lot of time focusing on our culture as a whole, but behind the scenes, we also invest time considering how 'Boxers can individually contribute to the mix.

How Cultural Contribution Works

We know that each person shifts and shapes our culture through their behavior and interaction with the rest of the team. We have existing cultural institutions that people can easily plug into, but we also have a lot of openness to new initiatives or activities that align with a SmallBoxer's passions. There's no rule book or step-by-step instructions, so it can be especially hard for newer team members. They're trying to learn new jobs, clients, teammates, processes – all  while figuring out how they fit into the culture. How do you help people understand possibilities and expectations on cultural contribution when there is no one size fits all approach?

Proper care and feeding of our culture is so important to us, we actually make sure it's discussed with one another at our monthly check-ins. In my role, I provide guidance on how we navigate these things, and I found inspiration in an unexpected place.

The Nonprofit Model

Nearly every nonprofit has one goal in common: to achieve 100% giving from their board members. It's a badge of honor that shows the organization has earned the financial support from the volunteers who know them most well. Many major grant funders even expect this before awarding funds to organizations. While some nonprofits require or specify a certain dollar amount they want each board member to give, many leave it open for personal choice. The language nonprofits use in such cases is the simple request that each board member give a gift that is "personally significant." For some that might be five dollars, for another, it could be $1K.

As I defined new human resources philosophies and processes for SmallBox, I wasn't thinking of this explicitly at first. Only later when I was sharing with my teammates ideas around developing individuals and choosing goals did I realize the origins of the "personally significant" language I was using.

Just as no one else knows what donation you're able to give, I don't think anyone else can prescribe exactly what your cultural contribution should be. Everyone has a different capacity to give, different skills and passions. Only one person can be the judge of what is personally significant, and that is you. Once you've set the mark, it's more pass/fail than graded – you're either doing something personally significant, or you're not. Through this approach, our goal is to inspire everyone to participate in a way that is personally meaningful.

Why bother with all of this? Every person in your organization contributes to your culturewhether they intend to or not. Their gifts may be purposeful or accidental. Additive or detracting. Having these purposeful conversations help people understand their unique role and keep cultural growth top of mind.

Does your organization consider individual cultural contribution? If so, how do you set expectations?

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