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September 24, 2012

The One Question

September 24, 2012

I met a woman recently who said, "I loved reading about SmallBox culture, but is it for real? "

I was a little surprised by this question. While our quest for a rich culture hasn't been effortless, I do feel it's very authentic. After talking with her, I realized she asked this not because our culture seemed phony, but because she hardly believed it could exist. This exchange provided a nice grounding moment, reminding me how unique it is to have such a fully-realized and embraced culture.

Which brings me to the one question that stumps even savvy, successful businesses.

I've had the opportunity to interview a wide variety of organizations with the overall goal of helping them uncover how to take their brand online - how they'll interact with others, what tone they'll speak in, where their current content opportunities exist and so on. Typically when asking this question, the company is a brand new client, just getting serious about the web for the first time.

"When you're not talking about you, what else will you say online?"
Sometimes the question is worded other ways: What do you care about? What else do you do besides sell x product? What we're really getting at is, "What's your culture like, and are you comfortable sharing it online?"

Frequent responses include the sound of crickets and furtive glances between colleagues. If you're asking this question on behalf of your organization right now and find yourself drawing blanks, think about some of our typical follow-up questions:

  • Do you participate in any networking groups?

  • Do you care about any causes or engage in any philanthropic activity?

  • Do you sponsor any events?

  • Do any of your employees have strong volunteer affiliations?

  • Do you host team building activities just for fun - a pizza party or bowling night?

  • Are there industries related to yours that you follow?

  • Do you have partner companies or vendors you can publicly tout?

  • Do you have any internal jokes that are suitable for the public?

You get the idea. Almost every company has something to talk about from the above topics that can offer a more interesting and robust picture of who they are. All of these things are the building blocks of a team culture.


What I find the most interesting is that while these elements or culture-starters exist in every company we encounter, many just aren't talking about it. They've got the stuff, but don't even realize it's there and certainly haven't made a move to formalize their culture.

If your company focuses mostly on sales goals, you might be asking, why bother with all of this culture stuff anyway? To this I would say, don't underestimate the motivating power of culture. As SmallBox worked toward emphasizing our own, something really cool happened along the way. Our culture began to shape the way we viewed business, which led to new core values. And those new values? They re-energized our whole team in a way a sales goal never could.


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