Your Culture is Being Created Now. You Might As Well Pay Attention.
I was doing a Q&A at a startup incubator recently when I was asked: “when is the right time to start working on our culture?”. I was pretty surprised. The answer is of course: you start working on your culture from the first moment you start your company, and you’re working on it right now, whether or not you are conscious of it.
An example (90’s edition):
In the 90’s, we used to visit Microsoft frequently. Almost without exception, we’d end up in a room where a young exec with a short floppy haircut would sit in a chair and rock back and forth as he stared at us, hard. He would ask rapid, deep technical questions with some aggression and very little humor. The execs were different every time, but the behavior was the same. Why? Because Bill Gates was an intense youngish man with a floppy haircut who famously would rock back and forth in his chair as he subjected his teams to direct and intense technical interrogation.
You’re Going To Get A Tribal Identity: Pay Attention
If you put a group of people together for any length of time, even a few minutes, they will start to form what we might call a tribal identity. They will start to agree amongst themselves, quite unconsciously “this is who we are”. Think of a group of strangers stranded at an airport gate. Very quickly the group will decide: “we are lost” or “we are helpless” or “we are heroes and we’re not going to take this any more”. These “decisions” won’t be made explicitly or with much discussion – they will happen as the people in the group pick up on the moods and intentions and characters of the people around them.
In a previous post, I stated that Culture is You. That is: the culture of your organization is largely defined by what you believe and value, and how that is transmitted through your actions.
So I’ve been bouncing along using my iPhone, iPad and Macs for years, and, like the proverbial frog in boiling water, have been putting up with stuff. I won’t bore you with a list of irritations — we all have them (*oh, OK, I’ll put one at the bottom of the post). I had workarounds. I rebooted regularly. And then on Monday I read Jean-Louis Gassee and found myself nodding in recognition — quality problems! bad design choices! — and the water suddenly seemed pretty frickin’ hot:
I’ve gotten a bad feeling about Apple’s software quality management. “It Just Works”, the company’s pleasant-sounding motto, became an easy target, giving rise to jibes of “it just needs more work”
It turns out his awakening was triggered by Marco Arment’s post which in turn started a general pile on (he later posted that he regretted his original — but the train was many miles away by that time, and gathering speed).
I have tremendous admiration for what Apple has achieved in the past fifteen years. The tech world has never seen anything like it, and may not for a while. Heck, the business world has never seen anything like it. So rather than putting our own boot in , let’s look at how this can happen, even in a very highly functioning company like Apple, and maybe learn some things about how we can avoid a Quality WTF of our own.
Establish in the Culture that Quality Matters
Easy to say. In fact, almost everybody says it. Executives love to say it (I’ve done it myself). Doing it takes work, and a real prioritization of effort at multiple levels of the organization. Here are some suggestions: