Company culture at LinkedIn has a critical, aspirational component. As CEO of the company, Jeff Weiner was continuously asked about the company culture. As the company grew in scale, he had to codify culture so new hires wouldn't manifest a culture from previous companies. Words do have power, especially when you're laying a foundation for an organization like LinkedIn.
- So we had a shared understanding. I believe culture is the collective personality of an organization, and it's not only who you are but who you aspire to be. And the aspirational component is critical. If you don't have the aspirational component baked into the culture, what happens is you start to define the cultural dimensions of the company. And if you're not constantly walking the walk on those dimensions, then when the leadership gets up in front of the company and starts presenting the culture, people are rolling their eyes and they start cracking jokes about the fact that it's all kind of BS, becomes like a Dilbert comic strip.
When you factor in this notion of aspiration, it provides and gives the company permission to not necessarily constantly be doing everything that it ultimately wants to do. There's that aspirational component which is we want to reach and ultimately become that kind of company. So I think that's a really important part of it. I would also clearly draw distinction between culture and values, which again, some companies have a tendency to use synonymously. And values are nested within a culture. Values help a company to define its culture.
And values, for me, are the operating principles upon which a company and its leadership make day-to-day decisions. So there's culture and there's values. By the time I joined LinkedIn, at about 330, 340 people, there was an increasing demand for the culture. And the first time I was asked that question, I probably just made a joke, cracked a joke, like a Dilbert comic strip because at the companies I'd been at previously, it wasn't necessarily something that was of great focus, where a lot of energy was placed.
And as the CEO of the company, I started getting asked that question more and more increasingly which was, "What's our culture?" And as I reflected on why people were asking, I realized it comes back to the same concept that we talked about a moment ago which is nature abhors a vacuum. And when you don't have a codified culture, and you start to reach this level of scale, your hiring increases, the rate of hiring increases. And at some point, you're going to be hiring and recruiting people from companies that had already achieved scale. And they're going to bring their own cultural baggage from the companies that they worked at where they were inculcated and they figured out how to do things.
And if the company doesn't have a codified culture, they're going to start manifesting whatever the culture they've learned and they're coming with. This is particularly important when you're trying to expand globally and you're setting up new offices that aren't in the same place as the headquarters and you want to make sure that the leadership that's setting up the offices in these remote locations are good cultural actors. Because if that's not the case, they will set up the office with their own culture and where they want to take the company. And that's a very good way of leading to a bad outcome.
So, interestingly enough, there had already been an exercise underway when I joined the company, a bottoms-up exercise which I thought was really interesting that a guy named Arvind Rajan who had led our talent efforts. He was working on a project where he had identified a few employees and was asking them about values and culture. So when I got there, I wanted that work to continue. And I sat down with the leadership team, and we started talking about the kind of organization we wanted to be a part of and what kind of personality we collectively believe that the company should be manifesting and espousing.
And we wanted to make sure that it was the kind of organization that we would aspire to work at and that we would be inspired by. And so, there was a fair amount of time spent on wordsmithing and getting that stuff right. And words have power, especially when you are laying the foundation for an organization like this. With regard to values, I find that organizations that have the most effective values are those where the leadership, the founders, they are using as values the things they find themselves, the mantras they find themselves using most often.
Because what's critical in terms of manifesting culture and values is walking the walk. So it's easy to talk about this stuff. It's easy to paint your walls with your culture and values and hand out mousepads and those laminated cards you stick in your wallet. But at the end of the day, if the leadership of the organization is not modeling this behavior, if you're not recruiting people against your culture and values, on-boarding against it, developing your talent against it, and evaluating performance against it, that stuff's really not worth the paper it's printed on.
And so, you want to make sure that you've got buy-in from your leadership, that they believe in it, that they're going to model the behavior, that they're reinforcing it. And you also have buy-in from your broader employee base that also feels like they were a part of defining that culture and defining those values.
- Defining the vision
- Fostering a healthy culture
- Growing a leadership team
- Planning with critical mass and scale in mind
- Coaching others to be able to solve problems
- Evolving communication strategies
- Maintaining focus during change
- Hiring smart at scale
- Empowering talented people