Over the years, I’ve seen many tech companies make a sincere effort to create what they perceive as “culture.” But building a strong company culture is not just about pool tables and breakfast tacos; it’s more about fostering great relationships between people and encouraging them to excel. We’re honored that SailPoint was recently named a “Best Company to Work For” by the Austin Business Journal for the 9th straight year. One of the greatest challenges we wrestle with is how to maintain our culture while at the same time implementing the required processes that help us manage our growth. While we want to hold onto the energy and creativity that is typical of a “startup atmosphere,” we recognize the need to become more operationally disciplined.
Our founding team has always believed that the success of our company is directly tied to what we call the “Four I’s”: integrity, individuals, impact and innovation. I believe that three of those – integrity, impact and individuals – are the cornerstones to establishing a strong corporate culture and maintaining our overall corporate identity. And, because they are independent of scale, they represent values that apply to large enterprises as well as a brand-new start-up.
In our early days, we were able to put together a management team of executives who understood our vision and intuitively embodied the core principles of our culture. As the company grew, we knew we would increasingly rely on our management team to maintain that high level of integrity, which we define as “delivering on the commitments we make.” As a leadership team, we set the tone for the company. We know our team will be looking for evidence of how “authentic” our culture is. For instance, if we say that “work-life balance” is important, we have to carve out time to be part of activities such as company meetings, parties and volunteerism; we need to be there to celebrate milestones like birthdays and babies; and, it may even mean making it a point to NOT be the first one in or the last one out some days. Our actions regarding integrity are the key signal to the company as a whole, and we must walk the talk.
A core tenet of our culture is to always treat our team members like adults. It sounds simple, but in my experience, avoiding micromanaging or “clock watching” goes a long way toward building support and trust with employees. We strive to give our employees the tools and resources they need to be successful, then, we hold them accountable to meet their objectives, all without micromanaging. In our company, we refer to this as “measuring and rewarding results, not activity.” For example, this might translate into employees leaving early to spend time with their families, and then working into the evening after their children have gone to bed. We want to create an environment where our employees want to come to work because they are respected, treated like adults and have goals they believe are attainable. A positive, fun-loving, yet accountable work environment is a key factor in keeping our team highly motivated.
A strong team is the “magic” to making a company successful over the long haul, and each team member is a key link in the chain. We try to focus on hiring the best people we can find, which really comes down to the right combination of talent, commitment and humility in each person. We’ve come to believe that this relentless focus on ensuring we bring in folks who embody these characteristics is even more important than having a perfect corporate strategy. A great team can, and will, adapt to whatever comes along over time, but a team mired in corporate politics will not withstand the challenges well.
As entrepreneurs, we strive to creatively solve problems, build a great company and, most important, work with talented, committed and humble people. Building a company culture is all about investing in relationships and treating people with respect. When smart people work on intriguing problems, and they enjoy coming to work each day, they can accomplish great things together AND have a lot of fun doing it.
(Mark McClain is CEO and a co-founder of Austin-based SailPoint Technologies.)