Kathryn Minshew of The Muse: Culture Is NOT a Ping Pong Table

August 16, 2013

5:41 pm

Kathryn MinshewAt last week’s unSEXY Conference organized by 500 Startups, I had the opportunity to speak with Kathryn Minshew, founder and CEO of The Muse, after her talk on hiring and retaining Millennials. The Muse helps over 1 million business professionals each month figure out what they want to do with their lives and realize the steps they need to get there through offering career advice, job postings, and helpful articles, making Minshew an expert on how to attract great people to your company and what beneficial company culture looks like for both employees and employers.

As the Customer Success Advocate at 15Five, a company built around the premise of helping organizations build amazing culture through asking really engaging questions of team members on a weekly basis and sharing feedback on their answers, I jumped at the opportunity to hear from Minshew about what she thinks it takes to create exceptional culture. Below are some of her extremely important and intriguing key points on turning your workplace into one where people never want to leave.

Hiring and culture go hand in hand

Minshew made a big point in her talk to note that “culture is an incredible asset in the war of talent.” As it becomes more and more competitive to recruit high-level performers to join your team, especially in the tech industry, having an effervescent and clearly defined culture can be a tremendous advantage in building an amazing company.

Minshew advises that businesses “tell their story in a very compelling and visual way,” much like they do for prospective job seekers interested in a career at The Muse. “Allow your employees to be evangelists for why your company is awesome,” she quickly added.

On the flipside, hiring is a crucial and often understated factor in building amazing company culture. Since every person who joins your team affects the culture in some way, it is important to avoid making hires that are simply technical fits but aren’t good fits personality-wise for your team. Make each hire a building block towards the culture you wish to build in your company.

Culture is your company’s DNA. It affects EVERYTHING you do

“Culture is the DNA of your organization,” noted Minshew during our conversation. “It’s the principle on which you’re built.”

Culture literally plays a role in every function of your business, from recruiting to marketing to product building and team productivity. It radiates outward from the core of your company to everyone touched by your work. Just like Zappos’s culture of happiness and delight has become their marketing, hiring, operational, and service staple, your culture will also become the stamp placed on everything you do.

Minshew continued, “Your company culture is very, very hard to change once it is established, and just because you’re ignoring it doesn’t mean it is not being built.” Culture may be the only thing separating you from your direct competition, so it must be deliberately built and intentionally designed so that you and your team are receiving the best results all-around from the investment of your time that you put into making your culture exceptional.

Culture is NOT a ping pong table

Culture is more than the superficial and materialistic label it generally receives. “Often people think about culture as a list of perks,” explains Minshew. “Perks are very nice to have, but they aren’t your values and they aren’t your culture.”

Sure, ping pong tables are cool, but any company can buy a ping pong table, prop it up near the water cooler, and pat themselves on the back. At the end of the day, people are driven more by the people around them and the importance of their work in relation to the company than by superficiality or perks.

What exactly is culture then? To me, culture is the conversations that take place on a day-to-day basis, it is the pulse of your company, and it is the overall personality that the people and products or services provide collectively.

When asked about her company’s culture, Minshew laughed and responded, “The culture at The Muse is definitely quirky. We have a lot of running jokes. One is that I promised the team a baby giraffe once we raised our Series A. Overall, we are just a really goofy team.”

While you may not want a baby giraffe running around the office, don’t settle at purchasing a ping pong table in your efforts to create company culture. Design the unique culture that you wish to see in your organization and start taking the necessary steps now to improve and foster it.

Guest author Jared Kleinert is a 17-year-old tech entrepreneur who has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and TechCrunch. He is currently the coauthor of an eye-opening book called “2 Billion Under 20” featuring stories from some of the world’s smartest and most talented people at or under 20; customer advocate for the enterprise software startup 15Five; and founder/CEO of Synergist. Jared has been invited to attend and speak at various events around the country focused on young entrepreneurship, social good, and lean startup methodology. He’s always available at jared@synergist and @jaredkleinert, so feel free to say hi!

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