It’s the culture, stupid

“Don’t fuck up the culture.”

That’s the big piece of advice AirBnB got from a $150 million dollar investor in 2012. It seems to have hit a chord: two years later, Brian Chesky, one of the AirBnB leaders has written an open letter to the entire company to spread the philosophy and explain the logic behind the company’s unusual focus on the ‘soft stuff’.

Interestingly, Chesky points out that the time and focus invested in building a company culture is repaid in concrete ways (though he hasn’t included any stats).

The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous. They can be entrepreneurial. And if we have a company that is entrepreneurial in spirit, we will be able to take our next “(wo)man on the moon” leap. 

It’s especially interesting to compare this philosophy with the likes of Semco, a Brazilian manufacturing conglomerate that fosters positive company culture to improve their bottom line instead of investing the time and effort into developing and enforcing company rules*. The two examples come together to give me a lot of hope for a revolution in the way we do business over the next few decades, towards a more empowering, exciting work ecosystem.

Finally, the letter has a great reminder that while a company’s culture is important, it’s rarely urgent, implying that staff need to focus on culture even in the face of deadlines. Or, to quote Mad-Eye Moody, there must be CONSTANT VIGILANCE! for a positive company culture to last.


* I’m currently reading the biography of Ricardo Semler, which I’ll review in a blog post down the track. In the mean time, this 2007 interview with Semler on the 7:30 Report gives a good idea of the approach Semco has taken.


2 thoughts on “It’s the culture, stupid

    • Thwarted by the paywall! The part of the article I could access set middle management up as an unsolvable problem, which I doubt was the author’s point.

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