A Vision for Culture Over Cash
From the very beginning, Wolf & Key co-founders Adam and Taylor knew that, above all else, they wanted the culture of their business to be their main focus.
That seems counterintuitive in today’s business market. But, after a solid three years, what we’ve seen over and over is that culture will always be the most compelling thing about a company. It’s how we’ve achieved everything from becoming a Google Premier Partner to having the coolest group of employees in town (see above image. How badass does that Wolf Pack look?).
But how do you practically focus on business culture? How do you actually figure out how to build the culture of your business? And why, really, does it actually matter that much? We’ve decided to let Adam and Taylor speak for themselves on this one. So check out what they have to say below.
Q: How would you define the “culture of business”?
Adam: Culture begins with how you do business. But it quickly trickles down to how a team operates on an individual level on a daily basis. Your philosophy on how you treat clients, who your customers are, and what it’s like to work at your company all dictate your culture. It can be shown with bean bag chairs on the surface, but the meat of company culture is in how the people in it operate and treat each other and how customers are treated.
Taylor: The culture of a business has to do mostly with people and the feel of your company. When we talk about the culture of Wolf & Key, we’re talking about our employees and the type of environment we build for them. As a company, we chose to focus more on making our employees feel valued and being there for them when they need us, instead of pressing the bottom line and numbers. To be clear, we take our work seriously and we have bars to measure up to. We’re not about to sacrifice quality, but we just choose to achieve that quality differently. For example: right now it’s a tuesday afternoon. Adam’s desk is wrapped in toilet paper and there are bottles of alcohol on 50% of our desks, but everyone’s still sitting here getting their work done and checking off their tasks.
Q: Why is the culture of WK important to you?
Adam: I’ve never been interested in owning a business just for the sake of doing business and making money. The only way for me to feel like I made a lasting impact is to create a way for people around me to thrive. An awesome culture here is vital to me because it will have impact on my life and my happiness for sure, but it will also start to create a ripple effect in the lives of the people who work here and the business owners we interact with. I care about the long term goal of seeing people thrive, using the tools I have to offer now.
Taylor: It’s probably the most important thing to me. The culture of your company defines the business. Through the work completed, through the happiness of the team, through quality of life really. We value quality of life over everything and anything. That’s why culture is essential.
Q: How does defining your culture and striving toward that change your company?
Adam: One thing I’ve learned with time and experience is that most businesses operate at about 65% of their potential. It’s a bummer. You can go into any business and talk with the front desk person and immediately get a sense of how things are done there. Is the owner a micromanager? Do managers empower, encourage, and trust in their employees so that they actually want to do what’s best for the company as a whole? Does anyone in management care about the quality of life, at least at work, of their employees? If you can be proud of the answer to these questions, you’ll see a team of people that start working together, giving their best, speaking up when something needs changing, and even making personal sacrifices (like working late) for the good of the company. A healthy culture creates a better environment for people, and therefore business, and that will always bump you closer to 100%.
Taylor: Well, not only does it improve the quality of work, it creates an atmosphere where everyone is working together, and loves working together. It adds a drive to our team that is unmatched by a person just going through the motions at their job/career. Defining your culture shows the heart of your business. If you’re putting your team above everything else, then everything else will flourish. But it starts with the team.
Q: How did you go about imagining then building the culture of WK? What steps did you take as founders?
Adam: At the beginning, we talked about what it would look like to be a place where people said “That’s a great place, I want to work there” or “That’s a unique company, I want to work with them”. We started at the ground level, recruiting people who, more than being the most talented in whatever skill set we needed at the time, were team players, passionate, and not afraid to get their hands dirty. They had to be flexible. Teachable. They had to be the kind of people who go out of their way to help a coworker accomplish something. Other things came into play too, like cacti and whiskey cabinets in the office. But they could never be the sustaining part. We defined our people first, and grew outwardly from there into the way we interact with the public and our clients.
Taylor: Our goal was to create a work environment that attracted people. Ourselves of course, but just what people deserved and wanted. Our policies were based off of what would benefit the lives of our team the most. “We expect an honest 40” – is what we say about when to get to the office. “As long as everything gets done – take as much time as you want!” – is what we say about our vacation policy. These are just a few examples, but we try to be as forward thinking as possible. We have a business to run, but one honestly doesn’t even need to worry about the business running when you have a defined culture that has the goal of quality of life.
Q: How do you keep expectations and quality of work high while maintaining the culture you want? Does having a good culture in your business mean that everyone just gets to do what they want?
Adam: We’re flexible with our team, and we make sure that work is enjoyable and even fun as much as we can. After hours dinners, office outings, etc. But we have to push at the the same time, making sure deadlines are met and work is done well. The beauty of it is that it’s easier to push people to a higher level when you throw in the fun and empowering stuff first.
Taylor: Yes and no actually. Yes the employees can do whatever they want, as long as the deadlines are being met, and the clients are happy. Like I said above, we expect an honest 40 out of our employees. There’s no defined 9-5 hours. If you’re getting your stuff done, come and go as you please. We have a goal that everyone is familiar with, how we get there is up to you, as long as we get there.
Q: What affect do the employees of WK have on the culture?
Adam: Employees here create our culture to a large extent. We let them decorate their desks how they want, wear what they want, and be who they are at work. There’s no substitute for character when you talk about people impacting company culture. The core of who someone is has to align with who we are as the Wolf Pack. Selflessness, passion, quality oriented, and teachable. We hope to hire the kind of people who take their best selves and create our culture for us.
Taylor: Everything. Our team is our culture. When you have the right people in place you witness magic happening. People actually enjoy coming to work, interacting with their peers, and showing that they are experts at what they do. We love the creative type, we love the A type, everyone has something different they can bring to the table, we know and value that. It’s really obvious if you have someone that doesn’t belong. It’ll be in the attitude, the quality of their work, and their interactions with their peers.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced in terms of building the culture of Wolf & Key?
Adam: It takes effort and time and energy and money to maintain culture. Maybe the best way to say it is: it takes consistency. We have to buy bean bags and whiskey, but we also have to invest and support your team on a daily basis, providing the tools they need to succeed so that WE succeed as a whole. We have to lead by example, showing up on days when we don’t need to be in the office at all. We have to go out of our way as leaders to create the type of environment where who we are is evident and inspirational. It takes daily work, it takes Hows Your Heart meetings with each employee, and it takes motivation. The biggest challenge is staying in front of that process. It’s a standard most companies don’t even try to maintain, but we have a different goal in mind than most companies.
Taylor: I’d say figuring out who was the wrong fit was the hardest. Because unfortunately, you don’t really know until it’s too obvious in some cases. You’ll feel the tension with someone that doesn’t fit with you or the team. It’s never fun to fire anyone, but if it preserves your culture, you owe it to your team preserve that.
Q: When did you guys realize that you had achieved the type of culture you wanted for WK?
Adam: It’s not the type of thing that you ever fully reach. By definition, we want our culture to be one of growth and prosperity, so that means we are only satisfied if we’re making progress and moving forward together.
Taylor: I don’t know that I’ve had that realization yet, culture is something i’m constantly striving for. Rewarding our team in every way we can, helping our team in every way I can, and seeing people’s amazing talents in action.
What are your thoughts on culture and how to build the culture of your business? Let us know in the comments!