As a follow up to an HR2.0 event in San Francisco, I recently sat down with Evan Wittenberg, SVP of People at Box to chat about their company culture. When Evan first joined Box he asked what the state of their culture was and the response was that Box Culture was strong, evident by the company's low attrition. He questioned this assumption; this was a trailing indicator he explained to me because if attrition suddenly rose it would be too late to take any proactive measures to fix things. As a way to establish a leading indicator he suggested measuring the company's growing culture with surveys. The initial reaction was that surveys would be too corporate for their start up culture.
However, Box ended up trying Culture Amp and have been using it ever since to measure employee engagement, manager effectiveness, and gathering feedback from those joining or leaving the company. They've distributed several surveys using Culture Amp in the past few years and have managed to scale rapidly with the advantage of simultaneously supporting their culture.
Here's an inside look at Box and how they've managed to sustain their startup culture atmosphere so well.
Jon Williams: Where is culture situated at Box? Is there a dedicated team that oversees culture initiatives?
Evan Wittenberg: Culture comes from our founders, it's very strong and very important here. Still, culture is not a museum piece, it doesn't sit on a shelf. I always tell people to participate. Boxers own the culture and make it what it is. At the end of the day, it's behaviors that happen or don't happen every day that make up the culture.
JW: When it comes to Box culture, what's your main challenge today?
EW: I care about keeping a coherent culture. We send Culture Carriers (long time Boxers who really live and breathe our culture) to start our new offices. We now have seven international offices. Our Culture Carriers hire the local people, they work at the new location, and model their behavior. This comes at a high cost but is worth it. The challenge as we scale has been how do we maintain Box Culture but also let new offices create some of their own local flavor? For example, our London office feels a bit more formal to me than our Bay Area offices, but people there think it's pretty wacky. As a rough estimate, the culture in our other offices [outside of the main office in Los Altos, California] follows the 80/20 rule - 80% of the culture in our other offices is coming from Box and 20% has the local culture.
JW: What changes in Box Culture have you seen since getting your survey results in Culture Amp?
EW: We use Culture Amp to be more thoughtful about growing at scale - as you grow it's harder and harder to get everyone's opinion. Surveying makes sure you're understanding everybody no matter where they are. Any company that claims to be data driven has to measure their engagement levels, manager effectiveness, and take their pulse. It's pretty clear it was valuable when we started surveying back in 2012. There were no surprises, only that there was variability throughout departments.
JW: Box has grown rapidly - what elements of your startup culture help you maintain momentum?
EW: One of our values is Take Risks. Fail Fast. GSD (Get Sh*t Done). [See all values below.] This has remained consistent. We need to acknowledge mistakes without blame and move forward, this is not a place where politics will cover your ass, that's what allows us to make change. We all bring the culture and look to do better next time. I have my radar up for anything that looks like bureaucracy and kill it the second I see it. At this point, we need process to scale or else we can't get stuff done. However, bureaucracy or process for it's own sake, is the death of an organization. For instance, a year ago there was a problem with the refrigerators in our kitchens. People were leaving stuff in the fridge and it was smelling bad! So there was a policy in the works that was aimed to prevent food from rotting - signs were going to be posted on fridge doors declaring anything unclaimed by the end of the week would be thrown out - without any explanation or exceptions. This policy was drastic - so instead I proposed we simply tell everyone what was happening. We needed to provide context for the community's sake. Don't create a policy to prevent 1% from doing something bad again - do something that encourages the 99% to do good. Don't constrain people with unnecessary rules.