Organizational culture has become a buzzword recently in the business landscape due to the increasing amount of content and discussion being published about it (Forbes, 2017). For example, Tony Hsieh CEO of Zappos boasts that having a strong company culture is vital to a long-term enduring brand.
Defined as values and assumptions that are shared within an organization, strong organizational culture can increase business effectiveness when it is under specific conditions: it is aligned with the external environment, it’s culture strength is not “cult-like," and the culture itself is an adaptive culture.
I looked at a Victoria-based technology startup company called Ghostit, a company that provides automated digital marketing for small to medium-sized businesses through a blend of software as a service (SaaS) and people as a service. This local startup recently won the Douglas Magazine’s top ten to watch and was featured on the front cover of their magazine. As part of my mission to understand Ghostit as an organization, I interviewed Ghostit founders Kimia Hamidi and Rahul Bhatia on three concepts: organizational culture, organizational citizenship and corporate social responsibility, and work-force diversity.
In this blog, I will be going over the organizational culture of Ghostit.
A strong organizational or business culture means that the values shared throughout the organization and especially at the top are reflected and shared with all members. This goes beyond the stated values the upper management openly want people to know (espoused values), but it is reflected in enacted values – best observed through actions, decisions, and behaviors of the staff.
Artifacts are an excellent example of enacted values as they are observable signs of organizational culture. I asked Ghostit if they could identify any prominent cultural artifacts (items, stories or rituals) within their organization and what they may suggest about their company culture.
Immediately, they identified a hover board which was placed near the center of the office as an important artifact.
The hoverboard essentially symbolized their entire company culture Hamidi pointed out because it was an item that required high skills, but still fun and exciting.
“The reason why we are here is that it’s fun. It is also super hard, but hard and fun are not mutually exclusive.”
Adding to this identified culture was how informal their space and office set up was with an area for staff to relax in that was fully equipped with a coach and a gaming console.
Their office was an open set up, which emphasized the importance of transparency to the team. The founders indicated that conversations were “brutally honest”, and that transparency was important for company growth. To solidify this value, there was a large whiteboard that outlined company growth in percentages month over month and whether it was trending up or down.
“Negative trends help us talk about the why, and allows us to identify what needs to be fixed,” said Hamidi.
This notion shows that their culture is rooted in change, growth, and learning, indicating that they have an adaptive culture (McShane, Steen & Tasa, 2015).
Businesses and organizations can maintain a strong organizational culture by using the attraction-selection-attrition theory which states that there is a natural tendency to attract, select and retain people with values that are consistent with the organizations culture (McShane, Steen & Tasa, 2015). I asked Ghostit founders what key takeaway they would want potential hires to know and understand about Ghostit’s workplace culture.
Bhatia replied, “We are a team more than we are a family…, and our goal as a team is to win at everything we do.”
It is clear that the company upholds a competitive culture, and while the founders identified that they would help a staff who was struggling, it was vital for everyone to consistently be operating at “100% efficiency” or it would affect the entire team.
“We are not permitted to do anything less. We are in a battle every single day. If you want to play ball, come work at Ghostit,” said Bhatia.
Ghostit exemplifies an outcome-oriented organizational culture dimension meaning they are action-oriented, results-oriented and holding high expectations (McShane, Steen & Tasa, 2015).
Although the majority of their work is online, and their service is delivered online as well, company culture can affect the behaviors of its staff, which in turn shapes the direction the company will go in. I asked how the founders foresee the company culture shaping the company in general within the next few years.
They replied that the majority of the work would be remote, but there would be satellite offices similar to the one they were currently in for writers and workers to come in and used as a creative space if they need it. Ghostit primarily has a creative focus because the content is their brand. Wherever their writers or developers feel most creative, that’s where they should be creating the content.
The founders also identified autonomy as an important factor in this vision – they trust their staff to be performing. Communication is not an issue because they use a highly reliable digital communication tool called Slack. There is a definite culture of trust within Ghostit, which is reinforced by its efforts to remain transparent, and its efforts to provide autonomy to its staff.
Along with having a strong culture that still leaves room for autonomy within the staff, Ghostit is aligned with their external environment by providing a unique service that is needed within their targeted market and has proven themselves to have an adaptive culture.
Research shows that these satisfied conditions mean that Ghostit’s organizational culture will continue to improve, and projects increased business effectiveness and performance for their future.
“No matter how massive we get or where operations take us, our painting of the original Ghostit logo will always be an artifact that stays with the company because we will always stay true to our roots - which is to be massive changers of the content marketing industry.
We do things completely different and we will continue to do things completely different – we pave our own path.”
McShane, S.L., Steen, S.L. & Tasa, K. (2015). Canadian organizational behaviour, ninth edition.
Canada. McGraw-Hill Ryerson