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The Ultimate Guide to Company Culture Part Three: People Are More Important Than Profits

In part one, we made the case for approaching culture building as an art form. In part two, we talked about the importance of preserving a spirit of innovation. For part three, we’re going to take a look at why focusing on your people more than on your profits is the best strategy for long-term success (and will almost certainly net you those big profits as well). 

Satisfied workers who feel like they’ve got some actual skin in the game do better work than folks who feel disconnected from their company. That’s just a fact. A company culture that supports employees’ well-being and is genuinely looking out for team members is better for your company as a whole. Productivity will increase, as will creativity, morale, and a slew of other factors that contribute to sustainable growth and profitability. If you want to make money, look at your culture before getting too mired in any finance data or spreadsheets. 

‘Skin in the game’ doesn’t have to mean financial stakes (but those are absolutely the most incentivizing). If your business isn’t in a position to offer financial stakes beyond wages, it’s time to get creative, and this is where your company culture can really serve you well. 

While it’s always of utmost importance that employees receive generous compensation and benefits, of course, focus on what the experience of working at your company is like. Folks are pouring 40+ hours a week into the environment that your company provides for them. What is that like? Is it an environment they want to be in? What would make the environment better? 

A very simple, inexpensive, and easy way to engender some goodwill and enhance the overall experience of working at a company is to prioritize celebrating contributions. This is something we try to do at Kicksaw, drawing on the deep well of inspiration that is Doug Conant, former President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company. Over the course of ten years, he hand-wrote up to 20 little notes of recognition a day for individual employees. These were personal, specific notes acknowledging their hard work and contributions. In all, he wrote over 30,000 notes to employees across every department within Campbell’s, and Campbell’s only had 20,000 employees.  

Build the company you want to work for and get creative with how you accomplish this — the payoff will be immense. 

Your company’s most valuable resource is its people

No matter the industry, a company is ultimately made up of a group of people trying to achieve an outcome. Companies also have assets, of course, both tangible and intangible, such as computers, software, and a brand. But those are essentially piles of useless stuff without the people who capitalize on ideas, improve product offerings, and maximize the potential of all that physical stuff. Without your people, your company is nothing. Your people are absolutely your most valuable resource, and you need to recognize and treat them as such. 

In our hyper-competitive world, there’s a tendency to treat people like resources to be exploited, or like cogs in the machine. Not only does this feel pretty blatantly counter to the Golden Rule, but it’s absolutely the most ineffective way to build a sustainable, healthy company. Cultures that are exploitative tend to burn people out — a great example of this is Amazon. Recently, Amazon introduced a ‘time-off task’ metric to ensure that employees are as productive as possible. As you can imagine, micromanaging employees while they labor under exhausting conditions has led to a 150% annual employee turnover, which means that for every 10 employees employed for a single year, 15 quit. 

Not only is treating people like resources to be leveraged a method we take issue with from a moral perspective, but it doesn’t help your bottom line either. The cost of losing an experienced employee, one who knows your culture, understands your processes, and can anticipate what the business needs, is huge. Large organizations with a churn-and-burn mentality don’t just create chaos for the people they employ — they create environments that quickly exhaust the supply of available employees. Burning through employees risks plunging the business into a vicious cycle of losing your best people, performance dropping, morale plummeting, losing more of your best people, etc. Putting in the work to retain employees is absolutely the better move than utilizing their every last waking second at your company.  

Humans have more potential than any other species on this planet, but we squander that. We put them on assembly lines and dictate their every move. To what end? A few more dollars, ostensibly. But at what cost?

The best way to succeed is to be yourself

In its early days, Kicksaw didn’t have a board of directors making decisions or offering advice — it had co-founders Kyle Morris and Kenny Goldman. There are pros and cons to this, of course, but one of the most prominent advantages is that it gave Kyle and Kenny the freedom to grow our company culture organically. There was no interference from outside voices, and that was the way Kyle and Kenny wanted it.

Both Kyle and Kenny had worked for venture-backed startups prior to starting Kicksaw. Those startups were environments where doing the right thing for employees often took a back seat to growth initiatives, and this didn’t sit well with our people-first founders. When they launched Kicksaw, they set a goal to create the company that they wanted to work for, which meant creating a company that reflected their own values. Those values include concepts such as competitive salaries no matter an employee’s physical location, valuing people as individuals and not just for what they can produce, fostering an environment that embraces innovation, etc. This determination to stick to their values paid off, and Kicksaw is thriving, which we don’t think is a coincidence. 

Smart leaders know that creating value for customers and employees (AKA people) is what successful businesses are all about down at their roots. And everyone knows that originals are more valuable than reproductions, no matter the medium. When crafting your company culture (which creates value for your employees), don’t try to cheat and simply mimic what others have done — that will backfire on you because it’s inauthentic. You’re the only you, and people appreciate that. 

Authenticity as a company ethos is a cornerstone of success. When a company culture accurately reflects the true mindset and motivations of the individuals at the company, that authenticity becomes a pillar of strength that everyone — including customers — clings to. This company ethos sets clear expectations for both customers and employees. They know what to expect, and in turn know what is expected of them. 

Create a culture that aligns with your employees’ expectations

If you’ve made it this far in our series on company culture building, learning that the following statement is really important to us will probably not surprise you, but it is instrumental to the success of Kicksaw and serves as a sort of backbone for our company culture: 

As a business, you succeed together or you fail together. 

Although this is a straightforward concept, it can prove challenging to implement.

Before diving into the world of entrepreneurship, Kyle Morris was a US Army Ranger. His time in the service taught him many, many life lessons that inform his approach to leading Kicksaw (and inform his approach to life in general). One of the biggest, though, is that leaders should never ask a teammate to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. In the military, the strength of your team is everything — it can literally be the difference between life and death. Strong teams rely on and trust each other. Each teammate needs to believe, at their core, that their other teammates have their back. It’s the only way teams accomplish great things. 

In the not-too-distant past, managers could get away with more of a class-based setup to their businesses. They could separate the grunts from the top brass and still create a business that wasn’t doomed to imminent failure. 

But today, expectations have changed, and the world has become more complex. Decisions are made at lightning speed, and iteration has to happen just as quickly. To add to that, folks are savvier now — the Internet has broken information barriers down, and on the whole, employees have higher expectations of their employers. The modern worker expects to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace, as they should. 

And yet, CEOs are still paid 344 times as much as their minimum-wage subordinates. This is absurd and counterproductive — what motivation does the subordinate have to work overtime to enrich a few folks at the top? That sense of misalignment between the top and bottom is palpable, and employees are demanding more. 

Fostering a company culture that respects individuals and encourages a more level playing field with compensation enhances the overall experience of working at a company, which in turn encourages productivity and creativity, which ultimately leads to profitability. And it all boils down to valuing people over profits — when you focus on creating a company that benefits the people involved, profits will follow. 

In our final installment of our four-part guide to company culture, we’re going to focus on the value of teamwork. This post was all about valuing the individual members of the team, but there’s a lot to say about how to care for the team itself as well. We hope you’ve enjoyed our first three posts in this series — we’ve certainly enjoyed creating them for you. Subscribe to our LinkedIn to be notified when our next blog post is published, and in the meantime, if you want to get nerdy about anything we’ve discussed so far, hear more about his entrepreneurial journey, or learn more about Kicksaw, reach out to Kyle Morris on LinkedIn as well.

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