I have wanted to write a blog about the topic of culture for a very long time now. Because - first of all - I find it a fascinating topic. How do you explain culture, how do you put a feeling into words? And second of all, how do you build and scale culture?
"Culture is how employees' hearts and stomachs feel about Monday morning on Sunday night." — Bill Marklein
In my role as head of people and culture at Weaviate, I often find myself talking about creating and sustaining a strong company culture. During interviews, candidates ask, “What do you do to create or foster a strong culture?” And at other times, friends and people I talk with – who are not familiar with the people & culture space – ask what I actually do.
These are very good questions, and since Weaviate’s culture is so central to our business (strategy), it deserved some time to think about and reflect on this. Because it’s pretty hard to really get to the core of culture in a few words or to define specific tasks or projects that result in a strong company culture. Think about the last time you saw a great piece of art; it might be hard to put into words what exactly made it great. You know these things by how they make you feel.
Recently our second company trip took place. This time, it was in sunny Croatia. I was heartened to see lots of IRL evidence of our great company culture: Everyone wanted to make the effort to fly across the continent or globe to spend a week with colleagues. People left partners and families for a week to be together. During the week SO much collaboration happened. People were kind to each other and appreciative of each other's work. It became a tradition that we clapped for every achievement — and there were a lot! At the end of the week my hands hurt because of all the clapping (ha ha). Countless connections were made across teams.
It’s at the core of my job to ensure that people feel part of Weaviate, feel they belong, feel appreciated, and that what they do matters.
Achieving this goal calls for a mix of specific things—I’ve created little rituals that allow employees to highlight their colleagues’ excellent work, scheduled weekly coffee chats where we match employees up across areas, created a “life stuff” Slack channel, and organized company trips all to help people to feel connected and good about their decision to join our company. But there are less-tangible efforts that are equally important.
A lot of our culture comes down to making sure that we live by our company values. It’s the collective effect of all of us being kind to each other, helping each other to collaborate, and communicating in ways that are open and transparent. Yes, that’s a little fluffy but there’s ample research to show that a company culture- driven by values - creates an environment where employees feel supported, valued, and seen and appreciated for who they really are. As a consequence, they are more motivated and productive, and the effort expended to encourage a strong culture delivers very measurable ROI because, like members of a sports team, our team members make Weaviate’s success a personal goal.
A big part of making culture scale – or ensuring that we keep our strong culture as we grow – depends on our hiring process. During this process it’s so important to identify candidates who align with our company values. It’s not that we want to hire a group of people who are all the same; quite the opposite, we want to assemble a diverse team with new ideas that will enrich our culture and company. The best way to find those people – all different but also all fitting in to our culture – is to ensure that each candidate’s personal values align with our company values. That’s a very important check.
Next to that, since candidates meet lots of Weaviate folks throughout the process, we can assess in a less direct way whether they align and match with our people (and their values). For example, are candidates kind in their communication with our recruiter and colleagues during the interview? How do candidates talk when they share examples of their work; do they have a “we” perspective or an “I” perspective? Are they open about salary expectations or whether they’re interviewing with other companies? This is all important information to determine whether we see them working at Weaviate.
Although my colleague Ara and I are the only ones building up our culture on a day-to-day basis here at Weaviate, we’re obviously not the only people who create and sustain the culture. We rely on our co-founders and managers to lead by example. I regularly remind them that others will copy the behavior that they model. Culture is the ultimate collective effort; everyone contributes to it and in the end, it’s defined by our collective behavior—especially in how we act, and are, with each other.
I see the People & Culture team as the ones behind the scenes who activate behaviors that fit with our company values. The way we communicate, the way we interact, the way we stimulate ideas – those things all define culture. So we lead initiatives, but it’s not only us creating and sustaining culture – it’s everyone, because the culture is the people.
Another way to scale culture is to ensure that sharing our company values become part of employees’ performance reviews. This way, we’ll make sure that we actively assess whether people’s behavior remains aligned with our company values. Making this as part of people’s performance makes us aware and keeps us on our toes, too. People can be very good at their job, but if they’re not collaborative or kind or transparent, it’s hard to be successful at Weaviate long term.
We have a great product; working on it and contributing to it is very interesting, challenging and rewarding. I want all of my colleagues to take a lot of satisfaction in doing just that. But I also have a personal goal: That our people join and remain with us because of our strong and enjoyable company culture. The way I can contribute to our success is by helping to ensure that great employees want to join—and stay at—Weaviate.
I want to close with a message that our CEO Bob received. With all the —mostly—intangible work we do, getting messages like this is a great testament to the strength of our value-driven company culture.
Thank you so much for reading! If you would like to talk to us more about this topic, please connect with us: