Jun 8, 2015

David Bizer is a pioneer in global Internet recruiting, discovering talent from Silicon Valley to the technology hubs of Europe.

He was the first European recruiter at Google where he worked for seven (7) years, and he is now one of the Partners at Talent Fountain. David has led recruitment efforts of more than 4,000 top-caliber candidates across the world.

He recently gave a thought-provoking talk about company culture, which was a part of the Innovation Nest start-up conference in Krakow, Poland. His message was clear from his presentation — Make Your Culture F*&king Awesome.

Why? That was what I wanted to find out, when I interviewed him. David’s presentation is not like any other, both his style of speaking and teaching are very “in your face,” which at the same time is entertaining and captivating.

That’s probably the way to go if you want to be heard. After watching his inspiring talk and talking to him, I felt that every entrepreneur and manager needs to know the impact and importance of culture.

How can most of the companies have the same culture?

He starts off his presentation by saying that most of the start-ups are going to end up in a graveyard. Luckily, the following slide was an over-the-top unicorn, which is in his words what every company aims to be. In order to do that, companies have to put in a lot of effort and time towards building their culture.

David Bizer
David Bizer

David looked into many European startups who have won awards and assumed they must have great company values and culture. Actually they don’t. Most of the company “about” pages imply generic statements like: “You can make an impact,” “We do fun stuff,” etc.

After showing about 4-5 examples, David quickly concludes that they are all BORING. Furthermore, how can all the companies have the same culture? How can they differentiate themselves?

The underlying problem, he notes, is that people don’t get it, they don’t understand your culture and it’s not their fault, and they don’t work in your company.

As an organization, you have to share very visually and physically what makes your work culture special. For instance, Buffer, an online social media management tool, discussed what words define their culture and put together The 10 Buffer Values back in 2013 when they had just seven (7) employees. David Bizer says that in order to make your culture special, you have to live out these promises as well.

The second of the 10 Buffer values states: “Default to transparency.” Well, Buffer actually posted their salaries online, which in David’s words is pretty transparent, right?

Why companies have to make time to build culture

People are the No. 1 most important driver of success in every company. In addition, if companies have a very clear visible culture, you will be able to effortlessly filter out the people who don’t fit.

But, the No. 1 problem in a small company is that nobody has time because everybody is trying to do 3-4 different jobs at once.

David has a solution for that as well. For example, the Google founders and CEO Eric Schmidt spent every Sunday afternoon talking about the vision, values, and culture of the company. David provokingly asks: “What do you do on your Sunday afternoon?”

He is not saying that everybody has to work 24/7, but his point is that you have to make time for building your company culture in order to hire the best talent who will eventually make your company successful.

Where to begin?

Talking to David, I quickly realized how passionate he is about culture, and I picked up some key insights on how to start building your company values.

  • First of all, make time for it – Sunday afternoons, weekly meetings, etc.
  • Secondly, get inspired. He said, the Netflix focus on a Freedom &  Responsibility Culture is a great starting point.
  • Finally, when you have all the founders in one place, start by asking the most important question: “How do we want other people to describe our company?” Furthermore, “How do we achieve that?”

When you have the right people working for you, a big part of company’s culture is how you manage and treat people. Again, companies have to invest in it.

Removing barriers to drive improvement

One way of doing it is having weekly one-on-one meetings with your employees. But on the other hand, most meetings suck, so how to make them constructive?

David explained that first of all, managers need to understand that they owe the employees their valuable time to help them in a proactive way. The best way to do that is to prepare for it is to check out what each employee has been doing and think through how he/she should keep moving forward. Additionally, managers should focus on how they can help to remove barriers from the employee in order for them to improve.

David also points out that another way to manage employees is to use a performance management tool that helps to keep up the productivity level of your people. David promotes Weekdone as a simple and effective tool, which, culturally, does a lot of things for the company.

Because David has a Google background, he especially likes the OKR system used in Google. He said that the main reason the OKR system works is that it improves performance and productivity throughout the company.

Simple ways to boost culture and performance

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear about Google’s cool work culture is probably the infamous massage rooms, free lunches, and other over-the-top benefits. As a small company you probably don’t have the resources to offer much of that, but David says that work culture is not just about perks and free lunches. Instead, companies have to provide ways for people to help them be more productive and successful in their jobs.

Here are a few realistic examples how you can make a significant impact on your culture:

  • Freedom to join new teams and projects — After a certain period, an engineer in Facebook can join another team and project for a month. It gives the engineers an opportunity (and the freedom) to see if they would really like to work on something else.
  • Building pride in teamwork — At Palantir, everyone who works on a new release gets a t-shirt celebrating that particular project. It is an inexpensive way to celebrate the release and it enables people to celebrate and be proud of their work. In addition, earlier release t-shirts eventually become collector items.
  • Giving welcome gifts to new hires — At AirBnB, the idea is that the last hired person is responsible for making the welcome package for the next new recruit. It is a very personal and cool way to add excitement about the recruit’s new job, as well as give them the necessary things to succeed on their first day.
  • Get everyone involved in training — At Google, they have a program where anybody in the company can offer training for anyone on any subject. It can be a crash course on making better presentations, excel tables, or even salsa. Such a platform is very easy to put together, and most importantly, people are able to learn and also share their knowledge with others.

Feeling the values every day

David summed up his presentation by urging everybody to create their own “Culture Manifesto” and work to help people feel those values every day instead of just having it on a wall poster.

That, he said, is a mark of a highly successful workplace culture.

Want more? Make sure you watch David Bizer’s full talk here.