By now, you’ve probably heard of 23andMe, the biotech juggernaut that’s revolutionized the DNA-testing industry. Though the company has its fair share of critics, one thing is for sure: 23andMe has experienced tremendous growth, claiming more than 10 million worldwide customers as of this writing. A lesser-known fact is how much its employees love working there. In fact, it was named among Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work for 2019. As one employee review stated:
“If you love the intersection between science and tech, you won’t find anywhere else like 23andMe. People are great to work with, company culture is AMAZING, intelligent but humble, great sense of family and mission between teams, and care of both our customers and our employees.”
That kind of employee feedback is priceless. It’s also not easy to achieve. There’s no hack or quick fix for creating company culture. It’s something that takes time, thoughtfulness and has to be done organically. And, as any founder can attest, there will be mistakes along the way, but that’s part of the process, too.
In growing my own company to more than 150 employees, here’s what I’ve learned about fostering an amazing workplace culture.
1. Hire for skills, knowledge and attitude.
Hiring is a crucial aspect of any company, and as it turns out, not enough companies think carefully about it. And the first step is identifying what you’re looking for in candidates. Skills and knowledge are two distinct factors to consider. Skills speak to a potential hire’s hands-on capabilities, the kind of thing that you might want to test during the interview process. It’s a given that each employee will acquire new skills during their jobs, but it’s important to see what they can already do. You’ll also get a sneak peek into their working process and problem-solving capabilities. And if they are truly interested in a subject, they will already be able to discuss it intelligently, beyond just the buzzwords.
Of course, a potential hire could have amazing skills and an impressive body of knowledge, but without the right attitude, they won’t make it to the second interview. In a profile of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the footwear founder shared that his company offers interviewees a ride from the airport to their headquarters. Afterward, they’ll follow up with the driver to see if the interviewee was nice, and if not, they won’t be hired.
It’s crucial to have smart, curious, friendly and positive people. They are the substance of your company’s culture. And once you establish that culture, you will continue to attract more good people.
2. That said, streamline the hiring process as well.
Nothing deflates a potential hire’s enthusiasm like a long, drawn-out interview process. What’s more, you risk losing a great employee if another company swoops in with an attractive offer. Author and HR expert Liz Ryan says companies should share feedback with candidates within three-to-four business days after an interview. Even if an interviewee isn’t a good fit for one position, they might be perfect for a future role. Don’t turn them off to your company before they even start.
3. Make your people comfortable.
Over the years, I’ve found that people appreciate having a comfortable workspace that allows them to truly enjoy coming to the office every day. While some startups go to great lengths — Twitter, for example, offers three catered meals per day, on-site acupuncture and even improv comedy classes — you don’t have to go that far. In fact, a recent survey of 1,601 workers across North America found that employees care most about the basics: better air quality, access to natural light and the ability to personalize their workspace.
Basic accommodations to make the office a more pleasant place can go a long way. Namely, a a clean, well-ventilated space, up-to-date equipment and technology and green plants (which add color, life and improve air quality). Oh, and good coffee never hurts.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth.
There’s a reason why Yelp and Glassdoor are so popular. People value unbiased reviews from their peers. Potential employees and customers alike are willing to do the research to help them make informed choices about where they want to work (or have dinner). Satisfied employees will no doubt refer their friends and colleagues to your company. Some of my company’s best candidates have been generated from these references, so we also pay close attention to them.
An internship program is another great way to create some buzz. To introduce students to your brand and streamline the application process, you can invite them to apply directly at the college job fairs. And then there are mid-career interns, i.e. professionals who are entering or re-entering the workforce and looking to gain valuable new skills. Once you choose interns, be sure to give them meaningful tasks. This way, they get to see your product in action and learn more about the inner workings of the company.
5. And remember, culture is dynamic.
“I especially appreciate this award because it’s reflective of our 12 years of effort to make 23andMe a place where people genuinely want to be and feel they can thrive,” said Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe’s CEO, on receiving Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work award.
To me, the salient point here is that “12 years of effort part.” Culture isn’t something that you establish the day you launch an enterprise. It’s something that you never stop working on. Occasionally, you’ll feel you’ve hit your equilibrium. Other times, things need to be nudged in the right direction. But as long as you’re continually putting in the effort to create the culture you want by soliciting feedback and listening to employees, you’re on the right track. And it’s more important now than ever, because your culture determines the kind of candidates who will be attracted to your company. The most competitive and innovative companies already recognize that.