Culture: Out of the Petri Dish and Into Your Company

Way back in my Biology 101 days, I used to think that culture was something you grew on agar in the lab, rather than something that grew in the hearts and souls of your employees. But now I know the difference.

PentaSafe Securities Technologies Inc. is a large-thinking business headquartered in Houston. Recently, when it went out to raise a second round of capital funding for company expansion, it found that even in these difficult times, it had more investors wanting to participate in its offering than it could possibly ever accommodate. And the reason for this strong interest in the company had just as much to do with the culture of the company as with the quality of its products.

Now, let’s take a moment and play word association.

Motivation. Mission. Determination. Passion. Commitment. Direction. Challenge. Change. Vision. Destiny. PASSION. Character. Style.

What do these words mean to you? And how are they embodied in your organization? If they describe your company’s culture, how do you cultivate them into the environment, especially as your company grows?

Well, about six months ago, I had the opportunity to hear PentaSafe CEO Doug Erwin speak at a local MIT Enterprise Forum event about this very dilemma of how to maintain a company’s culture. PentaSafe had been in the process of moving its offices from its old surroundings (two old houses in an eclectic part of Houston that defined its culture) into a stuffy high-rise in an upscale part of town.

The old office setting was laid-back, relaxed, and very friendly. So Doug’s challenge was figuring out how to transfer that same culture into the new place. This way the old employees would still feel right at home and have a sense of the company they already knew and loved, but new employees could also pick up on that great old atmosphere of eclectic Houston.

Now the best way to see what I’m talking about is to download the file and watch it yourself. (The file is about 4 megs in size, but well worth the wait. You will need a Flash plug-in to play it, and be sure to turn the sound on your computer to maximum volume.)

Pretty cool, huh? Instant culture. While it is rather large for a Web download, this kind of a presentation makes a great addition to a CD business card that you can use to communicate your corporate culture and vision to potential clients and investors.

The Flash presentation was designed over a two-week period by PentaSafe Webmaster Brandon Holbrook, with assistance from Krista Kirkland. Brandon noted that when he showed his first version of the presentation to Doug and several other longtime employees, everyone was in tears.

Brandon also told me that PentaSafe felt it was well worth the time and investment, and that several new employees had commented that immediately after viewing the presentation as prospective employees, they sent their risumis to PentaSafe. They wanted to be part of such a positive work culture.

So it goes to show that at least one similarity between the culture at PentaSafe and the culture in the petri dish is that they both demonstrate how explosive growth from very small beginnings can produce tremendous results over time. By following PentaSafe’s lead, we can all learn how to better build and communicate a culture that will foster long-term success rather than leave us as casualties of the dot-com downturn.

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