Developing a Culture for Growth—Reflections from the Project Team

Over the past several months, GigaOm has been working to establish and maintain the right culture to position the company for the next phase of its growth. This project has involved contributions from across the business and is led by the authors as a small and passionate team. We have each taken a part of the story to share from our personal perspectives and reflected on aspects of the project that resonated for us.

Gill Reindl

Why Is Culture So Important?

A great company culture is something everyone in an organization will recognize, yet it’s hard to describe in a nutshell. So much of company culture is hidden beneath the surface and isn’t tangible—it’s behaviors you encounter and values you feel, like trust and belonging.

Positive, cohesive cultures help glue an organization together and provide a springboard for its people and their talents to thrive; they foster creativity and productivity and keep talented individuals fired up with a sense of pride in the organization and their contribution to it.

On the other hand, some cultures can be toxic, demoralizing places, sapping the lifeblood from their people and hemorrhaging their best talent—not a great plan when business is tight and competition for talent is narrow. Some consider the current landscape as a war for talent.

Getting Started

I started working with GigaOm as a contractor just over two years ago. The company is a fully remote tech analyst firm, operating with a global mix of highly skilled employees and contractor practitioners. Growing fast and establishing a strong reputation in its sector, it had great products and was ready to adopt a little more organizational formality.

But first, GigaOm needed to build the cultural foundations on which to support its ambitions plans. Our team set out on a course to define the underpinning values that everyone in the organization could stand behind and then create an ongoing program to embed and maintain them. Importantly, GigaOm leadership wanted to ensure that its values were not merely named and then placed on a metaphorical shelf; instead, its values would be the beacons guiding the growing business in all aspects of its work.

It’s been a rare privilege to work with the GigaOm team as it builds its company culture from the ground up. In the past, my work in this area has involved working with companies to course-correct and adapt already-embedded cultures—how exciting it’s been to encounter a fresh canvas, the energy of a startup, the cross-organizational enthusiasm, and a fully invested leadership team! A promising set of ingredients.

GigaOm’s Values

Our team chose to use the Culture Design Canvas framework to support our work (covered in more detail below under “How We Settled on Our Culture”). Out of those efforts came GigaOm’s six values shown in the wheel below (Figure 1).

Figure 1. GigaOm’s Values Wheel

Each value includes qualifying “I” and “we” statements, helping to give meaning and personal accountability. We’ve also created policies, work processes, and communication channels to align with these values, and we feature the “value of the month” within our weekly huddle program.

Additionally, as we’re a remote workforce, we’ve leveraged tools like Slack and our evolving intranet called Gigahub to develop social, fun aspects of the culture. Some of our favorite culture-building channels are Gigafoodies, Crazy Ideas, Fantasy Football, and GigaPets.

I don’t believe it’s true that great culture cannot be built in remote or hybrid workplaces, although I would agree it needs determined, thoughtful, and intentional effort. Sure, meetups in person always add value; however, strong and close remote culture is not impossible, it’s just different.

Creating values and establishing cultural norms is just the start—maintaining values and ensuring the company is living up to them is where the real effort comes in.

To that end, our team has just completed a second round of focus groups, gathering feedback on our progress thus far and planning next-step initiatives to strengthen areas that need work. From those convos, we know an area we want to tackle next is how to embrace and unify the contractor/employee mixed workforce.

We are immensely proud of the progress made, which, without a doubt, is fueled by the belief that the leadership team and whole organization are invested in a positive culture as a major ingredient for future success.

Nicole Saunders

When I was first considering working with GigaOm, an analyst described the company to me as an “innovative startup with a great product.” Of course, I was intrigued. A startup has many things going for it; it’s fast-paced and there are many opportunities for growth. It’s built around a small core group of dedicated individuals who are willing to wear many hats to produce something meaningful for its customers. But the startup is ideally a transient state. To maintain success, startups need to respond to growth, develop and streamline processes, and find the right balance of the right people in the right roles.

Once I came on board, it was clear that GigaOm was graduating from its startup phase into something bigger and more refined. Happily, we found that the process of “growing up” beyond startup status didn’t mean discarding the passion and enthusiasm that comes with starting something new.

Growing Pains

The growth and success of GigaOm’s products and services meant that we needed to focus on organizational transformation to bolster this success with thoughtful internal change. Several areas stood out to leadership as being places we could improve, such as defining the core values of our organization, diversifying the individuals holding leadership positions, strengthening our project management office (PMO), and solidifying our people processes.

How We Settled on Our Culture

Defining organizational culture must be purposeful. While discussing where to begin with the important task of developing our values, we agreed that these values must come from across the organization. The people who would enact the culture needed to be included in the process of defining our values. With that in mind, we scheduled a series of collaborative brainstorming sessions with volunteers across the organization to hear where we were doing well, where we could improve, and what our colleagues valued in each other.

What stood out to me the most when we held these sessions was the enthusiasm that each person brought with them. They had great ideas for the culture they wanted to see, and they pointed out subtle areas of previously unspoken understanding. For example, many employees had already developed strong connections within a fully remote work environment, which was no small feat. Individuals were happy and proud to help unearth the ways they connected with their coworkers and upheld an overall sense of pride in their work.

With the input from these sessions, we were able to summarize common themes and settle upon six values that we knew we could represent and embody on a daily basis in everything we do. To keep our values front of mind, we have focused on one value each month so that we can lean into them, contemplate their impact, and find new ways to represent them.

Thoughtful Hiring

Additionally, we knew it was important to be thoughtful in our hiring process and bring on people who could help take GigaOm to the next level. Beyond someone having the necessary experience, we needed individuals who were excited about an evolving role in a growing organization, people who would go beyond the scope of their job description to take on challenges that needed new solutions. Through our interviews, we selected candidates who matched with the values, energy, and direction of GigaOm. We were greatly rewarded! These additions to our teams have fostered spectacular results in efficiency, communication, and enthusiasm.

When I reflect on the differences from when I first started at GigaOm two years ago to what the company looks like now, I see the progress that we’ve made as well as more positive change on the horizon. Truly, change is the only constant. Our improvement is reliant on our flexibility and continued sober self-assessment. We are proud of what we’ve achieved and know that the work is far from over.

Elizabeth Kittner

What would you implement if you were empowered with setting and guiding your organization’s culture, values, and norms? I invite you to think about and determine how you can impact your organization in these ways to help you and your colleagues thrive and evolve in positive ways.

It is my distinct honor to be part of the team at GigaOm that has put structure around these intangibles of culture, value, and norms, and is dedicated to cultivating them and keeping the organization accountable for living up to them. I am proud of the values we created and for putting them into a wheel format to demonstrate how each value is of equal importance.

Seek, Welcome, and Respect Diversity

The value I want to focus on today is “Seek, Welcome, and Respect Diversity.” We highlighted and celebrated this value in June to align with Juneteenth and discussions around diversity in our GigaOm community. We set the stage for a respectful discussion of differences and allowed people to feel comfortable asking questions of other people within the discussion. We celebrated the neurodiversity in our community and the ability to recognize the quieter contributions of our introverts. We asked culture questions about language, traditions, and lifestyles, and we invited external guests to participate in a Diversity in Tech Panel to garner additional perspectives from the tech industry we contribute to.

Part of my role as a culture guardian is to help create these psychologically safe environments for people to feel comfortable asking and sharing. Each time I participate in a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training or discussion, I learn from other people’s backgrounds and experiences. These opportunities highlight the importance of respect for diversity in a professional setting so we can create the best possible work environment and best version of our organization in the communities and markets we serve.

How Each Value Upholds and Strengthens the Others

Each of our values intersects with the others, which is one reason why our values are meaningful to us as individuals and as an organization.

We can take our “Seek, Welcome, and Respect Diversity” value and link it to the other five:

  • Embrace Learning and Improvement: When we seek to understand others’ backgrounds and experiences, we are learning about different ways to approach a situation and can improve or refine our own approaches because we will achieve a deeper understanding of the world.
  • Act with Integrity: We act with integrity when we welcome and respect diversity because we ensure honesty and fairness include all backgrounds.
  • Strive for Clarity and Openness: When we seek to understand where our colleagues are coming from, we will reach more clarity and be more open to different ways of working. Welcoming diversity promotes transparency of people’s opinions and respect for those opinions.
  • Pursue Excellence: When we seek diversity in our work, we pursue excellence in the way we work with each other and deliver our offerings. We can challenge the status quo and push each other to be more excellent in our thinking and decision-making.
  • Empower People: People will be empowered to share their opinions and speak up when they want to contribute an idea, even if it is counter to the group or to the way a problem has been solved in the past, because they feel psychologically safe and supported.

While I’m excited to celebrate the progress we’ve made in defining our values, encouraging positive norms, and preserving our culture, I’m even more excited to see how we take our learnings from today and apply them to help us achieve a better tomorrow. Preserving and refining culture is an ongoing responsibility, and I am thrilled to be part of an organization and a team committed to this journey.

How to Get Involved with GigaOm

We’re always looking for more people to join our great team, so if you’d like to work for GigaOm, take a look at the current job listings on our careers page.

About the Authors

Gill Reindl
An organizational development consultant with 35 years experience gained across a variety of commercial sectors including senior leadership roles in UK higher education. An experienced researcher and project manager in areas of organizational culture, leadership development, the future of education and work. Gill has worked on several projects with GigaOm.

Nic Saunders
A tech industry enthusiast with a background in operations and working in the startup space, Nic has worked with GigaOm for two years in the areas of people operations and finance.

Elizabeth Kittner
A finance and accounting guru with a technology focus who has a passion for elevating individuals and building healthy cultures in the organizations she serves. Elizabeth is a member of GigaOm’s executive team and oversees finance and people operations. She is also an author and speaker in the areas of ethics, communication, and leadership.