Breakfast Talk: Culture- Are You Who You Think You Are?

Our second breakfast event took place at the end of October, this time at the Microsoft Flux office space in downtown Helsinki. Despite the rain and coffee mishaps we had another great discussion, which only ended when we realized how late it was, and everyone needed to head to the office.


Last time our discussion focused on employer branding – this time we decided to delve deeper, with the discussion revolving around organizational culture, the backbone of employer branding (we seem to be going in reverse chronological order, if it keeps up, soon we’ll need to talk about creating a business plan!).


Just like last time, I’ll be sharing some of the main discussion points for the benefit of everyone who couldn’t join us.



Can Culture Be Managed?


Is it possible to decide that you have a specific type of culture, and then make sure everyone sticks to it? Can you manage culture in this way? We discussed these questions at length, and the general consensus was that while it may be possible to manage culture, it’s not at all the recommended approach.


A better way to look at it instead is leading culture. If you’re the owner/CEO/other key player in the organization, embody the culture yourself. If your culture is one of hard work and no play, you better be the hardest worker (and hardest non-player…?) in your organization. Or, if a key part of your culture is dedicating one day a week to free-choice professional development, you need to be the first one to turn off your email server for the day, and develop yourself until you drop! If you don’t do it, who’s going to?


What You Say vs. What You Do


“Our company values flexibility, transparency and top-notch customer service, and everyone here works with those principles in mind.” This might be something you could expect hearing from a founder, executive, or someone else who’s been part of the company for a long time. Surprisingly often, though, if you ask a new employee – or even an old employee in many cases – about their company’s values, the answer might sound more like this “We work with like lots of sustainability, and, uh, are responsible.”


Even if your employees words aren’t bad, if they’re not consistent it shows a lack of communication and clarity in your culture. In the above example the values are pretty generic as well, so if you can have something more personal it creates a much more cohesive environment.


Diversity Creates Change


If you want to stay ahead of the curve, you’re hopefully paying attention to how you change as an organization. Sticking to your guns in the face of change can sound like something only the toughest dare to do, but it’s also what kills a lot of companies; in business life you’re likely to follow in the footsteps of companies like Blockbuster. They stuck to their guns, resulting in a fast wipeout. A more local Finnish example is Nokia, who decided that touch screens won’t be a thing. Oops.


By having a vision and surrounding yourself with people similar to yourself, it can be much easier to drive each other towards that vision. On the other hand, if you have a group of people with diverse backgrounds and ideas, the possibilities open up exponentially. As long as your core values are similar, ideas can (and should) be challenged and looked at from different perspectives, with new ideas coming up all the time. It can take more work to lead and manage a very diverse group of people, but the possibilities that come with it are well worth it.


Office Space Plays a Key Role


As you grow as an organization, you’ll eventually need to move into larger premises. When this happens, there are more things to take into consideration than you’d imagine! It’s not just a new space you’re moving into, but rather a reflection of your identity as a whole. As an example, if your company is a cool and hip start-up on the rise, sharing a building with financial companies (not to say they can’t be cool, but stereotypically…) might not be “you”.


The way the office space is divided also plays a big role in showing your culture. One of our partners recently moved into an old bank office, and had the whole place remodelled to look more like them. It was a lot of work, but the payoff was great; the new space looked exactly like the culture I know they have.


Having an office that reflects who you are helps old and new employees alike to have a coherent image of their company’s culture. This in turn helps bring in the right people who embody your culture, which again helps you grow (and eventually move again).


As a tip, this is something you should start researching way before you need a new place – it took one of our breakfast participants a whole year to find a suitable new office!


Whose Culture?



The longer you’re in business, the more you will hopefully grow. As this happens, more people will join all the time, possibly very different people, and your culture may experience changes. One day you might realize that although everyone has a clear idea of what your culture is, you veteran employees have something completely different in mind than the people you just hired last month.


Neither is necessarily wrong, but if you want to have a unified culture, everyone needs to be brought together.


In this case the question arises, whose culture are we going with? Is it the people who have always been here, or is it the people with fresh ideas, who might be here for a much longer time in the future? Does organizational culture begin evolving on its own, and if yes, at what point does this happen?


We didn’t end up reaching a good conclusion on this, so feel free to share your ideas in the comment section!


We would like to thank Umbra, Mirum, Qvik and Zervant for joining the talk. If you are a company and want to join our next breakfast talk, reach out to us and get yourself invited!