Over the last few years, the impact that work can have upon our lives has drastically increased. In 2021, the way that our work makes us feel has never been more important and team members now expect a focus on company culture as standard, not as an optional extra. In this new world, ‘HR software’ alone cannot deliver what small companies need to thrive – so today, we’re announcing Charlie’s new mission: to build the world’s first Culture Operations platform.
In recent years, we’ve seen a series of dramatic shifts in our attitudes towards life and work. Those changes have been taking place across the last three decades but recently – in part, due to the pandemic – they have rapidly accelerated and are not going to be reversed.
To understand what this means for small companies, we need to take a closer look at those changes.
The impact that work can have upon our lives has never been greater
Over the last 20 years, a combination of irreversible societal changes have combined to dramatically increase the role that work plays in our lives.
• Sweeping advances in technology have redefined how life and work interact
Instant messaging, high-quality video calls, cloud technology – this shift was already well underway but during the current pandemic, it has dramatically accelerated. Now, work can and does take place anywhere, anytime.
Whether we like it or not, the line between life and work has become more and more blurred as our home and work lives collide.
• We’ve seen that better work is possible – and our motivations have changed
At the same time, we’ve also seen that work can be more than it was for our parents’ generation. Along with the mission-focussed, culture-first companies that came to the fore in the early 2000s has come an understanding of work’s potential to be a genuinely positive force in our lives
Obviously, our salaries are still important – but what I hear from people around me and see in their decisions is that it’s no longer the final word in the conversation. People want their work to mean more than just a paycheque.
They expect their managers to help them grow personally and develop professionally.
They expect their company to listen to them and act on what they say.
And they expect a workplace that runs seamlessly and in a way that helps them feel they belong, no matter their background.
In 2021, the way that our work makes us feel has never been more important.
• The pandemic has heightened the pains of weak company culture
Before the pandemic, I think many companies managed to get by without thinking too deeply about their culture.
With your whole team working together in the same room, with all the energy and information-sharing that brings, surely your culture will just take care of itself?
A shared office brings with it a sense of security, but it’s a false one. After more than a year of enforced remote work, a lot of teams are waking up to the fact they’d been using their office as a crutch – an excuse not to think too hard about the behaviours, attitudes and processes that really make up their culture.
Without that crutch, it’s become clear that the culture your business needs comes from deliberate and conscious crafting, not just leaving it up to chance.
Focussing on your company culture is no longer optional
We are – all of us – living through a seachange in what we expect from our work.
The only teams and companies that are thriving right now, especially amidst the challenges of the pandemic, are the ones investing their time, resources and attention towards crafting a culture that meets these new expectations.
Those companies have happier employees, do better work, attract better talent, keep their best performers for longer, see faster growth and higher revenues.
And for companies that don’t, there are massive risks.
All of us know how hard it is to find and hire great talent. When you disregard the new and critical role that culture now plays, it becomes near enough impossible.
Worse, you’ll find that your best performers don’t stick around, but move on to your more forward-facing competitors – and the team that remains simply won’t perform to the level they are capable.
Those are the two shifts that I believe have taken place: a massive, irrevocable shift in the impact of work upon our lives, and a dramatic step-change in what we now expect from the companies we work for.
For people leading small companies, where does that leave us?
Company culture will make or break your business
For me, this sentiment has always seemed obvious and it’s been borne out by all my own experiences as a founder.
But just because it’s obvious, doesn’t mean that solving it is simple – in fact, successfully crafting a company’s culture has always been extremely difficult.
First of all, simply because it’s so difficult to measure or define. How do you quantify culture? Can you pin a number to someone’s sense of belonging, or track your team’s buy-in?
And even if you could, the ‘right’ culture for one business could be totally wrong for another – how do you even begin to define the ‘type’ of culture a company wants to build?
Small companies and startups are always stretched for resources, and there is a real financial pressure to focus your efforts on what you know will make an impact on the bottom line. In that context, how would you justify working on something so abstract and intangible?
Secondly, working on your culture has always seemed prohibitively expensive and beyond the reach of the small companies and startups that use Charlie. There’s a sense that actively working on your culture is so opaque that only Silicon Valley Unicorns and their VC-millions can afford to do it.
That’s why today, I want to announce a new direction for Charlie.
Introducing Culture Operations: the new way for small companies to craft their culture
For the last five years, we’ve been building “the HR software your team will love” – but as time has gone on, we’ve found that mission no longer captures the ambition of what we want to deliver for our users.
In fact, the role we ask ‘HR’ itself to fulfil has changed so dramatically, that I think we need an entirely new function to deliver it, and one that works in an entirely new space.
We’re calling that space Culture Operations.
The way I see it, CultureOps means a few different things.
First of all, it’s a function – a discipline, a skill and a career, in the same way that Marketing or Customer Support are all of those things. It’s a job role that’s already being played in companies all over the world, only unofficially, as part of someone’s other responsibilities and without the focus and resource it really deserves.
Secondly, it’s an opportunity. It’s a space that exists for new types of products or services, one that isn’t being served by the solutions that are out there.
But it’s also a framework for understanding. As I see it, CultureOps is how you operationalise the process of culture building – a framework that allows you to guide, direct and optimise your culture to deliver real business results.
By breaking company culture down into its component parts, CultureOps takes an abstract concept and turns it into something you can actually work on:
Your people are the raw material of your culture – everything begins with them.
Company policies are more than just a legal requirement – they are the agreed-upon behaviours that set the direction of your culture.
The tools, methods and rituals your team uses to get work done, on a day-to-day basis.
Building the world’s first CultureOps platform
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that we’ve been practising CultureOps internally ever since we started Charlie five years ago... we just didn’t have a name for it yet.
Our internal experiment with unlimited holiday, open-sourcing Charlie’s own progression framework, iterating on a mental health policy that makes a real impact – all of this work was a way of cutting our teeth on the challenge of culture-crafting.
At first, it was an unofficial part of my job description as COO and over the last couple of years, it’s come under the remit of Amy Cowpe, Charlie’s Chief of Staff.
In April 2021, though, we welcomed Chantelle Ebhogiaye to the team – our first ever full-time CultureOps hire – and she'll be helping to champion this new function for us here internally. At the same time, our product team have begun to turn their focus towards our new goal of creating the world's first CultureOps platform.
To learn more about CultureOps, listen to our latest podcast as the Charlie Team dig into the journey to codify our culture as CultureOps.