How do you define and maintain culture in an organization?

Evan is the CEO and co-founder of Abnormal Security. In this class, Evan breaks down what a functional and effective culture of leadership means at enterprise startups, and the best ways to foster that culture. Prior to Abnormal, Evan most recently led product and machine learning teams at Twitter after co-founding successful companies including Bloomspot, acquired by JPMorgan Chase, and AdStack, acquired by TellApart.

Evan: So I think like before we talk about culture, probably good to define what culture is. I think, people have people all kind of know what it means, but as a preferred loose definition,It's not, in my opinion, it's not like ping pong tables and yoga rooms. I think culturally comes down to behaviors, the organization, what behaviors are valuable and how decisions get made right. against those values. [00:34:00] So I think, Very well-defined cultures are very explicit about kind of what are the core values and what are the behaviors they value in the team and what are the behaviors they value in the decision making process?

So I think culturally comes down to the behaviors of the company. and I think that, the best cultures are purposefully put together. I think all cultures just evolve as some states, People, humans tend to mimic the behaviors of other people, And so however, your culture starts off. It like randomly turns into something, And through always kind of behavioral reinforcement loops, people kinda just keep doing more of that thing. And I think many companies right, ended up with random cultures, which is a function of the people and the environment, It kinda just ends up in a state. Sometimes that culture happens to be good. Sometimes it ends up being bad. I think the best companies are very intentional in thinking about what is the culture we want to build out the company to best support the busy. And so for, for using Admiral's career as an example, we know that we're an environment where, kind of speed matters, right?

we want to be a company that [00:35:00] ships out the solution to the next attack or the defense for the next attack one day too soon, rather than one day too late. So we're in a business that we're speed matters. And we have one of our core values is velocity, right? We're a business that is all about high-speed innovation being one step ahead of the attackers.

Evan: One step ahead of the competition. w we don't have lost the core value because I personally love working really fast. Although I am a relatively impatient person, I do working quickly. but we've chosen that core value, As, so it's important for us because we know it's important to our customer is important for the success of our business.

And so wants you to find your core values. I then the next question is how do you actually go implement those, right? How do you explicitly tell people what the values are? How do you train and occurs the right behaviors. And,how do you build a cultural operating system that will get you to where you want to be as a company culture?

I'll just maybe go through three things that, we do at Abnormal Security that, I think are very effective in helping build our culture. I think one is, you got to tell people the why behind the what and the why, right? It's not good enough. Just be your core values and your Wiki page.[00:36:00] 

Evan: You've got to explain to people why do we value these things? And what does that even mean? If people don't know why those are the values they understand for us, like why velocity is important for our business to be successful. And they won't, people don't really understand why the company values it or why those behaviors will be valued.

And if people understand that, they're just less likely to go, implement, execute those behaviors. So what we do is, the first day anyone joined the company, which is usually on Mondays, I will meet with them for 90 minutes, The entire, onboarding. Once in, a one once on Mondays for, north America, another, in Europe, right?

Another time, another day, or another time for our, APAC. so it twice per week. So I would just sit down with him and I'd go through the whole story. Here's how the market's changing. Here's what we know about our customers. Here's a feedback we got from our customers. Here's, what's required for us to win in this market, For us to really stand out and really be the world's best company in this domain. And here's how we need to be working right. In order to make that happen. So think step one is just, you gotta tell people the why behind it. I think the second one is that, you need [00:37:00] to find opportunities to, you have to really reinforce those behaviors.

so as a, just as quick example, every week and town hall, we do,peer shout outs where people at the company will give shout outs to other people, not for random things, right? Not just good things, but specifically for ways in which they're working, where they've done a good job of acting according to our behavior, our core values, right?

Evan: Maybe it's they move really quick to get that new feature out to production, right? Or they help take a deal. That's going to close next quarter and they found a way to close it this quarter, By really Mo trying to move quickly on, to get the wins early in our business.

So we give shout outs. I also do that, every day with my staff, I meet with them for 30 minutes. We talk about, Hey, what are some of the great ways people are working to build our culture and exemplify our core values? I send out an email, all of those kind of daily shout outs every single day at the end of the day.

And my intent behind that is to let people know that these things, these ways of working really matter, They matter so much that our CEO is going to force every executive to sit down in a room with him at the end of every single. And write it out and send out the entire company, I've spent probably [00:38:00] 5% of my day doing that. that's a signal, right? That, that the stuff really matters. And the final thing is you got to find ways to, really make these values like,you, you to take them seriously. And I would argue that, if you're not hiring employees, firing employees and promoting employees based on those core values, then you don't really value them at some level.

So I think it's really important to weave the, your kind of, your, core values and your cultural, your kind of cultural assessment in your interview process, and also into your performance management process. If people can't commit to working in that culture, And that culturally important to the company, then they're not a good fit for the company.

And it's a cult it's cultural debt you're taking on. by containing to employ them right on the other side. If you have people that are not just doing a good job, exemplifying those core values, but they're building out that culture inside their teams that you need to promote those people as fast as possible, right?

Evan: Because the group leaders for great cultural companies are not just people that can manage a lot of people and build great spreadsheets. There are people that can really help build [00:39:00] the culture inside the organization. And again, if those, that culture really matters, right? If those core values are important for your success, for your customer success for you advancing your mission, Then like you want to do everything you can across the company to really promote and build that culture. 

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