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A Great Place To Work – The Importance of Culture

On 27th Oct the Great Places To Work Institute announced the results of their latest rankings, the multinational best places to work list.

The top four positions were given to tech companies with NetApp taking third place ahead of Google: A great achievement for us. You can read about the awards here

Every company has a culture of one sort or another. In its most basic form culture is a set of norms and values inculcated within the organization and espoused by the majority of the staff. Most often the culture is defined top-down. That is, the founders set the tone and executive management perpetuate it. Culture, like its biological namesake, is of course not static. It will get moulded by outside influences such as the industry and the economy, but generally speaking once established it tends to perpetuate. For some companies it is a deliberate strategy to set a culture and be very transparent about it. For others it is something that evolves and its exact nature may be debated within the company. At NetApp, we’re squarely in the former camp. Very early on the founders and the first executive management team decided that culture could be a significant differentiator and wanted to build an organization that lived the agreed-company values from top-to-bottom. Values such as openness, respect, humility, innovation-first and customer-centricity are not merely lip-serviced, but are lived daily.

So why is culture so important? Firstly it is good for a company’s customers and partners. Trust, transparency and respect are key in any long-term relationship. The ultimate focus is on making customers successful, and striving to be open and honest, as well as forthright in driving to mutually beneficial outcomes.

Secondly, if your company is deemed a great place to work then it is likely to attract the best talent in the industry. In this highly competitive world, keeping one step ahead is essential. Innovation at all levels becomes key. To innovate you need to attract the best and so talent acquisition is fundamental. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, as the saying goes and so it applies to culture too. Not everyone wants to work in a relatively flat, very transparent and honest organization, with respect at its core. But, in my experience, most people do.

Let me give you one small indication of how the culture and values are instantiated within the company. Taking NetApp as an example, with more than 11,000 employees naturally there has to be some form of organizational hierarchy otherwise chaos would ensue. However it is important that the hierarchy does not inhibit transparency or communication. Open communication is probably one of the most appreciated values by staff. We encourage an open-door policy. I fully expect that if I ask for a 30 minute call with an executive staff member, I get it. Obviously I need to be discussing something sensible and relevant but the attitude is “absolutely”. Similarly, as a relatively senior employee, I espouse that same attitude. If anyone in the company, any of the 11,000, wants to talk to me then, time-permitting, I am similarly “absolutely” available. Focusing on creating a model company can drive this type of behaviour.

For any company, being recognized in so many surveys worldwide as a great place to work is as important as being recognized as a leader in your field. What the executive staff at NetApp realised years ago is that one route to being the latter is to be the former as well. The two are inexorably linked