Something to Be Thankful For: A Great Company Culture (Plus 3 Ways You Can Foster It)

That’s when it clicked. I didn’t mean to say “work” earlier that day, instead I meant to say “company culture.” I derive meaning from my life by giving to others, and our culture at MarketSmart allows me to do that. It began to crystallize as I watched the road pass by in the window.

“Alright everyone, gather around, it’s time for us to say one thing we are thankful for before we eat.”

Her arms were moving rapidly, a spoon in one hand, a pot holder in the other. The glare she was giving her eldest son (a teenager) made it clear that now was not the time to joke around — we were going to share a special moment together before we indulged.

Each year at Thanksgiving we gather around in Jay and Cristi’s home. It’s magnificent. Their home isn’t extravagant, rather it’s “homey.” There’s a mess in nearly every room (I guess that’s what happens when you have three little ones), there’s too many stuffed animals to count, and, there’s the perfect amount of family in attendance (no more than 15!).

As a tradition we come together in their open style kitchen to share what we’re thankful for this year.

“I’m thankful to be above ground!” My uncle Curt would start us off. Sadly he won’t be at this year’s Thanksgiving, he passed away just a few short weeks ago.

Nonetheless, Curt’s humor and resolve would fill the room, and after him, his wife (of 62 years!), Doreen would go next, “I’m thankful for such a beautiful family” she’d say. Their son, would go after her, “I’m thankful for all of the PHD students I’ve been able to mentor this semester. It’s been incredibly rewarding!”

Around and around we’d go, until finally it was my turn.

“I know this might be weird, but I’m thankful for work. I mean, I don’t think of it as work, but you know what I mean. I feel really fortunate to be where I am, doing what I’m doing, with the people I am with.” I rambled on.

“Oh, that’s nice,” my sister chimed in.

“I’m thankful for the six different types of pie, Cristi made this year!” My dad interjected to lighten the mood and fill the room with his humor (or hunger).

And that was that, our ritual was over. Everyone hurried to grab a plate and filled it with wonderful home cooked treats. Like each year before it, Thanksgiving had come and gone again.

However, during the drive home later that night, I couldn’t help but think more about what I’d said. “Why was the first thing that came to mind work?” I asked myself. “Shouldn’t I have other hobbies, or friends, or anything else that came to me first?”

That’s when it clicked. I didn’t mean to say “work” earlier that day, instead I meant to say “company culture.” I derive meaning from my life by giving to others, and our culture at MarketSmart allows me to do that. It began to crystallize as I watched the road pass by in the window. “I’m thankful for the people I spend so much time with, the solutions we come up with, and the trust and authority we are given to pursue them,” I thought to myself.

During that drive home I began preparing for the next Thanksgiving. “When we gather around the kitchen again I know exactly what I’ll say,” I thought to myself.

And that brings me to the point of this blog post — culture.

Here are the 3 things MarketSmart is doing right when it comes to fostering a great organizational culture that you can use too.

Trust, respect, and rope theory

What do you value most in your personal relationships? If you had to create a “top ten” style list of the characteristics it’s likely that trust and respect would be high up there.

The same goes when it comes to feeling good in an office environment. At MarketSmart we put a lot of effort into ensuring everyone on our team feels trusted, respected, and given the authority to make decisions.

Those on the leadership team are frequently reminded of the importance of having a “safe” work environment. The moment anyone feels inferior, untrusted, or something similar, they won’t be as willing to share creative ideas, propose new ways for doing things, or speak up when they see something that others don’t. It’s paramount that everyone within the organization recognizes that they are here for a reason and that they’re trusted to make decisions to support our mission.

To reinforce this, every new employee reads MarketSmart’s guide for new employees. The guide is a series of short stories that set the stage for how the company works, what our policies and procedures look like, and all the minutia. There’s one story that stands out to nearly every team member — the one on rope theory.

Rope theory is simple. Imagine you have a rope. What can you do with it? You can;

  • Climb it;
  • Dangle on it;
  • Fall off.

At MarketSmart we implore every person on the team to climb their rope — take the trust, respect, and authority the company has placed in them, and run with it.

A meaningful vision

Rope theory, trust, respect, etc, they’re all great, but those characteristics alone don’t create a rewarding organizational culture. However, when you add in “purpose” you begin to get a compelling recipe.

At MarketSmart we know what we are doing. As a group of people we are trying to;

  • Help nonprofits raise more money for lower cost;
  • Make fundraising more human for both the fundraiser and the funder;
  • And, provide meaningful careers to those that choose to be a part of the team.

Our vision is simple, maybe a bit too plain for some, but it’s exactly what we need in order to feel compelled to come into the office everyday. Without a sense of direction it’s easy to get bored.

Research shows that purpose-oriented employees are more likely to stay at their organization than those that simply come in for a paycheck. Providing a clear vision for the organization can help everyone find more meaning in their work and foster alignment amongst team members.

Positive impact on society > company’s bottom line

Without sounding corny, there is an emphasis at MarketSmart to put purpose in front of profit. From the owner on down, everyone understands that our first priority is to make a positive impact on our clients and on the sector. Secondary to that is our need to make money to invest in future growth.

This commitment to purpose reinforces the organization’s culture. It’s a shining example of not being all talk and no game. In the four years that I have been a part of MarketSmart I have seen first hand how we have sacrificed making money in an effort to provide better solutions to our customers.

As an employee this is monumental. It’s when the company makes decisions like these (ones that align with its mission and vision and not necessarily it’s bottom line), that you cannot help but fully buy-in.

A final note

We’re looking for GREAT people to join our team at MarketSmart. If reading this blog post inspired you, please consider looking at our current open positions.

If you’re currently at an organization where you don’t feel alignment to the culture, consider sharing this blog post with your peers. It can’t hurt.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Author: Zach Shefska

I oversee the Fundraising Report Card, a division of MarketSmart. The Report Card is a free tool that empowers fundraisers to make data-driven fundraising decisions. It’s pretty neat.

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