Communication isn’t enough, the values on the website and hung on a poster on the wall isn’t enough
In a survey of game studio CEOs late last year, company culture was voted the single most critical CEO priority, more than funding, strategy, or even people.
Company culture also had the lowest variance, meaning most of the game company CEOs surveyed agreed with this priority the most.
And yet, in practice, if you were to ask people at many game studios what their company values or culture is, you would likely get different answers. Further, if you were to ask company leaders how their values or culture manifest in their companies, I think you would likely find a lot of gaps in the installation of values in their companies.
I’m sure some companies do this well, but I would submit that likely the vast majority of companies should be doing a better job.
Within this context, as the CEO of Lila Games, I was very unhappy with the installation of our company values within our company. We did quite a good job on the communication of these values. Our leadership team has spent and continues to spend a lot of time communicating our values. However, even though many of our employees could recite our values, not everyone lived our values as we had hoped.
We talked the talk, but not everyone walked the walk.
After reaching out to several folks for advice on how to better install company culture, I felt that my discussion with Stoffer Touborg, in particular, was very helpful.
Based on the initial discussion I had with Stoffer, I asked him to record a discussion with me to share his thoughts on this topic which I link below:
- Host: Joseph Kim. CEO at Lila Games
- Guest: Stoffer Touborg. Executive Producer at Clockwork Labs (Bitcraft Online), former Product Lead at Riot Games (Wild Rift), former Lead Game Designer at CCP (Eve Online)
We discussed quite a lot on this topic, including:
- 0:00 Intro
- 2:13 Stoffer Touborg Background
- 3:07 Definition of Company Culture and Warning for New Employees
- 6:06 Values vs. Culture Definition
- 9:10 Employees Need to Confirm Cultural Fit, Values Need to be Good, Given Context, and Fair
- 14:16 Installing Values/Culture in a Company, Communication vs. Implementation
- 16:47 Values Manifestation Board
- 20:45 Why is Company Culture Critical? Sometimes Values Don’t Matter
- 25:40 How to Deal with Employee Cultural Misalignment
- 31:34 Executive Accountability for Culture Mismatches
- 32:15 Recruiting for Culture Fit
- 36:30 How to Deal with Culture Exceptions for a Specific Need – “The Dennis Rodman Rule”
Please check out the entire discussion! As a preview, I include a few thoughts on three points we discussed, below.
Values vs. Culture
Many people define company values and culture differently, and many leaders may not even have a definition for it. Also, many consider the two to be the same. In my own experience, I’ve come to settle on a definition that is slightly different from others which I wanted to share here.
I’d love to hear your thoughts as well, please feel free to DM me or leave a comment!
For me, a company’s values are the principles and philosophies defining how it expects to succeed in its market. Even before founding Lila Games, I wrote our values into a presentation that we share with all prospective candidates before they join our company.
If you’re interested, you can view them: HERE
From my perspective, values are the core of how a company will operate to win, but culture is a specific manifestation. To me, culture means the company’s expectations of its employees and the specific working rules (especially with other employees).
Therefore, a company’s culture could be specific to an office by this definition. More specifically, a company with two offices – one in Asia and the other in the US – may have different cultures in both offices.
Values Manifestation Board
One recommendation, I took away from Stoffer was to write out how our company values manifest within our company.
This exercise should uncover what is being done to reinforce values within the company. And as Stoffer points out in our discussion, a value without reinforcement may need to be rethought.
Here is an illustrative board showing a first draft of this the very first time I tried this exercise:
So what do you do when you have a culture mismatch?
A very smart game CEO recently told me that the fastest way to change company culture is to eliminate the people who don’t match. I agree.
I think too many managers at companies don’t let go of bad culture mismatches quickly enough.
Having said that, I believe culture mismatches are most often the company’s fault. Most companies need to do a better job of informing and evaluating candidates.
Maybe you could have evaluated candidates better using behavioral/performance-based interview questions, or perhaps you could have provided more information to let candidates understand if they match your company or not.
Here’s what we send our prospective candidates: https://linktr.ee/lilagames
Too many company leaders and managers should re-assess how they inform and evaluate candidates to be more effective!
Remember: The cost of bad culture mismatches isn’t only the cost to a company, but also potentially massive disruption to someone’s life whom you have hired due to your mistake.
I believe too many companies have not thought critically enough about the installation of their company culture. This seems to be a mismatch in the allocation of leadership thinking and resources, given how vital CEOs believe this issue to be.
How does your company define and install company values and culture?
If you have a better way, please let me know!