Our Customer Success Manager, Sam Downes, recently caught up with Nina Werner, Head of People Growth at Membrain.com, a unique Customer Relationship Management platform (CRM) that helps sales teams reinforce the behaviours needed to win consistently in B2B sales.
Nina’s role at Membrain is to help build a company culture based on their values as well as attract and develop talented people on their mission to elevate the sales profession with software and partnerships. In her first interview for the job, Membrain were clear they wanted to hire someone without a traditional HR background as they wanted to do things differently. The company did not want the typical ‘baggage’ that comes with traditional HR training, and Nina didn’t want that either. It was a match made in heaven.
In our previous blog with Membrain, Sebastian discussed why salespeople need CRM to enable sellers. This blog will explore building a culture that facilitates and supports business growth.
Why is company culture important?
In business, culture is the accumulation of all the behaviours within the team. It’s not a product, and it’s not tangible because it’s what happens in between. Culture is supported by your structures, processes, policy, core values etc. But fundamentally, culture is what happens amongst people.
In summary, culture is the expression of your values, and depending on what those are, your people will behave a certain way. You need to be intentional about that and communicate what it is, what it’s not, and what you mean by each value. For example, if you ask ten different people what respect means to them, you’ll get ten different definitions.
As a company, you must ask yourself, “what do we mean by that?” It starts with your values, which evolves into the culture. Your culture spreads because it’s what happens internally between employees, but it also seeps into your suppliers, partners and customers.
Values are not something you aspire to; some companies plonk values on the wall, like, ‘this is who we SHOULD be.’ That’s just not going to happen.
Start with where you are right now. Who are you? What is it that you stand for? Membrain, for example, just recently added a fourth core value from the outcome of our annual team meeting. The three original values came from our founders at the start. But as the team grows and develops, it’s important to revisit the values.
Our values are:
- Challenging the mainstream
Through and through, that’s what we are and what we do, with both our product and our customers.
- Being professional
If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Don’t blame others. Take responsibility for your actions.
- Have a growth mindset
Always learn, and always be curious. There are always other ways of doing things, not to constantly reinvent the wheel, but what can you learn elsewhere?
Our values follow through to recruitment. If someone has a behaviour that doesn’t sit right, always go back to your values. Have the conversation and say, ‘hey, you behaved this way, these are the consequences and are not aligned with this value. Can you see that and understand that?’ If you don’t do it this way, it comes across as ‘I don’t like you or you behaved like a shitty person.’ That’s not helpful in driving behavioural change.
Yet, we felt like something was missing. We are collaborative, supportive of one another and make space for each other, but this wasn’t represented in the original values. So, we did an exercise where we had to pick a person who represented the values the most. The results were widespread, which was great as it showed that we all represent degrees of these core values. Then, we asked what qualities the fourth value should embody. I created a dodgy spreadsheet collating the results.
Be full of heart ♥
This became our fourth value. We are full of heart today, so it’s not something we simply aspire to be. Base your values on your current reality and strive to keep exhibiting those traits.
How do you keep exhibiting your values?
Make sure that the decisions you make and the processes you have are aligned with your values. Are they reflected in everything you do? Are they repeated? Are they talked about?
We have just started a growth plan with everyone working at Membrain. We will revisit the plans quarterly, as it’s a chance to check on progress in showing the values in how we work.
Moreover, we shared an internal survey to ensure employees feel heard and safe at work. Some statements in the survey were:
✅ I have fun
✅ I feel stressed at work
✅ I identify with Membrain’s core values
And so on.
Put people at the centre. Point out if someone is doing an awesome job or has shown a great example of a core value. Make sure acting out your values is always top of mind.
When you hire people, everyone has baggage because we’ve lived. We all have stories, perceptions, assumptions and beliefs about what the world looks like. This is great as it brings added value to a new business. But you also want to be clear that certain behaviours and beliefs that are not aligned with the organisation’s core values should be left at the door. You can only have that transition happen if you communicate clearly, consistently and repeatedly.
When people start complaining about culture, it’s often because behaviours have been tolerated for a long time, and now it’s getting too much. The culture issue didn’t start yesterday, it’s been brewing for a long time. Your culture is an accumulation of all the behaviours that happen every day.
What steps have you taken at Membrain to hire the right people?
The first step is to define the values. Make sure your values are clear and understood. But also, be clear on what you mean by each one. For instance, we have a list of behaviours:
- What does it mean to live that value?
- What does it mean not to live that value?
In the recruitment process, I tend to have open questions, and candidates can get a bit uncomfortable. But ultimately, I’ve seen your CV and LinkedIn, and I get a sense of your experiences and what you would be good at doing. If you’re not exactly where we want you to be, that’s fine. You’ll catch up because those are skills you can get through training. I have open-ended questions because I want to know:
❓ Who you are
✅ What makes you tick?
🥳 What are you excited about?
💭 What are your aspirations?
👑 What are you most proud of?
These questions give me a sense of what drives you and what might be bubbling under the surface. I’m quite casual in these conversations, so it feels more of a conversation. My goal is for the candidate to feel relaxed and tell their story. We hire for certain skills and experiences, of course.
However, we need to find people who not only fit into our culture and are happy in it but contribute to it. Everyone has a role to play and a responsibility to carry on that culture. Sitting in the passenger seat is fine, but not everyone can be a passenger. Some people need to drive and contribute to the culture to keep on building it. Our culture will have the same essence two years from now, but its tangibility will evolve depending on who comes to join us and how they contribute.
What have you done at Membrain to build culture?
We’ve asked a lot of questions, conducted internal surveys, and gathered and measured data. How do people feel when they work at Membrain? Can I easily communicate with my leader and my teammates? Do I feel like I can have conversations with people who have different opinions to mine? Allowing yourself to dig into those conversations with an open mind. Be prepared for a discussion that isn’t all happy and smelling roses. But if the people you work with are honest with you, you can start doing something about issues as they arise. Then people can feel involved and engaged.
Top-down culture works sometimes, but bottom-up culture is much more powerful. Involve your team and ask them what they need to thrive in the workplace, what they think is the culture, and what they think are the values. What should we be doing more or less of? Building a successful culture starts with being honest with yourself and asking the people around you to be honest too.
How do you manage this across countries?
Much of the team is in Sweden, around Stockholm. Many people work remotely, and we have eight or nine people in the US. Sustaining our culture is a lot about leading by example and finding points of contact within the various teams. Not all the time we spend together needs to be productive. We have to deliver results, and this is what we talk about. It’s about getting to know each other.
As we grow, we may need to switch things around, but here are a few things we do well:
➡ Daily huddles
Every day we meet for half an hour and discuss what cool things people have been up to. These daily huddles allow us to support each other and be personal with each other without being private.
➡ Brain melt session
We have a brain melt session once a week. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you’ll get it. We used to call it a knowledge-sharing session but found it far too boring. We spend an hour where we take the opportunity to learn from each other. For example:
- How can the customer success team handle renewals of a contract? What can they learn from the sales team? We share the expressions to use and things to look out for.
- How can mindfulness benefit you? Do you apply active listening practices? In a relaxed environment, it’s so much easier to listen and learn from each other.
How do you find the differences between country cultures?
Be aware of how geographical culture impacts the business, how we perceive one another and what we can do with that information. For me, being a person who identifies with multiple cultures, it’s all normal. I don’t know what it feels like to just be in one culture, and I never will. That’s my baggage.
At Membrain, having multiple cultures a tremendous source of richness because we have different perspectives and opinions.
Communication is key in understanding different cultures. Cultural differences clash when you don’t talk about how you see things differently. Fundamentally, we believe we want the best for each other.
I find it amazing how nice the whole Membrain team are – I was not used to that! When you have that as a foundation, you believe the people around you are there to support you. There is a great value in being more aware of cultural differences and the way we interact with each other.
Top tips for business owners wishing to build a supportive culture
Have a management team that believes culture is important.
The management, leadership and the ones at the top must believe that culture matters. You can’t force that. If they genuinely don’t believe culture matters at the top, it will be up to each leader and teammate to build a micro-culture in the organisation. It can work for a while, but will that lead to a healthy culture? Probably not.
Don’t take culture for granted.
Too often, I see companies take culture for granted, especially in smaller organisations. A few people get together because you believe in the same things and share similar values. But these values aren’t articulated; there’s an assumption that everyone will live these values.
As the business grows and hires more people – people with baggage – your values must be intentional. Make sure you talk about your values consistently.
Articulate, explain and communicate your core values clearly.
It’s not enough to be consistent. Be crystal clear too. People should never get tired of hearing about your core values. Build stories around your values. Founders, first employees, customers, partners all need to hear your stories. So, that’s where storytelling is crucial, it ingrains an idea in the mind like nothing else. Stories allow your values to spread too – people love stories! Behave accordingly.
Your core values need to represent who you are today, not what you aspire to be in La La Land.
Thank you for your time, Nina.
To hear more about culture, Nina joined Yekemi’s LinkedIn Live on Thursday 23rd June. Watch the full episode below.