When It Comes to Company Culture, Sometimes CEOs Should Just Get Out of the Way

by Joanna Pineda Posted on September 13, 2012

A candidate for one of our jobs recently commented that he loved the company culture at Matrix Group. To be honest, I was initially suspicious. What could he possibly glean about our company culture through one interview and one tour of the office? But I was also curious since recruiting top talent is an imperative for us. So I asked the candidate what he meant by his comment and what he found appealing about the company. He said something along the lines of: Your front office person is friendly and helpful, setting up the interview was painless, the people he met with were relaxed and confident, people were smiling all over the office, and there are toys everywhere, Matrix Group must be a fun place.

A friend and fellow CEO congratulated me on my strong corporate culture but I wonder how much of it can really be attributed to me. The more I got to thinking, the more I realized that sometimes, CEOs should set goals and parameters and then get the heck out of the way.

Here’s a small example. When I first started Matrix Group, we couldn’t afford fancy furniture (we still don’t have fancy furniture). Our Realtor told me about a company that let every employee paint one wall whatever color they wanted. I loved the idea and shared it at staff meeting. The staff loved it and it became so. Matrix Group paid for the paint and each staff person painted his or her own wall. A friend asked me what I would do if a staff person picked an ugly color or I didn’t like the color. My response was, “you can’t tell your staff that they can paint one wall whatever color they want and then decide that colors have to be approved by you.” And you know what? We had some crazy colors in our office and they all looked great. We had bright orange, spiderman blue, pink and green stripes, even chalkboard paint. It was fabulous.

Here are my never before published guidelines for nurturing a strong corporate culture:

While I can’t take credit for the wonderful, warm and engaging corporate culture at Matrix Group, I have learned that you need to be intentional about company culture and there are many things we CEOs can do to nurture and guide it. As my coach Peter Schwartz says, “CEOs get the organizations they deserve.

How about you? Does your organization have a strong corporate culture? What are you doing to nurture a good corporate culture? What’s working?

A couple of years ago, Maki started climbing the stairs from the ground floor to our 12th floor office. Others started joining him. Now there’s a group that climbs the stairs once or twice a day in the afternoons. Then the funny signs showed up.

There are toys everywhere in the Matrix Group office. Here is Front-End Developer Adrian Turner with his football toys. You’ll find toys on every desk, bookshelf, conference room and the kitchen!

8 replies on “When It Comes to Company Culture, Sometimes CEOs Should Just Get Out of the Way”

I had essentially the same experience as the job candidate you mention in the first paragraph. I went from a nervous wreck who couldn’t remember her interviewer’s last name to a person who convinced a team that she’d be a good intern. That couldn’t have happened in a place with a drastically different culture.

Wonderful post, JP. So true as well. I remember when I came into interview over three years ago and the positive vibe that I felt upon walking through the doors. Thx for sharing!

The Matrix corporate culture is one of our strongest recruiting tools. Job candidates who investigate our website see our Flickr stream which shows people doing fun and interesting things. When they come into the office for an interview they see the toys, scooters, pinball machine, etc. which reinforces this idea and helps put them at ease. This can result in candidates getting really excited about working for you before the interview itself even begins.

The culture is great for retention too. Once you get used to going around barefoot shooting coworkers with nerf guns it’s tough to go back to a traditional environment.

Joanna, your headline is provocative, and I hope it leads to this post going at least viral-ish. It’s a true contribution; it very well describes the touch and feel of the Matrix Group culture, and it deserves a wide audience.

I know you’re humble by nature, and to say about yourself that you get out of the way may be true – but simplistic. Excuse the awkwardness of this statement, but it is who you are *being,* Joanna that sets the tone and the culture of your company. Who everyone else is being is their personal interpretation of that. And I’ve seen employees grow and mature outside of work as a result of their experience in a culture such as yours.

Your guidelines reflect a great place to work. Most everyone would love to work in that kind of world. I think you’ll agree that an organization’s culture is a reflection of its leader’s way of being and acting. As my wise friend, Ken Schatz, once wrote, “you can never not lead.”

Before a candidate joins a new company, find a way to learn a lot about the person at the top.

Thanks a lot for spending time to write “When It Comes to Company Culture, Sometimes CEOs Should Just Get Out
of the Way | The MatriX Files”. Thank you once again, Susana

Comments are closed.

Related Articles