Don’t confuse environment for culture

By Graham Collins
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Don’t confuse environment for culture

You walk in for your final round sales interview. The recruiter told you to dress ‘smart casual’ so you ditched the stuffy corporate outfit but you don’t quite hit Zuckerberg chic… you want them to take you seriously after all. You show up 15 minutes early, resume and notepad in hand. As you’re getting a tour of the sales floor, you’re… a bit blown away. You knew it was a startup, but there is techno music playing, people shotgunning Red Bull, ping pong balls flying through the air, and a heated foosball match has drawn a decent crowd. Everyone is smiling, laughing, and generally enjoying their lives.

You finally sit down with the sales manager and she asks you “why do you want to work here?” Your mind does a quick flashback to the sales floor and you start to say “the culture!”

But wait! Before you say that, you remember this (apparently self-referential) blog post and know not to confuse environment with culture.

What is ‘Environment’?

Environment is the space a company occupies. In this instance, what the sales floor looks like, what kind of perks there are, the office location, the noise level, the desks, the ping pong table, the Red Bull. I’m not trying to tell you that these things don’t matter. I’ve worked on a floor like the one I described above and, conversely, what felt like a combination morgue/library. I can tell you that if you’re surrounded by joy and excitement, you’re going to want to come to work every day. For me, having an environment that I love is a pre-requisite for me to consider working somewhere. However, it’s not the only factor. There are plenty of companies out there with amazing environments but atrocious cultures. So what’s culture? Funny you ask.

What is ‘Culture’?

Culture is the identity, personality, and customs of your company and sales team. What you might not have seen on your tour is that the foosball game is between two top SDRs celebrating a record-setting day. The techno music was put on to get everyone amped for the daily cold calling hour. Different cultures are appealing to different people, but a few things that really excite me about working for a company are:

  1. Learning is encouraged. Everyone isn’t just open to new ideas/tools/points of view, they actively seek them out. If your idea fails? That’s awesome too! You learned something.
  2. Opportunity for growth. Besides selling shoes in high school, I’ve never done the same role for more than 18 months. I want to move up, I want to move around, I want to keep learning. A company that fosters this is a company I’m interested in.
  3. Everyone is winning. I’ve worked with some incredibly high performing teams. They weren’t high performing purely because of luck or because of raw talent. Sure there was a bit of both, but they were high performing because everyone wanted to be successful and worked their tails off to get there. If you’re surrounded by people who want to win, you will want to win.

So what do you say to the “why do you want to work here?” question? How about something like “Well, the environment here is clearly great. People seem to enjoy coming to work every single day. While that is a great benefit — no one wants to dread coming into the office every day — what really attracts me to this role is that there is a culture of learning, growth, and success.”

Great work, you got the job.

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