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Shaping Aware's High-Performing, Differentiating Culture

Jeff Schumann
12/3/19 10:00 AM

In Columbus, there are a lot of best places to work. So, while we are excited to be named one of the Best Places to Work, we are more grateful that our team chose to trust their careers with Aware and that they love coming to work every day to build something great together.

What is Workplace Culture?

Culture is an often discussed concept that is hard to define and even more difficult to shape. A healthy and impactful culture goes beyond free snacks, fun events and employee autonomy, but rather is an intentional approach to better understanding and optimizing of employee productivity, recognizing that it’s nearly impossible to have one without the other.

There is no question that organizations with healthy and effective cultures enjoy higher rates of employee retention, better brand reputation, enhanced productivity, quality of work and innovation. 

Aware’s Culture Formula: Connection, Freedom and Celebration

At Aware, employees are given freedom and autonomy to make an impact. Of course, that comes with the requirement of transparency  at every level of the organization.

1. Choose for Connection

When making decisions that impact your culture, you should ask yourself: would making this decision foster connection between teammates? 

The underlying intention of every decision in our office environment is to foster connection: from the communal seating at the kitchen table, to the fact that nobody has a private office. We offer couches, bean bag chairs for people to work comfortably and connect with teammates.

Connection also matters in hiring decisions. Sure, competency is a critical requirement of any team member, but can you connect with them personally? Will they be able to connect with others personally or professionally? Will they be able to remain focused and collaboratively work towards accomplishing the larger mission, or will they succumb to the “game” of office politics.

When teammates build personal and professional relationships, they build a foundation of trust that equips them to handle obstacles together and work towards a common goal.  

2. Empower Employees with the Freedom to Create Impact

Employees are given freedom and autonomy to make an impact, from shipping a feature into production on day one or inventing a new business process that marginalizes our old way of thinking and leads to faster time-to-value for our customers. Of course, that comes with the requirement of transparency from every corner of the company.

Our leadership team lives by the philosophy that culture is based on shared context, trust, competence, accountability and common values. There is no part that includes command or control. Give people appropriate (and transparent) expectations, along with the freedom to work how they perform best, and the results will be outstanding.

3. Don’t Forget to Celebrate Wins

While it’s cliché, the age-old saying, it’s about the journey, not the destination, rings true here. We are incredibly thoughtful about our approach to celebration, because the startup world trains you to be extra focused on hitting your milestones, especially when venture-backed. If we only remained focused on celebrating when we hit a milestone, we would never feel like we accomplished anything, because there would always be a new milestone. So, we aspire to over-index on celebrating the small wins and the steps that it takes to get to the milestone.

Celebration and recognition is built into the Aware experience: a bourbon room to celebrate wins with an afternoon drink, a blue light that any employee can flash in the corner of the room for hitting micro goals and a massive gong that employees ring when they win big. Taking the time to reflect on hard work and give each other a pat on the back enhances commitment and ownership to both teammates and the company.

Amazing Culture Starts with the People

Building a great company starts with hiring great people, who, when empowered, will do great things.  This is especially true at a startup where it is critically important to hire “A” players, because these players will hire the rest of your company. “A” players have a tendency to hire other “A” players, surrounding themselves with others who they can learn from and who have the talent and ability to put in the effort to succeed. “B” players, on the other hand, will hire “C” players and “C” players will hire “D” players.

The truth is, if you don’t get it right from the beginning, you set yourself up for needing massive correction later. Hire thoughtfully, spend time with candidates and involve others in the process.

Let Your Culture Evolve As You Grow

Looking back on our Aware journey, I'm proud to say that the essence of our culture has stayed consistent: the freedom, the drive and the supportive employee community. That's not to say that everything is the same. As our team has evolved, so have the tactical aspects of our culture.

For example, we find it important to celebrate employee milestones like birthdays and anniversaries. When we had under twenty employees, we served a cake for every employee birthday. Now, with a team twice that size, we would have cake nearly every week for a birthday! Instead, we offer employees exclusive parking, a gift on their desk and a written shoutout in an all-company digital space. The intent of the gesture is the same: recognize a team member on their day; but the practice is a lot more sustainable as we scale.

As a leader, my job is to encourage Aware employees to come together and build a disruptive, powerful product and business. It is also my responsibility to build a team and an environment where we can create amazing memories and build lasting relationships at all stages of our journey.

We are lucky with the team we have at Aware and are definitely on the ride of a lifetime, together.

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