Taming a Type-A Culture Gone WildBy Kerry J. Sulkowicz
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San Francisco-based Method is one of those quirky companies whereÂ the halls bustle with smart, opinionated hipsters who, compared to most of us,Â actually love their jobs. Employees conduct meetings while knitting in the “craftÂ pod,” playing ping pong in the Astroturf room, or just sitting in theÂ middle of an open, office-less floor plan and writing their many ideas onÂ whiteboards that span entire walls. The vibrant atmosphere has helped propelÂ the nine-year-old company to more than $100 million inÂ sales and put its laundry detergent, hand soap, and other products onto theÂ shelves of stores like Target, Lowe’s, and Safeway.Â But several years ago, after a period of rapid sales growth and frantic hiring, the free flow of ideas started to get a little too free. Arguments were breaking out in the middle of the very public encampment of cubicles. Employees who should have been talking with one another weren’t. For a cleaning products company composed of “people against dirty,” things were getting messy.
It was a moment many growing companies face, when the old ways of doing things no longer scale and the problems point toward more adult supervision and some kind of formalized structure. Method’s thirty-something co-founders, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, realized that the company’s “anybody can say anything anytime” environment had to evolve. The challenge was to do it in a way that would preserve a sense of creativity and fun. “In the early days of Method when we all sat in one room, our culture was right there for all to see,” explains Ryan. “When we grew out of that space, when you could no longer stand up and holler to any other employee, we knew it was time to specify what was important to us.”
The Rules of the Office
So Ryan and Lowry spent several weeks passing a notebookÂ back and forth, jotting down ideas. They spelled out, in a set of five principles,Â how employees should conduct themselves. Each of the five was then printed onÂ brightly colored laminated cards and handed out to every employee at theÂ companys kickoff meeting in early 2006. When new employees join theÂ company, they are given their own collection of cards.Â Two of the cards addressed the restraint side of theÂ equation:
- CollaborateÂ instructs employees to communicateÂ directly and demonstrate understanding withÂ colleagues as well as to assume co-workers want the best for you.
- CareÂ asks that everyone care for eachÂ other, our customers, and our environment. The card reads, WereÂ like care bears, but cooler.
The rest of the values work to preserve MethodsÂ inventive culture:
- InnovateÂ tells Method employees to alwaysÂ be creating.
- Keep Method WeirdÂ assures employees that theyÂ should feel free to let their freak flag fly and infect other peopleÂ with your passion.
- The rhetoricalÂ What Would MacGyver Do?Â attempts toÂ harness some of the aggressive type A tendencies at Method by definingÂ resourcefulness as not accepting no for an answer and lookingÂ under rocks for what other have missed.
The big challenge in this kind of program, of course, liesÂ in making sure those values survive the rah-rah stage and dontÂ simply devolve into a bland mission statement that no one pays attention to.Â Kerry Sulkowicz, founder of the Boswell Group, a consulting firm that focusesÂ on the psychology of business, says that its up to the companysÂ leaders to make the values stick, and they can only do that by example. LeadersÂ have to assume they are under constant scrutiny, says Sulkowicz.
Making the Rules Stick
In the spirit of leading by example,Â Keep Method WeirdÂ has been incorporated into the companys hiring process. ItsÂ now one of the questions (What would you do to keep Method weird?)Â prospective employees must answer. We want to know people are goingÂ to bring their personality to the company, explains Katie Molinari,Â Methods head of public relations. A fun brand can onlyÂ come from fun people. One interviewee answered the question byÂ conducting a spontaneous yoga session for the team interviewing her. AnotherÂ who was learning to play the guitar led a roving musical lesson in a marchÂ around the office. Both applicants were swiftly hired.
In addition, Lowry and Ryan created a Values Award for whichÂ employees can nominate each another. Every Monday after the companysÂ weekly morning huddle, the winner, if there is one that week, spins a Wheel ofÂ Fortune-type wheel to determine their prize. Bounty has included everythingÂ from a dinner gift certificate to a holiday turkey and a trip to Las Vegas.
As part of theÂ CollaborateÂ principle, most employeesÂ are uprooted twice a year to different work stations, where they findÂ themselves sitting next to new cubicle-mates. Josh Handy, who heads up theÂ design of Methods stylish and shapely packaging, now sits next toÂ the left-brained chemists who concoct the product formulas, something unusualÂ at a consumer products company. Handy thinks this proximity has helped avoid aÂ repeat of the 2007 catastrophe in which the formula inside a new line of bodyÂ washes and lotions was too thick to be squeezed out of a pretty but inflexibleÂ bottle. Now all designers consult with the formulators before designing newÂ products, avoiding future headaches.
Part of signing on to be a Method employee isÂ agreeing to live the values, which provide a kind of true northÂ for everyones behavior, says Ryan. ThatsÂ why it works.
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