Groupon, Zynga, and Dropbox – Learning Company Culture from the Pros

By Kyle Lagunas, an HR analyst at .

Everyone loves perks, right? Catered lunches, an open vacation policy, and access to a concierge, all sound really nice – especially if you’re asking me to work 70 hours a week. Beyond the fun and games, though, how do you motivate your team and inspire loyalty every day? In recent years, the most successful start-ups have focused on offering their employees something more: a connection to the company. Three prominent startups – Groupon, Zynga and Dropbox – are each cultivating lasting company cultures, and I’ve taken a look to see what’s working and what’s not.
Hire the Right People and Let Them Do Their Jobs.As online storage provider Dropbox’s CEO, Drew Houston, can attest, hiring the right people for your organization is the most important step in building your company culture. For Dropbox, hiring fewer, but better, people reduced the need for company founders to be great at coordinating and planning employees’ every move. By then offering a flexible schedule and giving employees the ability to choose what projects they’ll work on, Dropbox puts their people in the driver’s seat of their careers.

Build Trust and Provide Transparency. When it comes to building loyalty, we all know that trust goes a long way. Groupon – the Chicago-based company that made coupons cool again – entrusts their team to get the job done. As such, their people genuinely care about what they do. “The only recognition we need,” says one employee on the Groupon Blog,  “is to hear people talk about how much they loved their Groupon experience.” And trust is a two-way street. In an interview with Forbes, Groupon’s Head of People Strategy, Dan Jessup said, “We’re big on transparency, and staying close to our roots, what we stand for, as we grow. With growth this fast, we have to trust and respect our people and show them that we care and that we are listening.”

Share Ownership.Each and every employee at Zynga (developers of Farmville and Words With Friends – my newest addiction) is expected to follow the same core value in every endeavor: “Be your own CEO: Own outcomes.” CEO Mark Pincus has built his company culture on ownership. Pincus explained to Fast Companythat he “wanted to push the ownership and decision making to the people who were closest to the features, problems, and opportunities and empower them to go for it, to take risks and make mistakes.” By empowering his team with this core value (and commanding them to “Move at Zynga Speed”), Pincus’ company is poised for great success.

Keep People Connected.One of the biggest challenges Dropbox faces in growing is keeping people on the same page. Where the team was once small enough to fit in one room, and communication occurred naturally, things became more difficult now the team is bigger and and everyone maintaines a different work schedule. Houston said: “As we grew larger, we had to start deliberately trying to figure out how to get the right info in the right peoples’ hands.”

When looking for tools for enhancing communication in the workplace, many businesses are adopting enterprise social networks such as Yammer. These web-based systems give users the ability to view official company announcements, share important information, and communicate with anyone in the company.

Nail the Onboarding Process. In an interview with Vanity Fair, CEO Andrew Mason says he still tries to make his company feel like a start-up. “As we get bigger, instead of being like most companies, conforming and becoming more normal, we want to become weirder.” The culture at Groupon can be a little jarring for newcomers, and Mason he knows getting onto the Groupon brainwave is vital to these employees’ success. Directly involving himself in the onboarding process, he meets with a group of new employees off site every two weeks, provides an overview of the company, and gives them a chance to ask him their burning questions directly.

Nip Entitlement in the Bud.As Zynga prepares for the company to go public, officials are concerned about the impact sudden wealth may have on their employees. Many employees may receive significant proceeds from sales of equity in the public markets after Zynga’s initial public offering, which Zynga officials reportedly fear may reduce the team’s motivation to continue to work. But the issue Zynga faces isn’t about turnover. It’s the potential impact on company culture that concerns them. Perks and incentives are meant to give employees a sense of value, not entitlement, and Zynga’s now faced with the challenge of finding a balance moving forward.

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