A Personal Experience: The Importance of Company Culture and How it can Influence You

“You are what you eat.”

To a certain degree, I believe this to be true.

I also firmly believe that “You are the company you keep.”

To make my point, I have to backtrack to the time I joined an (at the time!) Fortune 500 company that completely changed my perspective on how important company culture was and what it can do to a person.

When I first landed the role, I was an excited 23-year-old entering her 2nd full-time job. (How green I was!) This company talked constantly about about its culture and there were certain values that were drilled and instilled in me right from the day I entered. This experience in a Westernised multinational company was vastly different from that of my previous company, which was a small and cosy local business based in Singapore. Speaking honestly, it was a rude awakening and a HUGE culture shock.

“Demand excellence.”

“Act like an owner.”

“Take intelligent risks.”

These were some of the core company values that were repeated over and over again — through words emblazoned on their white and blue-painted walls, constant emails from HR, LinkedIn’s culture champions organising events and shouting through the hallways for the rest of the employees to come and join. It was even embedded in our quarterly OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and how our performance ranked against these values.

I was 23. I knew nothing about the world. Truth be told, it was intimidating to be surrounded by what seemed at the time like so many behemoths of corporate excellence.

Unbeknownst to me, the behaviour of the employees was heavily influenced by the company culture as well as the kind of people that were around them. When I left the company 3 years later, I was a changed woman.

People around me were constantly competitive yet cooperative, trying to push the limits of their potential and surpass their past year’s results. They were always trying to step out of their comfort zone to do something extraordinary, exploring new opportunities and taking calculated risks. My manager was constantly pushing me to be better — and thanks to this, I grew from a rank-and-file fledgling into someone who could run the show from end to end.

You are the company you keep.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash.

“The people you choose to surround yourself with are an investment.”

Quality sleep is important. It’s vital to the routine of every working adult and something our bodies need. We all sleep for roughly 7–8 hours in a day and, in most people’s case, a good bed is a must. You invest money in a great mattress, an awesome pillow, a cosy comforter, so that you can tuck in every night for 7–8 hours of quality rest.

This is an investment.

What about work then? You spend 9 (or more!) hours of your time being around the people you have to work with.

Shouldn’t they also be seen as one?

Having people that motivate you and challenge you to grow is a must. They are your great mattress, your awesome pillow, your cosy comforter to help you put out a productive 8 hours of work with no fuss or drama, get sh*t done and make everyone happy.

In retrospect, it is particularly surprising to me how many people fail to consider this until they either reflect on a past experience or have a particularly bad one — myself included. I’m sure you’ve encountered quite a handful of colleagues or friends who wax nostalgic about “the dream team” they worked with at one point in their career.

I cannot stress enough that the people you choose to work with is also an investment.

Photo by Bonneval Sebastien on Unsplash.

“Surround yourself with people that challenge and motivate you.”

The people you work with will influence you and you will influence them in turn— knowingly and unknowingly. They influence your thoughts, your words, your behaviour, and your actions as you continue to work in that environment. Start thinking about the kinds of people you want to surround yourself with. Do you want to be around people who are constructive, or people who are toxic without reason? People who praise others for their accomplishments, or people who take credit for the work you do?

Moreover, to be the best versions of ourselves we need to step out of our comfort zones, be uncomfortable, and push ourselves. It also really helps to have a support network that you can rely on whenever you need that little confidence boost or piece of advice. (Thanks Gary!)

The right environment and the right people will help ensure you’re energised and ready to take on any challenges that come your way. If your support network at work helps you to do that on a DAY-TO-DAY BASIS, you will be on the path to achieve your goals F A S T E R.

If you’re surrounded by doubters and naysayers, you’ll be less inclined to give that extra 5-10%. (Unless you’re super stubborn and want to prove them wrong — however, in the long run you can be sure their negativity will start to eat away at your optimism.)

Ever since I got the proper perspective on how important culture is, I am excited (and obsessed, to a fault!) to be in an environment where:

  • People are not afraid to speak their minds when something is wrong.
  • People constantly challenge me to do better.
  • We celebrate our successes yet strive to be even better in the coming year.

Staying stagnant is a big no-no in my book. (Maybe when I’m 70 and retired!)

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash.

“Company values matter.”

When you have a clearly-defined and well-communicated set of morals and values that you stick to as a company, you will begin to lean towards embodying them in every little thing you do. Your mindset, your decisions, your actions, and your thought processes will all end up taking these company values into consideration.

Now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “Pfffft. That’s just corporate speak. Companies just say it for the sake of saying it and it’s always a damn ball of fluff. Surely this can’t affect my day-to-day?”

In this case, I’m going to use Mighty Bear as an example and how being part of this company for a year has done that for me. I may be biased, but I’m also speaking from personal experience. (I am NOT being paid extra for this.)

I won’t go into detail about what the values stand for or what they represent— they are super simple and easy to understand. But let me show you some examples of HOW some of these values have directly impacted my work and even influenced the way I think:

1) MBG VALUES: Transparency

Openness, communication, and especially transparency are vital to Mighty Bear’s culture. One of the things I really admire about the leadership here is their level of transparency with the team.

But just how transparent?

Well, every Friday we have a weekly sync on a studio level where our CEO Simon shares with us the financial status of our company and its projects. (Ask anyone else from Mighty Bear if this is true, I dare you!)

Our leadership team always shares their plans for the company and what the next steps, considerations, and even risks might be. They actively seek our input, insights, or perspectives, and in this everyone is treated equally. Questions from ANY team member, regardless of seniority or department, are welcomed and we are able to freely speak our mind about any topics that are concerning us.

Lastly (and this is the kicker), we even know how much our founders are making every month.

2) MBG VALUES: (1) Trust, (2) Get Sh*t Done

When I first joined Mighty Bear Games, I was given several tasks to do without any form of hand-holding. I was absolutely free to tackle it in the way I thought was suitable and if I really needed support I was free to clarify with my team mates and/or seek their opinion in case I missed something.

Complete autonomy. That’s what this level of trust means at Mighty Bear. Frankly, I was quite used to this style of working due to my past experiences, but for others it can come as a shock to the system.

Speaking of surprises, I do however recall an occasion in my first month with the company that knocked me for six. I was asking for budget to purchase a plug-in for one of the tools we were using, with the goal of improving the team’s productivity. I was prepared with my reports and analysis to substantiate why this $9 per-month, per-user plug-in was the best option for the team. But after a quick glance at the reports and an affirmation of total trust, I was given the green light with virtually no resistance. It was absolutely incredible.

In so many other companies, I would have to jump through 100 more hoops to get sh*t done.

Not at Mighty Bear Games.

NOTE: I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with some other colleagues and we have the same sentiments about how we hire and how trust is given: Mighty Bear Games will be fussy when it comes to hiring someone (we have another value: “Always Hire People Better Than Yourself”), but once that person has been accepted and joins the company, the team will get out of the way and provide that full trust and autonomy so that they can do their best work. Rather than starting out micromanaged and scrutinised, new hires begin their job at Mighty Bear with a high level of trust based on a successful interview process.

3) MBG VALUES: Retention over monetisation.

The culture at Mighty Bear Games prizes a “People First” mentality. We take good care of our people.

Some examples of how Mighty Bear has managed to “retain” me as an individual:

  • Physical Health: The leadership at Mighty Bear is making it a point to ensure the team has enough rest whenever the team needs it. If it affects production cycles, we plan around the gaps. With meticulous and people-oriented planning, we also do our best to ensure that the team experiences little to no crunch. Even if we do, the team will get a rest day for the work they have put in.
  • Mental Health: For employees struggling with their mental health, Mighty Bear Games has a special arrangement with a team of MH professionals who can be booked at any time. The bill from the specialist is charged automatically to the company account so that we respect the employee’s privacy when booking a session — no one else at Mighty Bear will know.
  • Employee Appreciation: The leadership team occasionally takes us out for team dinners and team-bonding activities as a way of strengthening team spirit, as well as to show their appreciation for the hard work we do. We are very lucky to be based in Singapore, where restrictions are not as stringent due to the relatively low number of cases of COVID-19. Even during lockdown, where we could only go out for groceries, Mighty Bear had surprise care packages delivered straight to our doorstep. (See below!) It felt like the company was keeping our well-being top of mind and telling each of us, “We care for you and we are here for you.”
Taken from our MBG Instagram Page!

Having worked at 4–5 different companies in my (still pretty short) career, I chose to write this article so that I could provide some insights into my journey as a working adult. It might feel like a diary or a collection of personal impressions, but I hope the details of my experience with company culture are able to illuminate parts of your journey as well.

I just wanted to end off with a simple reminder about the purpose of this article.

YOU have the final say on who you work with and the environment you want to be in. Not anyone else. If a company wants to hire you, you have the power to say yes or no.

One of the best ways to weed out the poor choices is to reflect on your experience with company’s interviewers. If it aligns with your idea of an environment you want to be working in for the foreseeable future, that’s great! But if the interviewers put you in a distressing situation that you’re uncomfortable with, or that conflicts with your personal morals and values, it’s a big warning sign.

No matter whether you see red flags or you’re excited about the company culture, do your due diligence and dig deeper when asking them questions. Go further than the surface-level “What’s the culture like?” Ask them about their initiatives, how they care for their employees, and how they resolve conflicts internally. There’s so many questions you can ask – the sky is the limit.

The power is yours. Choose your culture wisely.

A Personal Experience: The Importance of Company Culture and How it can Influence You was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.