Building trust-based cultures and environments

I was having breakfast with my friend Raman, who is currently in the process of building a social space, called Good People Homes. Over the past few months he had rented a space and established a group of 500+ people whose members he would regularly invite to organized dinners. He would bring in a great chef, compose a delicious menu, and have interesting people come to the dinners. Only rule to stick to: leave your agenda at the door. So it was all about getting interesting people to meet and converse over great food. He proved the concept and is now in the process of finding a proper space to build out the idea. 

As he was explaining the concept of the space, I realized that much of it was very trust based. He is planning to build a social space that should be accessible to its members (think of a membership-based subscription to the space) to come, sleep, work, hang out and meet other great people. In fact, the bar would be called “honor bar” and one should contribute as much as one would take. So as we were talking, the question quickly became: "how does one make sure that members don’t abuse such offers, respect the trust and contribute as much as (or even more than) they take?” 

The discussion reminded me a lot of our culture at Google. When I have foreign companies visiting the campus, they often ask how the employees can stay so focused despite all the distractions. My answer is always the same: we overemphasize the importance of hiring. In our hiring process, we carefully look for people who have a track record of “not being defined by their job descriptions/responsibilities.” That means that at Google we often look for people who weren’t defined by what they had to do, but always did more than that. People with such profile tend to take their “core responsibilities” very seriously, yet always look for ways to perform beyond them. It’s those type of people who value the freedoms given to them and besides appreciating it, also look for ways to “give back” in return. 

That’s why “adopting a Google-like culture” is so difficult for a company that already has a pool of employees that wasn’t established based on such hiring profile. Turns out that you can’t just forcefully change the mindset and attitude of your employees. Not that it wouldn’t be impossible, but it’s really challenging. That’s why so damn important to care about your culture at the point of foundation. Culture can’t be an afterthought, it really needs to be thoughtfully crafted. And if you are looking to build an environment that is highly trust based, make sure you look for those people who have demonstrated throughout their lives and careers that they were all about “core + x”, meaning that they not only did what they were asked to do, but did much more than that. 

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