Rocket Culture

Company culture is one of the most powerful tools for success  and I have first hand experience watching culture make or break a company. Foster the right culture and great people are attracted to your company to make strong decisions and make customers very happy. Forget culture or promote the wrong values and you will never experience success.

There are many different ways that companies promote their own culture from executive speeches, to rewards, to office decor to statements etched in plaques. Whatever method, the company has to buy-in otherwise it is moot.

A few years ago my brother in law, Chad, sent me a pointer to TGV Rockets company culture.  Click here to continue reading this post…

TGV Rockets builds jet propulsion systems and the President, Pat Bahn, has a ton of character. He put his company rules on culture into a document that reads like a mission statement, business plan and policy manual rolled into one and covers everything from hours, compensation, titles, ethics, effort, passion, and ego.

Some excerpts will give you a sense of what its like to work at TGV:

Verboten: 1) parchment executive stationery. 2) Muzak. Small radios are great, if you want them, elevator music is awful. 3) Loud bells or buzzers, they interrupt thinking. 4) company doctors or shrinks. We may contract with a clinic, but your medical records are something I never want to conceive of seeing. 5) company planes or first class travel. I’ve survived India in third class, you can survive coach. 6) whacko monthly reports. We may have weekly or biweekly progress reports and no doubt will have a critical path map and PERT chart, but these need to be functional reports. When they stop working, send me a Grenade. 7) Company newsletters: we don’t need one, a digest of the e-mail list will tell you everything you need to know about what is happening. 8.) Hiring : Nobody gets brought on, until we have a screaming need for them 9) Big convention booths. The best booths are simple, with a couple of easels and lots of brochures. Our product will be so damned good, it will sell itself. We will have excellent salespeople, we will not have silly marketing exercises.

Corner Offices: Bad. They get people focused on things that rarely increase ROI. Make the corner room a conference room. Of course Conference rooms are not real good ideas, they encourage long meetings. Meetings should be held in rooms without chairs. This encourages brevity.

Furniture: Furniture is Overhead. Overhead is Evil. The best furniture comes from auctions of failed companies with very good office furnishings. The second best is made using scrap wood, saw horses and milk crates. Recycling is a virtue.

Ethics: It all boils down to “Are your actions something you can see being on the cover of the newspaper, and would your Mother approve.” The nature of ethics is it’s a slippery slope; once you start cutting corners, you are on an irreversible road. Don’t start and you won’t have to quit.

Hierarchy: Hierarchy is bad. Structure is silly. As we need things done, we will form up teams. The point of a virtual organization is to maximize connectivity between people. Use the phone, use Fax, FedEx, and the Internet. We will have a CEO, a COO, a CFO, and a CTO — but beyond that, it’s a big list of names. I’m in favor of only 3-4 job titles. Manager tech services, Manager flight services, Manager customer services. Peoples Express did this and it worked well. See my comment on managers.

Passion: Passion is far better then Greed. Work here because you love it. Be with us because it’s fun. Don’t be here just because you want stock options or a private bathroom. I’ll work hard to keep it fun and I’ll give you opportunities no company will ever give you. All I’ll ask is that you love rockets and love being here. The corollary is that there will be fair and level compensation. No executive perks, no outrageous salaries. What CEO is worth a million/year? Stock is one thing, but it should be proportional to everyone else. The fastest way to wreck morale is to have inequitable systems.

Focus: TGV can only do a few things well, so understand what we are trying to do, and keep your eye on the ball. We can’t be all things to all people — we will leave that to second rate companies like the guys down the street. We can be excellent in our niche and provide so much value to our customers that no one even imagines going to anyone else.

Judgment: Mark Twain once said good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. You will make mistakes, I will support you in making mistakes, but they had better be honest mistakes. Don’t treat the business as a base for doctoral research; you are here to solve problems, not create them. Also admit your mistakes. It’s okay. Babies learn to walk by falling. Baseball batters are lucky to hit .300. Babe Ruth led the league in strike outs, but he also led the league in homers. I’ll make my share of mistakes, try to help me recover from them.

Over the years I have referred to it many times. Great read. View the full document here (it used to be on the TGV site, but has since been removed, so this is the only version I could find – save it to your hard drive if you think you may want to refer to it in the future, just in case it vanishes entirely):  Rocket Culture for the 21st Century

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