When Daniel Adamany left EMC in 2007 to build an IT consultancy, his list of startup priorities didn’t include building company culture.
“Now it’s pretty much all I think about,” said Adamany, CEO of Ahead LLC, at Fusion 2015, a gathering of C-level executives hosted by WTN Media.
The shift in the pendulum was triggered by his own experience as the leader of his firm. In 2007, Ahead employees all knew each other. They shared the same vision and mindset, which kept the fledgling company’s business goals top of mind. But as the company grew and matured, the culture that seemed such a natural part of the business deteriorated. “It was ugly for a little while,” Adamany said, so much so that at times, even he dreaded going to work.
Initially, he tried to ignore the problem or accept the new reality, but things got worse. He realized he had to reestablish a company culture that lifted rather than dragged the business down — a leadership challenge that required patience on his part and hard work.
Today, the Ahead culture isn’t something he sets and forgets, Adamany said; it’s an ongoing project, which sometimes benefits from bringing in a hell-raiser or two, or what Adamany referred to as “aliens.”
Don’t beg, borrow or steal culture
Part of the difficulty in moving the pendulum back to a more productive environment was that Adamany was unsure where to start. “It was something I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how to change it,” Adamany said. He tried borrowing cultural strategies from other companies — like Netflix’s nine behaviors and skills — and grafting it onto Ahead, but “it didn’t work because it wasn’t us,” he said. So, rather than stew or ruminate about what caused the culture to disintegrate, he began considering the company’s strengths.
It wasn’t an exercise for the CEO alone. “We surveyed the company,” Adamany said, asking employees to list three characteristics that made Ahead special as a company. Together, he and the team landed on three traits: Ahead’s ability to collaborate, innovate and drive (aka execute).