Culture the DNA of an Organization, says Top Small Workplace Winner

Culture the DNA of an Organization, says Top Small Workplace Winner

5 cultural principles behind The Sky Factory’s notable success

Bill Witherspoon says when setting about to create a different kind of company, his past experience in molecular biology played a pivotal role in understanding the importance of culture.

The founder of The Sky Factory describes culture as the DNA/RNA of a corporation, and similarly determines critical outcomes such as how a company functions and grows.

Because of this, The Sky Factory, an employee-owned firm, “did a lot of thinking” about its culture while the company was still in its formative stages. Witherspoon says they wanted to have a very clear understanding of what their culture was and could be in order to define their future and growth.

To that end, The Sky Factory designed five cultural principles that guide the organization, which has grown to 34 employees and annual revenue of $3.9 million.

The first is transparency; all information is shared among staff members aside from individual compensation and human resource issues – two areas the staff members voted to keep private.

The second principle is to operate as a flat organization – there is no hierarchy or management, just owners. To fill roles similar to that of a manager, the company adopts weekly facilitators and a rotating annual presidency.

According to Witherspoon, this builds expertise among all staff members, who are able to perform many roles and dissolves the dilemma of hidden agendas.

“We don’t have a rumour mill, we don’t have people trying to get somewhere, there is no place to go, no ladder to climb, we are like a family,” he says.

The third cultural principle is service; a value Witherspoon says is one of the most important contributors to the organization’s culture. As an outcome of having a culture focused on serving the customer, staff members increasingly engage in service automatically. Witherspoon says it isn’t unusual to see someone from accounting stepping in to help a shipment get out on time.

Consensus decision-making is the fourth principle at The Sky Factory, and the one that raises the most eyebrows from the outside, according to Witherspoon.

He says 100-per-cent agreement on business decisions isn’t difficult when you have transparency and zero hierarchy, and instead leads to “more expressions of creative intelligence.”

“Have we ever stopped projects or decisions in this consensus-making process? Yes. Has it ever been to our detriment? No.”

The final value of the company is a commitment to performance that extends to fellow staff members, community and the planet.

Performance for employee owners is tied to a monthly bonus program that contributes 50-65 per cent more to staff members’ salaries.

The employee owners also perform for their community by engaging in what they deem critical issues. To this end, Witherspoon says The Sky Factory has contributed several hundred thousand dollars to oppose factory farming and encourage sustainable alternative methods, such as organic farming.

The Sky Company is a recent winner of Inc. magazine’s Top Small Company Workplaces.

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Camille Jensen

Camille Jensen is an employee share ownership consultant with ESOP Builders, Canada’s largest provider of employee share ownership plans (ESOPs) for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Prior to joining ESOP Builders, Camille was a generative journalist and team member at Axiom News. She credits her time at Axiom as fundamental to her understanding that business is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Camille is a B.C. Partner for Social Impact and volunteer with Okanagan Changemakers.

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