Company culture: how do we explain and cultivate it, and what mistakes should really be avoided?
It is often said that to build a large company, you need to develop a company culture first. It’s true. Company culture is the frame of mind that employees share, it’s their way of interacting with customers, it’s the reason why a company exists, and it’s the purpose behind all the actions we take. It’s a set of factors that make employees look forward to getting up every morning, inspire trust from our customers, and make them happy to order from us, in a way that extends beyond the nature of the products themselves.
From the very beginning, in 1999, I wanted to create a different company — one that I’d be really happy to work in myself. I wanted to create a very safe company environment for employees, so that they could take risks and develop new product ideas for customers, and feel like they’re allowed to make mistakes. I wanted to build a relationship with our customers. A very different kind of relationship that is direct, open and transparent, so that they can save as much time as possible. I also wanted to do this because my ambition is to work closely with them to create ideas for the products we’d develop for them. I love speaking to customers, listening to them and thinking of solutions while they talk to me. I think I can say that OVH has a strong company culture, and you pick that up straight away when you interact with employees, suppliers and customers.
But what I didn’t know was how different this culture is. I didn’t notice that OVH works very differently from all the other companies on the market. It was only in early 2018, after we’d recruited 1,000 people in a year, purchased a company in the US, and had 2,500 employees in 19 countries, that I really understood how wide the culture gap was between OVH and other companies. I built my company with a different thought process, which probably explains why we have done so well, even with tight restrictions. In such a competitive market, and with a business model that involved very heavy investment, at first glance OVH would not have had any chance of existing if I had built it using a standard approach.
In 2017, welcoming so many new people in a 12-month period was difficult for everyone, for a number of reasons. We’ve recruited juniors — employees whose first professional experience was at OVH. They have discovered the world of business at OVH, a company where you need to be independent and responsible, but also know how to work as part of a team. In short, you need to be very mature. We’ve also recruited experienced employees, with 10 or more years of professional experience. We’ve asked them to understand what makes OVH unique, respect our company culture, and not change it, but instead enrich it with the elements we’re lacking. They’ve come to us with their experience — which is great in itself — and they’ve also brought us their ways of working, which they’ve acquired from other company cultures. Finally, purchasing a company — which is a first for OVH — and purchasing one in the US, involved two levels of complexity which we decided to take on within the same period. We really do love a challenge! On top of this, we have much faster completion times than before, with important decisions being made on a daily basis, and we have all the conditions in place to create several companies in one, that work more or less independently from one another.
All of this has had a huge impact on employees who have worked here for a while, and created this unique company culture that plays a vital part in ensuring that we continue to perform well in such a competitive market. They’ve seen new behaviours start to emerge, and have reflected a lot about OVH, and about themselves. Will OVH still continue to be OVH, or is it turning into a standard company? Do we accept all of this new behaviour? Do I really want to work at this new OVH?
By experiencing all of these integrations in only 12 months, I’ve noticed that even if our culture is very strong and unique, this just isn’t enough to make it last. I’d forgotten an essential step: describing this culture, choosing the right words for it, and taking the time to tell the story of what I wanted to build. Putting this all into writing has reassured employees that have worked here for a while, and has given me an easier way to explain the differences to all of our new employees. No, there’s no new OVH, and there doesn’t need to be. Our success is down to our culture, our way of seeing the world, and the way we work together. It’s important to preserve what has allowed our company to exist, explain it to new employees, and ask them either to adopt this culture as they grow professionally, or find a different company that is better suited to their mindset. There are so many great companies in this market, and OVH isn’t the only one that promotes happiness at work.
But it was only in January 2018 that we started putting our culture and all of our values into writing. And yes, it’s crazy when I think about it, but only after 19 years of existence have I really felt the need to put this all on paper, in order to preserve this unique culture. We’re doing this collectively, involving the entire company — and after four months, we’ve aligned ourselves on the company’s ambition, its purpose, its missions and its values. We are still working on this, with the translation of this founding text (which I want to share with you in the next blog post), within each Business Unit, and with the different types of behaviour we do and really don’t want to see at OVH.
The work will begin with each employee, with something I call ‘the basics of happiness at work’. I want every employee to define three points, and remember them all the time:
- Who is their customer? Are they internal (within OVH) or external (a business customer, who buys products)?
- What value does the employee want to bring to their customer?
- What does it mean to ‘do a good job’ (what is their line of success)?
You may be wondering why I go this far. Every evening, I ask myself the same question: did I just have a good day? Was it useful? Can I allow myself to be happy with what I’ve done today, or not? I think my teams do amazing work every day, but in a company that has such high ambitions, we’re so focused on the challenges we take on that we often don’t take the time to celebrate victories, whether they’re small or large. Because of this, it’s easy for us to feel like nothing is going smoothly, but if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we can be really happy. So I want to create working conditions where my teams can leave work every evening and feel satisfied that they’ve done a good job, since they’ve brought value to their customers.
I’ve worked like this for 19 years, and I’ve noticed that every morning I wake up with the same drive to come to OVH and work with my teams. If it works for me, it must work for other people, too.