By Tanya Bakalov of SevOne

The tech industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years. In 2005, Apple was ranked at 263 on the Fortune 500 (currently at five). Google didn’t even break the 500 mark, landing at 541 compared to its position today at 46. BlackBerry was “conquering the world” and investors were taking a chance on a little website called Facebook.


screen shot 2015 07 27 at 12 01 40 pm 6 Ways To Build A Culture Of Awesome
tanya bakalov 6 Ways To Build A Culture Of Awesome

Tanya Bakalov
(Photo courtesy of Tanya Bakalov)

screen shot 2015 07 27 at 12 01 40 pm 6 Ways To Build A Culture Of Awesome
screen shot 2015 07 27 at 12 01 40 pm 6 Ways To Build A Culture Of Awesome

A lot can change over the course of a decade. Trends shift, companies come in and out of vogue, and businesses are left running to keep up. Startups are especially susceptible to these ups and downs. How does a company maintain an agile, fun startup culture ten years down the road? How do hiring practices need to shift and how do you continue to communicate as effectively to 1,000 employees as you did to 10?

Since founding SevOne with my husband 10 years ago, I’ve learned a lot about not only what makes a company great, but how you can sustain, fine tune and evolve that greatness over time. It’s inevitable that there will be some growing pains along the way. However, by focusing on two key elements – building a great workforce and effectively communicating to and supporting that workforce – you can make those pains less acute.

Here are the tenets I hire and manage by – the foundation of what we call the Culture of Awesome.


Don’t rely on the resume

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A good resume can certainly get someone in the door, but the real insight about whether a person is a good fit for your company comes from meaningful conversations. That one employee can have a profound impact on your 10-person startup. Make sure you spend the time uncovering personalities that are both diverse and complementary. Look for people who are willing to learn from their mistakes and have a passionate vision of their future goals and aspirations. Especially in a startup setting, you want to bring people on who are not afraid to take smart and calculated risks and think differently about the problem you are looking to solve. That’s where true learning and innovation starts. Bring in people that will spur, and sustain, company growth.


Always ask the tough questions

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Don’t mistake asking tough questions for being harsh or unfeeling. At the end of the day, it’s in everyone’s best interest that you determine early on whether or not someone is a fit for your organization. Sometimes, that means getting right to the point and developing a conversation framework to figure out if someone is a fit. That framework includes identifying the main traits and deal breakers you’re looking for, and asking the questions that will bring those out. Also, look for people who ask the tough questions of you as well. You want someone who is interested in learning about the role and is knowledgeable about the tools and strategies they’ll be using on the job. These are the experts in their craft that will bring valuable expertise to your team.


Build the right hiring team

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What this looks like will inevitably differ from company to company, but it’s still an important factor that’s easy to overlook. Assemble the right people in the room to truly see firsthand how someone might fit in. At SevOne, we have at least six points of contact for any potential new hire. From recruiter, to co-worker, to hiring manager, each one plays an integral role in the process. Also pay attention to how employees perform based on who hired them. You might be able to spot patterns that reveal consistently low or high performers.


Hire, don’t fire

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During my 10 years at SevOne, I’ve hired over 300 people – and only fired two. In fact, many of my original hires from our early days are still at the company. Recruiting is such an essential part of the puzzle, and should be a top priority, especially when starting a new company. Your workforce is the backbone of your organization. Make sure you’re bringing people in who are dedicated to the work and have the capacity to grow within the startup culture to a more tenured atmosphere.


Integrate, don’t force, fun

screen shot 2015 08 31 at 3 41 10 pm1 6 Ways To Build A Culture Of Awesome
As you build your workforce, continue to find authentic and creative ways to keep those people happy. Sure, outings planned by upper management are appreciated. But, the real impact happens in the day-to-day operations. We found out early on that our developer team had a common love for ultimate frisbee, so we’d look for spontaneous moments to organize games in the parking lot during down time. Empower your managers to plan team-building exercises and events. Do nice things for each other without being on a schedule. Science has proven that downtime results in increased productivity. Foster the type of environment where no one dreads Monday and everyone has the opportunity to recharge. Your company will operate better for it.


From CEO to intern, be transparent

screen shot 2015 08 31 at 3 41 10 pm1 6 Ways To Build A Culture Of Awesome
It can be pretty easy to be transparent when your company consists of five people in a converted garage. Once your company starts to grow, it is imperative that that transparency continues to be a priority. At SevOne, we make everybody’s goals visible to the whole company, which provides a greater connection back to the overall strategy of the company. We like to think of this as the “FitBit” of the company, tracking our progress towards the “marathon” of our company’s growth. How can you know what everyone is doing for 26.2 miles without a common, public platform? We want to be able to work together every step to get to the finish line.

At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right for your business and for your people. Envision what you want to achieve and go after it. Build up a workforce that will help you get there and make them a part of that vision. Create your own version of the Culture of Awesome and see where it can take you.


This article is written and provided by Tanya Bakalov. Tanya is the SVP and co-founder of SevOne. Since establishing the company in 2005 with her husband, Tanya has since helped to grow SevOne to over 400 employees worldwide. Prior to SevOne, Tanya worked as a consultant at Deloitte and Touche in the IT risk management and assurance division, consulting with many Fortune 500 and blue chip companies in the technology, insurance and manufacturing sectors.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the authors alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the authors.
screen shot 2015 07 27 at 12 01 40 pm 6 Ways To Build A Culture Of Awesome


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