Culture is important. It is important to individuals, to countries and to companies. Sometimes a culture is nuanced and difficult to get your arms around; sometimes it is in your face leaving you no doubt. Think of Joni Mitchell and Slayer. Nuance versus a ball peen hammer to the forebrain.
Over the past 18 years, I have worked for a number of companies in a number of geographies. I have spent time in smaller, ego-driven companies and time in large organizations that have years of cultural baggage to weigh them down. I have worked in Japan, the UK, France, Spain, and Germany where country specific nuance has a great impact on company culture. In all of that time, across all of those geographies, I have not come across a corporate culture as strong as SoftLayer’s.
When newly minted SoftLayer employees arrived at the Alpha facility, it was a curious thing to observe because (being relatively new, myself) I could not tell the difference between old and new employees. Everyone was decked out in the unofficial SoftLayer uniform – a black SoftLayer shirt and jeans. On the official move in day, a tattoo artist was on site to ink people. In the two days he was there 15 people were tattooed, including a couple of people who did not work at SL, but were married to someone who did.
The proviso was that each tattoo had to be SoftLayer related. I am still awed by this – I have never seen this before. I cannot remember anyone from anyplace else that I worked making the suggestion, never mind actually going through with it. And if I think about it for a second, no one would have done it even though we all professed pride in the company and what it represented. Either we BELIEVE in where SoftLayer is going, and are proud to be a part of it, or we are all a little off-center, crazy even.
Think of it in terms of chickens and pigs – a chicken is involved in the breakfast process. The pig is committed. We are committed to making SoftLayer succeed.
The guy who applied the ink is now the official SoftLayer tattoo artist. He will be back and I suspect that he will have a line up as long as he had previously; perhaps longer given we now have 13 souls who wear the battle scars resultant from conversations with wives and girlfriends to explain what was done. Those who sit in the chair next will have the benefit of lessons learned from those conversations – they would be better prepared to successfully navigate them.