My senior year of college I interviewed at several market research firms. While there was a lot to like about many of them, CMB had a unique vibe that convinced me this was where I should start my career. As it turned out, my instincts were right. CMB was fantastic at teaching a novice associate like me the fundamentals of Market Research; I quickly developed a love for the clients, the work, and “All Things Data.”
When I left CMB after three years for a chance to live overseas and then a stint in D.C., I had experience working with incredible brands, super-smart colleagues, and I’d developed a competitive skillset. Almost two years ago, I was offered the opportunity to return and rather than rely on my gut, I had to answer questions my 22-year-old self hadn’t considered:
What made CMB so special?
In the New York Times op-ed “The One Question You Should Ask About Every New Job,” Adam Grant, professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, discusses the relationship between company culture and happiness in the workplace. “Although finding the right title, position and salary is important,” he writes, “there’s another consideration that matters just as much: culture. The culture of a workplace — an organization’s values, norms, and practices — has a huge impact on our happiness and success.”
What does it mean to have good company culture, and how do you find it?
In writing this blog post, I asked a few people what company culture means to them, and specifically, what they considered characteristics of a good company culture. Responses were what you’d probably expect: Ping-pong tables, Friday happy hours, free lunch. In short, answers were unanimous: good company culture means fun and free food.
Really? The holy grail of work happiness is free food?
OK, it’s a little more complicated than a couple slices of pizza. In his article, Grant cites a classic study that analyzed employee stories from across industries about their workplaces. In the study, researchers identified three fundamental themes: Justice (Is it a fair place?), Security (Is it safe to work there?) and Control (Can a person shape their destiny and have influence in the organization?). Ironically, these stories underscore an organizational uniqueness bias – people think their company culture is more unique than it really is.
But organizational uniqueness bias aside, this study also suggests that company culture isn’t defined by free food. Rather, it’s defined by an organization’s values.
That’s not to discredit the tangible stuff. Those things certainly are important to a company’s culture. In fact, MIT professor Edgar H. Schein calls that stuff “the most visible parts of an organization’s culture… [its] artifacts and practices — how people talk, look and act.” But he, like the study Grant cited, contends that more important than overt office perks are the company’s operating principles. [ Tweet this!]
So how do we identify those proverbial “company values?” Despite organizational uniqueness bias, I’ve noticed a few CMB characteristics that have made it special to me:
- The organization feels “flat” (i.e., non-hierarchical)
Of course we have job titles and levels (see #3 below), but at CMB each person knows they are valued and their opinions are valid and respected. Our founder and CEO, Anne Bailey Berman, encourages us all to “be a squeaky wheel” – CMBers aren’t afraid to speak up because we know we’ll be heard.
- “We are a group of lively and engaging individuals”
Even though that’s a direct quote from the old CMB website (at least two or three website iterations ago), it still rings true today. And while a lot of companies make similar claims, I’d venture to say some are exaggerating. But not CMB. In fact, every CMB job description includes a line that says we’re looking for people who are “collaborative, enthusiastic, and who can put their ego aside, roll up their sleeves and get the job done.” To me, this line perfectly describes the CMB vibe.
- The company wants us (as individuals) to succeed
At every level and in every corner of the organization, CMB leadership is invested in individual development and growth (both personal and professional). Beyond our job responsibilities, we’re encouraged to learn and grow in experience whether through our internal mentorship program, a workshop, conference, or something else. A great example of CMB’s commitment to individual success is our ability to choose our career path. Research associates are given the opportunity to choose their trajectory based on their skills and interests. In carving our own paths, we’re able to excel in our jobs and deliver better experiences and results for our clients.
Organizational uniqueness bias may suggest that people think their organization’s cultures are more distinctive than they really are, but I believe that CMB’s culture truly is special and unique. It certainly has gotten this CMBer to stick around.
Talia is a Project Manager on CMB’s Technology and eCommerce practice. She was named one of Survey Magazine’s 2015 Data Dominators and as a native Bostonian, couldn’t be happier to be back in the city.