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Company culture ideas to boost your IT channel teams

Developing a rich company culture is not often at the top of channel executives' to-do lists, but maybe it should be. Applying these company culture ideas could pay off.

As IT companies cope with emerging technology, shifts in market demand, fierce competition and a shortage of skills, many channel partners might be tempted to relegate company culture to the bottom of their list of priorities.

If your company hasn't paid enough attention to your mission, your values, and your employees' growth, development and happiness at the workplace, then you might want to rethink your strategy and focus on a few key questions.

  • Is your company providing the leadership that aligns its mission with employees' skills, values, morale and well-being?
  • Is your company communicating effectively to your workers what is required of them, and do you accept feedback from workers on what they think needs to be improved?
  • And is the company encouraging positive attitudes that stimulate a high-level of work to support the company's growth potential?

These are some of the questions executives might want to ask as they consider new company culture ideas and find ways to better communicate to employees that what they do is valuable to the company's growth trajectory.

Seek out a good cultural fit, not specific skills

Ben Johnson, CEO, Liberty TechnologyBen Johnson

"Company culture is how work is made meaningful," said Ben Johnson, CEO of Liberty Technology, a managed service provider (MSP) based in Griffin, Ga. He also said a good company culture idea inspires people to work together for the advancement of the company and stressed that Liberty has a different approach to hiring the right people.

"We don't recruit for specific skills. We recruit people who will mesh well with Liberty's culture," Johnson said. "We invite our employees to suggest people they know that might be a good fit. Skills can be trained, but values are deeply ingrained, and values that are an extremely poor fit can't be worked out: They'll only undermine the team dynamic we're creating."

To find a better way to handle work, Liberty adopted an MSP version of the agile movement, which seeks to implement alternatives to traditional project management approaches.

Culture … is spread by the organization over time at the water cooler, over cups of coffee and during informal conversations.
Michael Coreypresident, Ntirety

As part of the agile approach, company employees are fully engaged in the process of distributing tickets, because they can see all the open tickets at once and pull what they know they're capable of handling. The process keeps employees accountable and ensures that nobody's workload is uneven, Johnson explained.

"Employees will take tickets from others who are overloaded, and our morning stand-ups enable them to quickly discuss everything on their plate," Johnson said. "This open communication promotes and enhances positive relationships within the team."

The ability to foster open interaction between employees also helps Liberty stick to its mission, vision and goals. The company holds informal monthly meetings where employees discuss what they are working on and what they'll be working on next.

"Marketing people ask sales folks how they can help out. Sales folks talk to the engineers about the next big service we're working on. Everyone gets a read on the direction that the company is heading," Johnson said. "We bring team members up to talk about their projects, and we recognize everyone that's gone above and beyond [in their work]."

Establish and uphold your company culture

Michael Corey, president of Ntirety Inc.Michael Corey

Michael Corey, president of Ntirety Inc., a database services company based in Dedham, Mass., said crafting a company culture should occur in the early stages of a company's development.

"Culture happens by the management team's actions in the early days and is spread by the organization over time at the water cooler, over cups of coffee and during informal conversations," Corey said.

Corey, who has experience starting up channel businesses, said implementing company culture ideas is serious business and sometimes companies have to make tough decisions to uphold their values.

"If you value treating people with respect and your top selling sales person is completely disrespectful, then get rid of [him], even if it means losing sales. Otherwise, you will have a candy stripe culture where it sounds good but everyone knows it's just for show," Corey said.

Upgrade the office and employee benefits

Amy Kardel, co-founder, CEO of Clever DucksAmy Kardel

Amy Kardel, founder of Clever Ducks, an IT services company based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said one of the most rewarding things about being a part of developing a company's culture is that you get to create a place where people want to go to work every day.

"That starts with the physical environment. We looked for a long time for the right office space that had natural daylight, coffee shops nearby and enough parking. I spend a lot of time at the office and want it to be at least as nice as any Starbucks," Kardel said.

She also noted the company's mission is to help others do their best work. To achieve this, Clever Ducks provides many programs that help workers with personal development and incentives. For example, every team member starts with three weeks of paid vacation and 10 paid holidays.

"We want our team to have time for family, travel and rejuvenation. It has really helped with our retention and improved morale," Kardel said.

Around the office the company helps workers make healthy choices easy by providing snacks like fruit, yogurt and nuts. The company is a bike-friendly office and offers a group exercise class after work once a week.

The company also promotes financial wellness and offers Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace Workshop to its workers to help them get ahead in savings and planning.

To boost employee skills, the company encourages IT workers to complete one certification a quarter and uses CompTIA tests to keep up with IT skills. Administrative employees are encouraged to pursue training in communication skills and other disciplines.

"A job in the channel requires curiosity and continuous learning. We need to have growth plans for people within the organization so they can see what their careers can develop into," Kardel said.

Spend time acclimating your new staff

Barry Shevlin, CEO, VologyBarry Shevlin

Channel companies that have grown through acquisition may find it particularly challenging as they take on new workers that are accustomed to a culture that doesn't fit the new company they've joined.

One company that has grown in part through acquisitions is Vology Inc., an MSP based in Tampa, Fla. Barry Shevlin, Vology's CEO, said the biggest financial issue his company has run into after an acquisition is employees expect significant increases in compensation.

He said employees working at a smaller "family business" are willing to work for less than they are for a larger, more corporate organization.

"We now spend more time than we used to making sure people are being paid market [value]. This isn't as easy as it sounds, because titles don't align well between different size companies," Shevlin said. For example, Shevlin said the CFO of a $5 million business most likely won't have the experience to be the CFO of a $200 million business, and these two positions, with the same titles, have very different compensation ranges.

According to Shevlin, acquisitions are best handled by taking the time to explain the company's history, the strategy going forward and, most importantly, the company's core values.

"When we get to a point where the employees understand and buy into our strategy and align with our core values, the rest falls into place fairly easily," Shevlin said.

Next Steps

How to transition to a new business model

Learn the four steps for rebranding your channel company

Read about startup tech companies that seek channel partners

This was last published in July 2016

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What company culture idea has worked for your channel business?
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A good company culture is extremely important, and I fully believe that it leads to better business results. I think that it is not a priority of many executives because the positive or negative results are not easy to measure. 
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I agree with abuell that getting the culture right will lead to better business results. Measurement of success can be difficult. But metrics such as net promoter score could be linked with cultural efforts to improve customer care.
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