Nov 29 2019 How to Create a Culture that ATTRACTS and RETAINS People?
We had the opportunity to sit down and meet with Zehitomo’s Co-founder and CEO, Jordan Fisher. Zehitomo is a Tokyo-based startup that provides an online platform to connect freelancers and local small business owners with customers. As a fast growing tech startup that is successful in having a sustainable global and diverse work culture, we were really intrigued in finding out the secret of their business model.
Is this only effective because the founders are foreigners? How can Japanese founders and CEOs apply this? Does that mean that the whole company and team members are forced to speak in English?
Let’s find out.
The Zehitomo Team Philosophy and Evolution.
“The Culture of any company, at a StartUp level, is the culture of its founders.”-Jordan Fisher
Going back to the beginning, the company was not exactly thinking about building a global team but rather thinking about building a team that the company needs in order to thrive and be successful. And according to Jordan, “The Culture of any company, at a StartUp level, is the culture of its founders.” And the first 10-20 members of your company are considered as your cultural co-founders. Building and aiming for a global team doesn’t exactly happen overnight but the people in the early stages of your business practically hones the culture of your company.
“PEOPLE is the most important part of ANY company.” Jordan gives emphasis when it comes to people playing a crucial part of a company’s work culture.
Was it easier for Zehitomo to build global teams?
Zehitomo’s founders, Jordan Fisher and James McCarty, are both foreigners born and raised in the United States of America. For an outsider’s perspective, it might seem like it is easier to build a global team because the founders itself are foreigners. Well, it is in a way. Because when they are talking to people and convincing them about having a global environment, it’s much easier for people to believe that coming from foreign founders. Their challenge is actually the opposite of what Japanese companies usually struggle with, finding Japanese senior managers to help run the business. Since Zehitomo focuses on the domestic market, finding senior Japanese managers were crucial to their business.
“You want to attract people with similar values”-Jordan Fisher
Zehitomo actually adapted a lot of global values, mostly coming from silicon valley, but as well as some Japanese values. Jordan shared with us that during interviews, a lot of people usually say that they want to work in a global environment but don’t know what it actually means. So for them the key to figuring out if people will be a good cultural fit for their company is clearly defining their values and culture. If a company clearly defines their values and cultures and understands them themselves, then when they share it to candidates who want to join their company, the candidates can get a sense whether or not they will fit within the company’s work culture and environment.
What is Zehitomo’s global culture?
“Our core competencies isn’t about English or Japanese but what we do care about and what we look for when hiring is Teamwork, Problem Solving and Ownership.”-Jordan Fisher
Zehitomo’s 3 core competencies are teamwork, problem solving and ownership.
TEAMWORK -How will I be able to contribute and work efficiently with the team?
PROBLEM SOLVING – How do we scale at the rate that we are going at?
OWNERSHIP – How are you gonna take things through completion & be responsible for the goals?
The company tries to take the best combinations of culture out of Silicon Valley and Japan. It may not be for everyone and some people might be scared of being a part of a company that constantly evolves, but for others they thrive in these types of environment and that’s what the company looks for in their candidates. So one of the most important things that you can do is be as clear as possible in terms of what your culture is and what your expectations are. That may scare some people away, but for people who are a good fit it’s going to attract them.
How does language take part in this?
“Language is one way of communicating. I think the difference between English and Japanese is less than the difference of the cultures of Silicon Valley and Japan.”-Jordan Fisher
Of course, the language requirement of the role must be satisfied in order for the candidate to be successful. For example, for sales positions, people who will qualify has to have Japanese competency in order to execute the role and same with Engineers who need to have English communication skills. The important thing is that they should not be opposed into speaking either of the language. “英語アレルギー or English Allergies” and “日本語アレルギー Japanese Allergies” are considered as unacceptable in the company. Candidates should understand that the company is an organization that is continuously evolving and that it’s crucial for their members to not have any language allergies and understand that this is the type of culture their company requires.
“Culture is 10x more important than actual language for us”-Jordan Fisher
Culture is very important for Zehitomo. Their belief is that if people have the same culture and are pursuing the same mission, and they are not afraid to try and talk in another language, their company as a whole is going in the right direction.
How is this practiced within the company?
“Anything you present within the company, you have to speak in the opposite language that it’s written”-Jordan Fisher
It’s certainly difficult to turn the office 100% bilingual overnight, especially if when you started hiring, bilingual for every role wasn’t the key requirement. The company has an internal rule wherein whenever someone has to do a presentation he/she is required to speak it in the opposite language that the presentation is written in. Jordan admittedly shared that this process is not perfect and some people may be able to only understand half or may misunderstand some things but that’s their way of taking a step forward and helping their people be more comfortable and exposed to using both languages.
“At the end of the day, we care about people’s performance”-Jordan Fisher
In terms of speaking the language, people at Zehitomo are never forced as long as their core tasks are not affected by it. When people try to interact and communicate in between departments, they are not forced to use a specific language might it be in English or in Japanese. They usually find a way to get their message across and execute the tasks.
What are some of the efforts of the company to build a great culture?
The Zehitomo team does a lot of culture sessions like team building in order for their members to know more about themselves, their colleagues and understand their own culture.
They also have their own happiness manager whose KPI revolves on the average satisfactory scores of the employees weekly through online surveys. The happiness manager is in charge of heading and overlooking activities and events that will boost employee happiness and productivity.
They also conduct town hall meetings every 1-2 months wherein they discuss important issues and questions. In this format people may upvote or downvote certain issues or questions people are concerned with. This type of meetings involves and values people’s opinions and shows that the management is listening and cares about the employees insights and ideas.
It is very crucial that one must have a growth mindset and transparency to keep evolving and creating a sustainable global team in Japan.
“Can we grow faster than the company?”-Jordan Fisher
Always think about ways on how you can improve and grow faster than the company so you will be able to manage and handle it.
Overall, we are very excited to preview how Zehitomo is constantly trying to build an awesome global culture that proves to be sustainable.
Active Connector Founder & CEO, Asami Matsumoto with Zehitomo’s Jordan Fisher
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