David Strittmatter

How to find the ideal place to work

Being a great place to work is the difference between being a good company and a great company


  • An org’s culture is the implicit rules that make the employees do their job as they do it
  • Establishing a great culture, as Netflix did, can create key advantages when it comes to attracting and retaining talent and outperforming competitors
  • It’s key to define for oneself what’s the ideal work environment

Practical advice:

  • First, ask yourself what you desire and need to thrive
  • Second, make use of your network to assess the organization’s culture
  • Third, make a decision on which organization is worth your time and effort. In doubt, listen to your gut

Dear friend,

Last week, I finished reading the book “That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea” written by Netflix’s founder Marc Randolph.

I read the book not because I’m a fan of the famous streaming services but because I wanted to learn about the creation of Netflix’s unique and well-known working culture. The first time I heard of it was when a newspaper wrote about Netflix’s “No Vacation Policy”. Essentially, at Netflix, the employees decide on their own how much vacation they want to take. Virtually, they can take as much vacation as they want to.

After some time, I happened to come across their PowerPoint slide deck on their “Freedom and Responsibility” culture (here a link to the HBR article). That was incredibly inspiring and the reason why I wanted to find out more about Netflix’s history and the formation of its unique culture.

Culture is crucial when it comes to workplace satisfaction, organizational performance, and many other factors. But why culture is vital to thrive at work, what are the components of an ideal work environment (featuring the learnings from the book), and how we can find the ideal work environment for ourselves? That’s what today’s blog article is about.

Why is culture so important to thrive at work

First of all, what is (organizational) culture? Expressed in a business 101 definition, it’s the collection of values, expectations, and practices that guide the actions of the employees of an organization. More concretely, it’s the implicit rules that make the employees do their job as they do it. For example, Amazonians are known to be frugal, hence, they wouldn’t print something in color; my employer highly values confidentiality, thus, there’s no pens, notepads, or other office supplies with our brand name on it; SAP greatly values family and work-life balance, therefore, at their major company events, we could always bring family members with us.

Culture isn’t, though, what companies write down on their websites or in their investor reports. It might be the case that these words are represented in an organization’s culture, nonetheless, culture is implicit and cannot simply be changed by writing down some fancy descriptions for it. Or as Peter Drucker once said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Establishing a great culture, as Netflix did, can create key advantages when it comes to attracting and retaining talent and outperforming competitors. Many people, including me, would rather take a pay cut and work in a great culture than stay at a higher paying job where the culture s*cks. For me, culture has become the most important aspect when choosing an employer. I want to work at a place where people value the same things as I do since that gives me the motivation to do my best and makes me happy.

Building and maintaining a great organizational culture is among the most important jobs of the company’s founders and leaders. By their actions and the actions of their first hires, they greatly shape it. And once established, it takes a lot of effort and time to change it.

An ideal work environment

When I read the PowerPoint slide deck on Netflix’s “Freedom and Responsibility” culture, I had the great desire to work for this company and be part of it even though I’m not really interested in their product. Reading the book about the foundation of Netflix gave me a good sense of how this culture emerged and developed and inspired me to think about my very own ideal culture. I asked myself how should the culture of an organization look like when I could shape it as I wanted to and came up with 5 aspects:

First, the organization’s people should highly value openness – openness towards people, ideas, new technology, working styles, etc. I love working with people who are curious about what life has to offer. Working in a company where the employees explore new ideas, test new innovations, are open to all kinds of people, and try new things, that’d be awesome.

Second, employees should focus on making themselves proud of their work: Striving for excellence, true impact, and results rather than effort. An organization where people inspire each other to achieve the best results, greatly celebrate the successes of each other and are proud to work with their colleagues. Your job should become your passion, and you should be empowered to become the best in whatever you’re passionate about. People not aspiring to become the best in their field (anymore) should be offered generous severance payments and provided with the opportunity to find an organization more suitable to them.

Third, honesty. The organization’s people should never say something about another person if they couldn’t say it in his/her face, should always fight for the better argument beyond politics and hierarchy, should give each other honest strength-based feedback, and should strongly respect each other. Being honest should be rewarded and political gambling penalized.

Forth, integrity. The way the employees do something should be the way they do anything. The values of the organization should be lived and adhered to – within and beyond the organization. That would require continuously holding oneself and others accountable. People not genuinely living the values of the organization should be let go.

Fifth, the organization should greatly value decisiveness. People should be empowered – at all levels – to make decisions. Taking smart risks and making wise decisions in the face of uncertainty should be greatly honored. The organization should focus on making long-term-oriented decisions, treating root causes rather than symptoms.

How to find a great place to work

Since culture is implicit and the statements describing the culture of the company might not represent reality, it’s quite difficult to assess it as an outsider. Yet, I’m strongly convinced that we can find a great place to work and become part of a culture fitting us well. But how?

First, ask yourself what you desire and need to thrive. What are your personal values? What are clear no-gos? Do you want to be part of an organization where you’re constantly challenged to progress? … where you will work with a broad variety of people? … where you will continuously receive feedback? … where you will be demanded to make decisions and take responsibility? … where you will have a great work-life balance? … where you will have strict rules and policies? Before I committed to another job, I’d ask myself these kinds of questions and compare the answers with my assessment of the organization. Only if there’s a match, I’d commit myself to the job.

Second, make use of your network to assess the organization’s culture. Ask your friends and family whether they know someone working for the respective company and can connect you with the respective people. Schedule a call and ask sincere questions about their culture. If you don’t know anyone knowing someone working there, use professional networks, such as LinkedIn, to find employees and write them a short message to ask them for a short call. If you value openness and support, the response could even be the first indicator. Another possibility for upcoming graduates is to do an internship at the company to evaluate the organization firsthand.

Third, after comparing the factors you seek in an organization and the information you obtained by calling other people or interning, you need to make a decision on which organization is worth your time and effort. I’d make this decision before applying to these companies so that you can prioritize them in your application phase. In case you’ve got multiple offers and cannot decide based on your evaluation, I’d highly recommend listening to your gut feeling. Eventually, if you made the effort and called people to ask them about the culture, you won’t make a bad decision no matter how you decide. Having a good feeling making your decision, i.e. listening to your gut, will help you to make a decision, ultimately mattering most.

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