the ceo magazine, organizational culture,
Mike Morris, CEO, Topcoder

A great deal of our success at Topcoder can be attributed to strong company culture, and as CEO, building this culture is always top of mind. When Topcoder, now the world’s largest workforce marketplace for digital innovation, launched in 2001, we quickly realized culture was just as important to our success as our business plan. Our culture comes from two simple steps: focusing on open communication and celebrating success to foster a positive work environment.

Taking the Time to Talk

Clear communication is key in building a successful and aligned company culture from the bottom up: you need to talk to everyone and encourage everyone to talk to you. Every morning I think: “What am I going to do or say to induce culture and make sure that everyone’s needs are addressed?” We’ve found that short, but meaningful, conversations go a long way. Ongoing engagement is crucial, and platforms such as Slack make this possible. These types of channels are also an effective way for people to approach leadership when there’s a business practice that isn’t working, or when they feel frustrated. Making it easy for everyone to voice their opinion, and know they have an audience, strengthens their commitment to the team.

Another essential part of our culture is transparency. It can be fun to announce big wins, but maintaining transparency through the tough times is just as important. We never say, “everything is going great!” when there are issues, and our team members respect this honesty. This open communication instills trust and confidence that leadership is committed to our mission. Building culture is ongoing; and open communication and transparency are crucial to that process.

Celebrating Wins

While being transparent about the good and the bad is essential, our goal has always been to build a winning culture, praising every team member along the way. That means leadership’s top priority is keeping the team focused on positive goals and celebrating wins, no matter how small or big. This was helpful in our early days when Topcoder was still a startup. Many startup workers struggle with anxiety according to Fortune, mainly due to fear of failure and high-demands of getting a company off the ground. We used positivity to keep things in perspective, so people felt encouraged instead of anxious. We have learned that when you emphasize the positive, everyone feels valued and that their contributions will result in success for themselves and the whole team. While we are no longer in the startup stage, we still celebrate wins to keep up our momentum. No matter how long a business has been around, it’s always beneficial to focus on positivity and winning.

Another key to promoting a “winning culture is to make sure new hires are on board with the concept. While we make sure that the people we bring on are diverse in their background and experiences, we also want them to be goal-oriented and understand that a culture focused on positivity and celebrating victories drives success. We do not let negativity bring down performance, whether that is caused by outside factors or a new teammate that focuses too much on losing.

Culture Determines Success

Culture is an important aspect of what makes a company succeed – and while CEOs and entrepreneurs may vary in how they develop it; it should never fall to the wayside. There are too many stories of how leaders let bad company culture manifest, ignoring the importance of creating a positive culture vs one that breeds negativity. What always happens is that their businesses suffer for it. If you make your company a place where everyone feels empowered and they believe in its mission, then your business will succeed.

About the Author

Mike Morris is the CEO of Topcoder, the world’s largest workforce marketplace for digital innovation. Mike is responsible for both Topcoder’s success and that of its customers/partners. He believes Topcoder’s 1.2 million strong, on demand global software development community will continue to redefine business.


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