On Vinaigrette and Company Culture

Nothing beats a fresh vinaigrette on mixed greens. It’s really easy to make if you follow some simple rules. The key to the making vinaigrette is to create an emulsion.

It isn’t everyday that I get to use my degree in Chemical Engineering, but the idea when you make an emulsion is that you are combining two liquids that normally wouldn’t mix, like oil and water. In the case of our vinaigrette, we might be combining lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or some other water-based ingredient with olive oil.

The key to emulsifying is to slowly incorporate the oil into the lemon juice, while vigorously whisking. Incorporating slowly, the tiny little oil molecules are able to mix in with the water molecules and what you end up with is something wonderful, that is neither lemon juice or oil. Dump the oil in too quickly, or don’t allow the oil time to be incorporated, and you end up with an oil slick.

I’ve been thinking about this and how it relates to company culture. Smart companies hire smartly (the first rule of Tautology club is the first rule). Hiring smartly often means hiring slowly, even when you feel you need to add lots of smart people. Hiring slowly allows new team members to become part of the existing structure and values, while still being able to impart their own flavor and characteristics, just like our vinaigrette. Add too many people at once, even smart people, and suddenly you lose cohesion and you are left with a fragmented set of values, like a vinaigrette that has “broken”.

Sometimes you have no choice in the matter, particularly in this day and age of acqui-hires. Suddenly the team grows. How can you do it and maintain the values and strengths of each team? Ideally you still try and do it slowly, but sometimes that’s not an option. What can you do in those cases where you just have to throw the teams together.

Start by allowing each team or group to learn more about the other’s strengths and weaknesses. Have honest, open communication about what’s working well and areas that deserve special attention. Share lessons learned and core values through presentations, brown-bags, and pair-programming. Carefully form project teams with members from different groups that might provide an example for others to follow. And please, please, please don’t deliver your core values from on high. Nobody needs slogans.

And don’t forget to pay attention to the little things too. What is the new office environment like?

  • Is the space “vibrant” or “noisy”.
  • Are people from different teams interacting, going to lunch together?
  • Are the “new people” getting “new equipment” or other special treatment.
  • Does the “old guard” have the ear of management.

Remember, perception is reality.


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