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Decoding a Salesforce Culture

When Salesforce are your client, it has an interesting side-effect — it tends to make you think about your own company culture – and that of the other companies you work with. That’s because the culture at Salesforce is so well defined and lived, it’s palpable, almost tangible as you walk through the doors.

When Salesforce were named in the top 3 of Ireland’s Best Workplaces 2022 by Great Places to Work, it came as no surprise to us.

But let’s take an external view of what makes their culture so magnetic.

Salesforce have been a client of ours for a few years and over that time we’ve experienced their culture in many different ways. It’s one of the few large, multinational organisations where you could ask almost anyone in the organisation about the culture and they would deliver a consistent response.

To greatly simplify what is obviously a complex and evolving proposition, there are four key pillars that really help understand the powerful culture at Salesforce. We have introduced some of these at Atomic and found them easily understood and implemented. Most importantly, they delivered immediate results. (Obviously, the below synopsis omits a wealth of important aspects but as this is a blog article…)

V2MOM

This was a goal setting system first penned by Marc Benioff on the back of a napkin and it stands for Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measurement. The idea is that the V2MOM should fit on a single sheet of paper and is created at the start of the financial or calendar year and then reviewed on a three or six monthly basis.

How it works is that the CEO creates his personal V2MOM as well as the organisational one. Taking inspiration from this, the Leadership Team follow suit and the process cascades all the way down to a person who has just started in the organisation. All of the V2MOMs are made public to the organisation.

What this achieves in a very simple way is giving everyone a clear sense of where the company is heading and how the CEO thinks. It connects the most junior person with the CEO in a grand plan to achieve growth and success. Critically, it allows people further up the management chain to know what makes their people tick and how they can help them to develop and achieve their personal objectives.

Fundamentally, it means everyone in the company is pointing in the same direction. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Salesforce has seen incredible growth – they are currently driving towards being the fastest enterprise software company to reach $10 billion in sales.

1/1/1

Before foundations and CSR became all the rage, Marc created another super simple model about how to give back. In a nutshell, 1% of Salesforce product, 1% of its employees’ time and 1% of its profit goes straight to charities and communities.

Although it’s a clear and structured model, 1/1/1 also makes room for individuals’ personal causes to be represented. Rather than dictate what people donate their time to (and that time can be up to a whole working week in a year), people can choose areas they are personally passionate about. If there’s nothing personally important to them, they can be part of group projects.

When Atomic created a video for their Graduate Programme, we asked the participants why they chose Salesforce over other companies. A few people mentioned the technology or the career roadmap but 90% of the people singled out the 1/1/1 model. When starting salaries are broadly similar, job roles can be generic and perks are almost hygiene factors, it’s things like the 1/1/1 model that help the best people gravitate toward a preferred employer.

Education

Salesforce are really strong in this area. As well as a wealth of internal development programmes they make generous annual funds available to each employee for external education. There aren’t a lot of conditions or administrative hoops to jump through; if you want to avail of relevant, recognised education, Salesforce cover 100% of fees, tuition and books

Smart, curious people will always want to keep learning so it would be surprising if there isn’t a correlation between those that take up the supports and those that rise through the organisation. The way in which the company removes barriers to educational development clearly signals that this is a clear priority and ultra imperative for them – rather than a grudgingly given benefit.

Decoding a Salesforce Culture
Clarity of Purpose

Salesforce spend a lot of time weeding out ambiguity or doubt. They make it very clear what they stand for as an organisation and how much they value their people. Many organisations presume that people understand the rules or habits in the organisation, when in fact it can take months or even years to decipher and embody the unwritten norms of the company.

Clarity also stems from the organisation’s leadership philosophy. As co-founder and CEO, Marc Benioff is still at the helm after over fifteen years. He founded the organisation based on his personal beliefs about technology, business and the wider world – so today, Salesforce values are vibrant and crystal clear.

These values underpin the company’s legendary reputation for customer orientation and innovation. Marc recognises the fundamental importance of this. In his own words: ’The key to growth and the key to hitting these extraordinary numbers… is two things. One is extraordinary customer success. And two is incredible innovation’.

But there’s a softer side to Salesforce values. Hawaiian culture infuses the company (again a personal passion of the CEO) and is embodied in the culture of ‘Ohana’ – described as the ‘spirit of being genuine, inclusive, caring, and compassionate, enjoying a healthy dose of fun and treating those around you like family’.

Sounds fluffy right? And then you visit Salesforce and are immediately struck by how friendly everyone is. How open and warm. And yet so successful.

So, what does it mean for your organisation?

Sometimes we get asked to create Employer Brands or campaigns for companies and what we’re really being asked to do is to paper over the cracks of an organisation with an ill-defined, fabricated or just poor culture.

When it comes to explaining the Salesforce culture, by contrast, it is easy and immediately understandable. Obviously, this belies a depth of complex organisational behaviours and process but ultimately it reflects how Salesforce takes a very human and intuitive approach to culture.

So if you’re struggling to articulate or get consensus on your own culture, it really is time to pause before engaging in employer branding activity. Trying to create authentic, persuasive content using people who really don’t know why they’re there is a recipe for disaster.

Candidates expect honesty. If they are misled about a company’s culture at the application stage, the resulting disillusionment can lead to badly disengaged people and swift exits. So it is always better to be clear and simple in describing company culture, rather than ‘inventing’ one for public consumption.

Sometimes, even seemingly uninspiring cultures contain some interesting and rewarding features. So the first thing to do is stop and take some time to listen. Of course, as an employee yourself, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. Sometimes it’s necessary to ‘make the familiar strange’ – adopt a new perspective on an old question.

Some simple starting points for any organisation big or small:

  • Ask very recent hires why they chose your company;
  • Ask people who turned you down the same question;
  • Ask friends, clients or partners what they find interesting or compelling about your company;
  • Look at organisations that have a clear culture and then look at your own — what do these companies talk about that you could be overlooking?

When you’re on the road to a culture that feels real and vibrant, creating a compelling Employer Brand and content will be so much simpler.

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