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Cultivating Hospitality


Companies love to talk about their culture and how it's unique or why it's special. People love to talk about why they think it was this way or that way, or why things changed. There are plenty of articles on what makes a good culture so I won't cover that [1]. But something that is always challenging (and increasingly so in a remote world) is how to cultivate the values your company holds as you grow. I'm sure there are plenty of confounding variables here but there is one simple activity that has the largest direct impact — and it's up to every individual.

But first, a quick story...

In high school there is nothing more intimidating than seeing a group of "popular" kids, with you as the outsider. You have this urge to enter the conversation but don't know how. You want that feeling of inclusion — to be one of them. But you never are [2]. Then you get older, start working, and find yourself in the "popular" crowd at work (or at least the veteran crowd). Maybe you joined a startup early. Maybe you found your tribe. Regardless, you are now someone other people want to be around. But when someone new joins the company, you have a knee-jerk reaction to flaunt your knowledge of the company and reference inside jokes they won't understand.

Oh sorry, that's an old joke. You'd only get it if you worked here back in the day. Things are different now.

smug laugh

Somehow you have become the person you despised in the past.

Sad...so what about that culture thing?

The extent to which you welcome someone — especially those who look or act differently than you — is a measure of your hospitality [3]. High school is not a very hospitable environment. Work is typically cordial at best. It takes concerted effort to be hospitable. Everyone has to invest in it to make it happen. One defector and the magic disappears. But take it seriously and you will create an environment everyone wants to be part of. You will create something powerful, and lasting.

There are countless ways to go about cultivating hospitality (e.g. onboarding buddies, newbie roundtables). But the most effective is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest.

Treat every new hire like they've been there the whole time.

Explain old jokes. Create new jokes. Build new rituals. Make them the new veteran. Soon enough, they'll be doing the same for the next hire. And everyone will be cultivating hospitality.


[1] Some famous examples include the Netflix Culture Deck, the Hubspot Culture Code, and Creativity Inc. which outlines the Pixar culture.

[2] It turns out that was okay. Being popular in high school is not correlated with success. Something I am trying very hard to teach my kids. But I have a feeling this is also something that cannot be taught, it must be learned.

[3] The best definition of hospitality I have seen comes from Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. If you have not read it, please do. You will not regret it. And you will likely be a better human after.