One might assume that a VP of culture manages culture, but that’s not the case. I work on culture management and enablement with many people at Synopsys.
Recently, NPR did a story on the culture of Black Duck Software (now Synopsys) titled What The ‘Vice President of Culture’ Does at This Mass Software Company. What indeed? What might be interesting to note is the inception of the story. My wife and I, for a variety of reasons, put up 25 Christmas trees in our home. We hold a huge open house party during the season, opening our home to the senior center for tours and other activities to share the holiday spirit with a Dickensian zeal.
A guest of someone attending a party last year looked at me and asked, while swiveling their head to absorb the decorations, with a tone of both wonder and comic sarcasm, “What do you do for a living?” When I responded that I was a VP of culture at a software company, the reaction was surprisingly accepting, evoking an immediate response of “I have reporter friend who is always on the lookout for unique business stories. Would you mind if I made a connection?”
That’s how I found myself some weeks later walking through my second home, Synopsys’ corporate headquarters in Burlington, Massachusetts, attempting to answer that same question: “What do you do for a living?” for Greg Wayland.
What indeed. We strolled through the office, stopping to talk to various employees, which comprises the story heard on NPR, but as expected, much of it was left on the cutting room floor. While the physical space, snacks, beer taps in the wall, and our Quackaoke machine provide a visible cultural picture, there is more to the story, much like the sound bites that didn’t make it into the final story.
You might assume that a VP of culture manages culture, but that’s not the case. It’s far more accurate to say that I devote time and resources to enabling culture. By creating a leadership role defined as “culture management,” Synopsys encourages discussion and engagement about culture. My role in itself is a demonstration that culture is important. We talk about what it means to work and succeed at the company, what it means to be a D-U-C-K: dedicated, unique, customer focused, and knowledgeable. We have a cross-functional culture team that meets regularly to elicit feedback, plan our next event, promote activities, and develop programs. And to ensure inclusion beyond our main office, we have regional office culture ambassadors, who all have other jobs, who work to extend our culture to every corner of Synopsys.
The culture of an organization ultimately comes from its people, not from table tennis in the lounge. However, we’ve found value in putting in the effort in creating an environment for a culture to flourish and grow within the company. The 25 Christmas trees are fun, and over the top, but serve to release something in people who enjoy them. Beer taps in the wall, foosball tables, and hundreds of little rubber duckies on the wall are fun too, but to create an environment where these things are used, appreciated, and freely enjoyed by an engaged workforce is worth doing for a living. What indeed.