Blog: Elizabeth Ziph

Elizabeth Ziph is the co-founder of The Linux Box Corporation in downtown Ann Arbor, has over 30 years of experience in the IT industry and sits on the Detroit Chamber of Commerce Technology Advisory Panel. She will be writing about open source software, the freedom it gives its users and its potential impact on the future of computing.

Post No. 5: What's the culture of your small business?

Do you know what your company's culture is? 

I was invited to be on a panel Sparks' "starting your own business" forum on September 12th,  speaking about "being an entrepreneur" and it got me thinking.   It's a well known trend, that small business owners spend too much time working in the business and too little time working on it. One of the things working on your business requires is consideration of the core values of your business and your culture.  

When Matt and I started the Linux Box we had envisioned a company where not only were employees proud to work but where they also had fun; we wanted to have great staff, not a great many staff members, though we do want to grow the company and by definition that requires increased staff.

What we did not want was to create yet another company where Dilbert reigned supreme. We felt that we had worked in too many places where the employees considered the managers, shall we say, ah hmmm, less than perfect, and themselves their victims.

The culture that evolved over the years is strongly influenced by the folks that had been working with us. Our culture is a living, ever changing paradigm. We learned that since the technology work keeps changing, one of our core values remains continuous learning; our customers were asking us to jump: we learned to say "how high?" while being their advocates – making sure that what we do is in their interest, without wasting their resources. This is the comfortable space where we all want to be.

Above all, just like the code we work on, organizational openness and transparency has been a rule of thumb that works for us. Not only do we make sure that employees know what they get into when they come on board but that they are included in major tactical and strategic decisions. They are encouraged to be part of the solution. They participate in the the setting of goals and the process of reaching them. When one of them had declared that we have "a graveyard of dead plans" we assessed the assertion, looked for root causes, identified remedies and implemented them and developed a process to prevent it from happening again.

I appreciate the opportunity of being the guest blogger on Concentrate this past week. It has been great fun not only for me but also for the team who put a lot of effort into reviewing my posts and editing them. It is a testament to their commitment to making sure that the Linux Box story is told in a way that reflects their pride and I thank them here – I could not have done it with out you!