A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet a team of people who work at a company that many of you have probably heard of or read about at some point: Rackspace. The particular team I had the chance to meet was the Culture and Communications Support Team. They were headlining a conference event I was a part of. They had come to share some of their story and the work they do. And, and it’s a pretty cool story. The company has grown quickly over the past ten years and they’ve done it at least in part due to a laser focus on creating a culture rooted in what they describe as fanatical customer service.
The team of people I met were really excited about their jobs–more excited than probably any person I’ve ever met. They love their company and profess it to anyone who will listen. They seem to really admire each other and like working together. They are all wicked smart. And, despite the fact that I think they work really hard and have very high expectations upon them, they appear to be having a great deal of fun.
As I talked to several of them individually, they would share their own story about how they came to the company and team. Then, they’d tell me about why they love what they do and they’d talk about the exciting projects there were currently working on. Their passion and energy was infectious. I found myself at times feeling both jealous of their experience and resentful that I hadn’t found a job like that during my travels in corporate America.
But, as a listened to their stories about the awesomeness of their team and their company, my inner skeptic was screaming at me that it wasn’t real–that it couldn’t be real. Despite how compelling and convincing these individuals were, I was having a tough time believing it. I kept asking questions of them, waiting for the moment when they would finally break and tell me the truth. That, yes they were doing some great stuff, but they were all being paid minimum wage and forced to work in cages. But, that moment never came.
My finally tuned, Gen X skepticism just couldn’t take it. I know that I’m a natural skeptic, it is part of who I am and it’s helped me do some great work. But, I was disappointed in my own skepticism. On the one hand, I really wanted to believe that Rackspace and the 4,000 Rackers that work there are as fired up and excited about their company as this team reports. I want to believe that they are a real life example that investing in and cultivating culture does translate into business results. But, I’ve been burned in the past by similar sounding stories that turn out to be nothing more than words. So, I have a tough time believing that companies like Rackspace and Zappos really are what they seem to be.
But, once I had a chance to put my skepticism in check, I came to realize a few things. First, a great work experience isn’t a static thing. It’s an emotional and psychological thing that happens inside of each individual. The few Rackers that I met are loving their work and their company. My belief in how real or sustainable their situation it is irrelevant to their engagement in the moment. They are “all in” on their jobs and their company right now. And, that is awesome for them and their employer. I’m sure that there are things about Rackspace that suck and aren’t the best, but those things don’t seem to matter. These people are invested in what is great about the company and trying to protect and grow that stuff.
When I put my skepticism aside, this group inspires me. They are walking proof that people can find tremendous joy and fulfillment in their work. They prove that culture matters. They show that you can be in love with your work, even when you are working for someone else. Whether or not they are still as excited in a year or five years isn’t relevant because at least for a moment in time, they have revealed what’s possible. They are proof that it can be done. And that’s enough for me.
For what it’s worth, I have come to the conclusion that Rackspace is a pretty remarkable company. If you don’t know about their story, you should.