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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Dyn shows options for workplace culture

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 23. 2013 2:20AM
Matt Toy and Colleen Karpinsky of Dyn talk to guests during the Dyn Delivers Culture Con event in Manchester on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

BUILDING A great workplace culture requires more than a pingpong table.

More than video arcade games, a skee-ball machine, a putting green and a fitness center.

More than a "farm-to-table" restaurant and a cafe that serve employees healthy food.

More than fresh beer always on tap.

More than parties featuring indie rock bands.

More than allowing dogs to roam in the office.

More than sales reps banging a giant gong when they clinch a deal.

More than getting to work from home if all of the above isn't enough to inspire you to change out of your jammies and drive to the Manchester Millyard.

But it's safe to say all those things make Dyn a great place to work.

The executives at Dyn who organized Culture-Con for a hundred human resource officers and other professionals Wednesday at the company's Dow Street headquarters emphasized that the Dyn way of life is not the only choice for creating a great workplace culture.

The Internet management and performance company, whose clients include such name brands as Twitter, Pandora and Zappos, certainly has earned the stripes to organize a seminar on how to do it, however.

After presenting a fast-paced video about Dyn's corporate culture - the ultimate recruiting tool that featured employees enjoying many of the perks noted above - Chief Operating Office Gray Chynoweth told the group that values inform every choice you make. That's what drives company culture.

"It doesn't have to cost a lot," he said. "Culture isn't really about spending money."

Dyn grew over the past decade from a few college friends who would chip in to buy pizza for their fledgling startup to a fast-growing company that employs nearly 280 people, most whom work at the Queen City's version of a Silicon Valley campus.

The stylish complex recently was expanded to 60,000 square feet, a $1 million rennovation that doubled its size.

The first pingpong table the company bought cost $50, Chynoweth said, a small investment designed to instill a sense of camaraderie, allow people to engage with one another and relieve tension.

"Pingpong is often confused with culture, but it doesn't equal culture," Chynoweth said.

And culture changes over time. Tech startups tend to be dominated by twenty-something singles, but as the companies mature, they become home to workers starting families, including Dyn CEO Jeremy Hitchcock, who has three children. That means "less late-night hack-a-thons and more Saturday mornings in the park," Chynoweth said.

"Who your employee base is really should drive those decisions. You need to be really attentive to who they are and what they want, and what they are doing," he said.

Dyn tries to find out who those employees are by having new workers complete a strengths assessment.

"People don't always understand what they are really good at. We want to be able share that across the company," Chynoweth said.

That also helps to dispel the notion that hiring the right people with the right characteristics leads to a homogenous group of like-minded individuals.

"I think that is a big mistake," said Colleen Karpinsky, vice president for talent and culture. "We're not looking to have a culture or workforce of people who are all the same."

Amanda Grappone Osmer, director of sales at Grappone Automotive, looks for employees who are comfortable being themselves and are not afraid to reflect on who they are and what they can accomplish.

"To me the worst form of waste is untapped human potential," she said.

Osmer began her talk by asking the group to close their eyes for a moment and remember the last time they felt humbled.

"I'm a little wacky for this industry," said Osmer, whose fourth-generation company includes such perks as a meditation room, a workout center, paid volunteer time, and a boat to work day. "Whoever you are authentically is who you need to be."

That goes for the company, too. Grappone Automotive, which includes five franchise dealerships, made a radical shift in August when it switched to no-haggle pricing, a change that prompted 40 percent of the sales staff to quit.

"If we negotiated and we weren't fair on price from one person to the next, we didn't feel that was in alignment with us," she said.

The best thing you can do to create a good corporate culture is to make your expectations known, Osmer said.

"If people are struggling understanding what is the right thing, they are going to make their own decisions based on their story, their background," she said. "It's not that theirs is bad, it's just different. And it's out of alignment."

Matt Rightmire of Borealis Ventures, who worked for Yahoo over the company's first decade until 2005, told the group, "It's not HR's job to create or manage culture."

"Everybody has to own it," he said. "And if everybody doesn't own it, you're not going to create the culture you aspire to become."

At the very least, you might end up with a pingpong table, which for many companies would be a good place to start.

After the free beer, of course.

Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or

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