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  • Katie McLean

What Kind of Animal Do you Work for?



A few years ago, I resigned from my job at Google. That’s not a sentence you hear every day. But once I did, I decided I wanted to use my knowledge to help tech start-ups grow with healthy corporate cultures. Let me give you some context. I live in an oil and gas town but worked at the incredibly innovative Google, which showed me the strong contrast between different company cultures, and it got me thinking about the wide range that exists today and where I wanted to go next.


I decided to ask people what animal thought of when they looked at companies with different types of organizational cultures, identified as:

  1. Tech start-up

  2. Results and growth-focused, innovative, fast and daring

  3. Traditional hierarchy, not innovative

  4. Team collaboration

  5. People first

  6. Conventional silo hierarchy

Using the crowdsourcing platform Tellwut, we received 700 responses, and the results amazed me — people identified companies as animals that I never would have thought of, yet they were surprisingly accurate when I researched the characteristics and personalities of these animals. Keep reading and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Tech start-up…survey says monkey

Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle — the monkey was the number one vote to describe tech start-ups. Think of companies such as Kailo, Slack and Culture Amp. A couple of theories here, perhaps it is their “monkey business” that makes them successful, or that their entrepreneurial ideas often throw a “monkey wrench” into things. Whatever the case, these creatures are extremely smart, collaborative and supportive of each other and can also survive on any kind of food — which means they are highly adaptable. They also work together to avoid predators, have real feelings and take care of each other. They are a new breed of tech start up — focused on purpose, well being and the family of their employees over just a revenue first culture. On the career section of the website of Culture Amp it says “We take care of CAmpers (Culture Amp employees) and their families by being family-friendly and flexible. Whether that means WFH, taking time out to attend school events, or creating a flexible schedule, we’ve got your back.”

Results and growth-focused, innovative, fast and daring…survey says panther


The crowd chose the panther as the animal that most comes to mind when describing these results and growth-focused companies such as Amazon, Google and Uber. Many people would kill to get a job at any of these places but perhaps with the recent publicity it is becoming apparent that if you work at one of these companies you need to be able to keep up with “the big cats”.


As a panther, companies are adaptable to diverse environments but they are also secretive, mysterious, rare and stealth. They lead the world into new ideas and innovation. Employees at the top of their game are selected to fit into the culture and they perform like a finely tuned sports team, ie. the Florida Panthers. Panthers are ambush hunters which means that you won’t even know they are there until they are about to attack. Well that sounds about right these days. They travel with great speed and agility and are able to attack animals much larger than themselves, and again, we see these guys disrupting larger companies and even entire industries. Beautiful but endangered, they also have the ability to roar.

Traditional hierarchy, not innovative…survey says dinosaur


What to say about the dinosaur? The T-Rex was a powerful animal in its time and it’s jaws were so strong that they could crush a car — not good for Tesla had it existed during that era. But today, to be identified as a dinosaur is definitely not a compliment. This is the company that still relies heavily on a top-down hierarchy and has lost the ability to innovate. The companies that fit this profile come from all industries but include big retail (ie Sears) and financial services.

The funny — but also sad — thing is that many of these companies are on their way to being extinct and they don’t even know it. But there can be a silver lining. If these organizations can recognize that they are becoming dinosaurs and evolve into the chicken — the closest modern-day relative to the T-Rex — they may have a chance. A bird of any kind, whether it flies or not, is better because, well, it’s alive for starters, but also because it lays eggs — think new ideas — it has 360 degree vision and there is a pecking order that is quite collaborative. Remember, collaborative, flat organizations can leverage new ideas and pivot faster. Interestingly, Google has a statue of a T-Rex on their campus to remind themselves not to become one.

Team collaboration…survey says wolf


The collaborative culture that is represented by companies such as Costco and Patagonia were voted by the crowd to be wolves. As the largest member of the dog family, they travel in a well-organized pack with a sophisticated social system. The female pack leader is virtually equal in status to the male and they are known to be the best mothers of all mammals. They are often given full authority to choose the family den, which makes me think that they would perhaps not choose a garage — a place where many start-ups are founded, and which is traditionally where males like to hang out versus a nest or home that women often prefer. Perhaps these are the companies where women can thrive because they chose the environment — and the rules?

Costco has risen in the rankings as the number one place to work in America. It is renowned for its family atmosphere and incredible communication and known to embrace ideas from everywhere. Wolves are not like their image in movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street, but more family-focused and nurturing, more similar to their portrayal in the incredibly successful Twilight movies. Wolves, similar to companies like Patagonia, play a key role in maintaining an ecosystem of sustainability. The wolf pack is a community where everyone works together to survive with an incredible ability to communicate. I mean, who doesn’t want to howl at the moon with their pack?

People first…survey says elephant


Companies like Virgin Atlantic and Southwest Airlines are people-first companies, and with these characteristics, the top vote by far was for an elephant. The elephant has many human qualities, including empathy, and values family above all else. They take care of each other and if someone falls down or is hurt they show great emotion when they are brought back together. They also comfort each other in times of stress. When you think of Virgin and Southwest you think of happy, people-first cultures. For example, Southwest has been known to send their employees gifts if they have worked through a stressful situation, and they are open to flight attendants working schedules that suit their family life.

They take care of their employees well-being and they pride themselves on having an atmosphere of family and belonging. They also have very long life expectancies — certainly these companies have survived for a long time, and they also have incredibly thick skin which can help them get through the tough times. They have amazing memories and despite their immense size they walk silently. They also have exceptional hearing which could mean that they are good at listening to their customers.

Conventional silo hierarchy…survey says bear


These are companies like IBM, Microsoft and Proctor & Gamble. Although they are highly revenue and growth-focused companies, they are not the fast, tightly-knit team that the panthers are. They still rely on a hierarchy rather than the idea-generating, fast-moving collaborative organization that welcomes and hears ideas from everywhere. Their products don’t yet follow the theme of fully empowering the user in an open environment and they have begun to lose some business to Google and Amazon.

When you think of a bear your perception can move from a cute and cuddly panda all the way to the scary and aggressive polar bear. In the same way, depending on the market and current competition, we have seen these companies adapt to what’s needed at the time. For example, when Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer were in charge of Microsoft, we saw one type of company, but now, with Satya Nadella at the helm and his very public and transparent mandate of evolving their corporate culture, we are now seeing the beginning of some positive change. Perhaps it was their purchase of LinkedIn, which is known to have an amazing culture, rubbing off on them? Will Microsoft morph into a panther, wolf or elephant? It’s also interesting and fun to see Melinda Gates chiming in on LinkedIn now and then to support the progress of women.


IBM has long been the bellwether for the stock market and over time they have been amazing survivors. Former CEO Lou Gershner famously saved them from becoming a dinosaur by launching a campaign to change the IBM culture and although they still rely heavily on a hierarchy, they have become a place where women can progress.

While pretty much all companies start out as monkeys, it takes some planning and focus around culture for them to grow into the type of animal they ultimately become. You could be working for a monkey, panther, dinosaur, wolf, elephant or bear. Did you know what kind of culture you were signing up for when you accepted the job? Has it lived up to your expectations? Are you happy in this culture?

If you own your own business, what do you think your corporate culture says about you? Are you a start up like Athennian, being thoughtful about creating and cultivating it from the start? Or is your culture evolving organically as you grow? Are you a panther, but you thought you were a wolf, or even an elephant? And what do others think you are?

We would love to hear from you. Let us know about your company and what kind of animal you think they are.


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