Today, on Culture Collective, we’re hearing from Dannie Valenchis, Senior Manager of Culture at VaynerMedia. She’s been at Vayner since 2013 and says she is proud to serve in such an impactful role at a company known for their people-focused culture. Self-descirbed as a queer vegan feminist, Dannie loves exploring new vegan restaurants in the city and educating herself on current world issues. 

Culture Collective: Dannie Valenchis quote

What are three words you would use to describe your workplace culture and why?

The first word I would use to describe the VaynerX culture is energetic. You walk in and you instantly feel the forward, active energy of the place. Everyone is eager to say hello and very receptive to saying things like, “How can I help you? Who are you here to see? Good luck on your interview!” It’s not a shy or a stale place. 

Another word for us is definitely empathetic, because we are always looking out for one another. It’s very much a, “I rise when you rise; we rise together,” mindset. It’s never self-centered. Being empathetic and being able to see the world through other people’s perspectives, allowing them a beat if someone seems a little off that day, is important to us.

The last word to describe us is proactive. If you see an opportunity to do something or if you see a way to make something better, you just do it. There’s no red tape. We don’t micromanage. There’s a lot of wiggle room to explore new projects and learn new departments. We’re there to guide and give people what I like to call sandboxes: give them the framework of what’s expected and give them the tools — the shovel, the bucket and all that — but how they design the castle, how they actually do their job is up to them. You could build your basic, average castle or you could build something really marvelous and put more effort into it. And a lot of us will go the extra mile.

What is your office super power? 

I’m a really good octopus. I visualize myself as this juggling octopus with eight arms balancing an array of spinning plates and I’m the central hub keeping all things in the air and balanced. As the Culture lead for VaynerX, it’s critical to be a strong project manager, influential leader, and keep a pragmatic approach across many different work streams in our NYC and global offices. I absolutely love this role; I’m always juggling and I love that challenge. 

Why is company culture important?

Company culture is important because it is the foundation of everything that a company is built on. It’s the reason why people excel at their jobs versus just checking the boxes. It’s the reason people want to go the extra mile and are eager to refer their friends and have an investment in the company. In the past, there was this idea that you have your professional self and then you have your personal self. That doesn’t really exist anymore, nor do I think it should. You want a culture where people feel like they don’t have to put on the professional airs and become this stuffy, buttoned up second version of themselves. You should have a company culture where everyone feels like they can be whoever they are when they come into the building. The biggest benefit of this is you’re creating a culture that builds trust. If you focus on building trust and allowing people to feel emotionally safe, things move faster. 

One of our values is definitely speed. We’re moving really fast and it’s important when people can get into a room they don’t feel hesitant sharing their ideas or bringing their unique perspectives to the table. That allows people to bring more innovative ideas and have diverse voices heard because you created this culture that says, “We’re just real, functioning humans here.” You don’t want to walk into a room, saying, “I have to fit into this box.” You want to say, “I’m walking into this room as myself and this is an environment that not only accepts it but welcomes it.” 

When you’re in a good culture, you feel it and it’s kind of magic and you feel that trust and you feel that energy. I think the perception is that culture is something that just kind of happens, but you actually have to be really intentional of how you build your company culture. You have to get the right humans in the door who fit your values and then you have to set up structures that build the intentional culture that you want. At a company like Vayner, where our mission is to “build the greatest human organization of all time”, we’re so focused on our people and everything we do comes back to how can we care for and growth our amazing humans through our Total Human Wellness program. We’re really fostering a space of total humanity here – it’s incredible.

What does your team normally do for lunch? 

We definitely tend to eat healthy. Our team usually brings their own lunches and you’ll see a lot of salads and wraps opening up around noon. Our boss loves to surprise us with lunch during the week and we always celebrate team birthdays and work anniversaries with a team lunch of their choice. It’s so much fun to try new things my teammates love.  

What are ways your company brings your team together?

We always celebrate VaynerMedia’s anniversary, or “Vaynerversary” as we call it.  This year is our ten year Vaynerversary and we’re doing our first ever global party here in NYC!

Gary {Vaynerchuk} will also get on slack and send a nice message or do a video and say, “Hey team, great work! I see you. Keep it up,” or even something simple like, “What’s up? I’m here.” We’re a sizable global company now with NYC alone having three offices. So, in terms of getting everyone together, we save that for really special occasions. 

If you could propose an idea to positively impact any company’s culture, what would it be and why? 

I would say get your company’s mission super rock solid at the leadership level so everyone is firmly educated and can recite it inside and out why the company exists. From there, use the same type of educational philosophy training within your layers of leadership and have those people individually train their teams. That should also be started in the hiring process, when new people come in. Culture is the philosophy and the values and the mission that ties everything together and you need to have that foundation of people living it inside and out. From there you can decide on your tactics that support and enhance these values that you’ve identified. 

Culture is really two parts – it’s the philosophy, but then you have to put it into action. I feel like a lot of companies get stuck on the perks. There’s a big difference between what culture actually is and perks. You might ask someone “What is the culture like at your company?” and they might say “Oh we have dog day, we have beer on tap, we do half days on Friday,” and that’s not the culture — those are perks. There’s probably purpose behind them to support something greater, but the culture is the larger mission of the company. Everyone should really be in the same flow of achieving that together. It’s almost like a spiritual understanding of why everyone is there. Being so rock solid in the mission is the start of everything. Everything you do should support the mission and the values of the company.