Updated: November 2020
What Kind of Culture are We Talking About Here?
There are a couple of ways to look at company culture. You can look at it as the company’s customer-facing brand, or its internal-facing personality. Both are important, but we’re covering internal company culture here. We’ll answer these questions:
What is Company Culture?
There’s a great article published in the Harvard Business Review that defines company culture perfectly:
There can’t be a written guide for everything your employees do. On-the-fly or subconscious decisions have to be made all the time. Culture is what influences those decisions.
Nordstrom is a great example of company culture. They are famous for their legendary customer service. There’s a story of a man in the mid-70’s who bought some faulty snow tires from a tire store. By the time he got around to returning them, the store had closed and a Nordstrom Rack had opened in its place. Fortunately for him, he went in and explained the situation to an employee who let the man return the snow tires to Nordstrom with a full refund.
This employee didn’t go to the handbook or precedent to make this decision, he went to company culture. Because of that one story, millions of new conversations about Nordstrom have happened for the price of a set of tires.
Elements of Culture
Your entire company culture hangs on a value system whether or not it’s the one you want. Take control of the situation and actually define core values. The best time to do this is before you hire your first employee, but if not then, the next best time is now.
Travis Hansen is a successful entrepreneur who focuses hard on culture in his companies. Here are the core values at the heart of his companies’ cultures.
- Work hard and good things happen: The harder we work, the luckier we get.
- All in: We are one team. We win together, we lose together. We bet on Tesani, and Tesani bets on us.
- The customer is our obsession: If a customer is upset, we’ve failed. We learn, and we fix it.
- We give back: It’s who we are. True happiness comes from helping others.
- Sacrifice: Success is giving up what we want now for what we want most.
- Scrappy: We are lean and mean. We are smart and resourceful. We deliver, whatever it takes.
- We are lifelong learners: Once you stop learning you start dying. Our greatest investment is in our people.
- We are mavericks: We have diverse talents but not diverse values. We love the ocean and the Vans on our feet.
On their own, recorded company values are useless. They mean anything only if people are influenced by them. For example, one of Tesani’s values is to give back. Pretty much every company out there says they give back to the community and world. Tesani actually goes on company-funded global humanitarian trips to better the lives of underprivileged children.
If you say something is important to you, you have to act like it’s important to you.
Hiring the Right People
Depending on how you hire, new employees can either strengthen your company culture or tear it down. There are a few things you can do in hiring to protect and build your culture.
Use culture as a recruiting tool. This will attract people who are excited about working in a company like yours, and who fit closely with your culture.
Don’t forget about your core values in interviews with candidates. Ask questions that can evaluate how your potential employees align with your values.
Keep in mind that skills can be trained, but culture can’t be. If you had to choose between a candidate that excelled at all the right skills but did not share company values and a candidate that was a perfect culture fit but lacked a few skills, choose the latter. Again, skills can be trained, but culture can’t be.
Build a True Team
In a Forbes article, Santiago Jaramillo describes how engagement increases and employees thrive when they solve big problems as a team.
Everybody knows the idea that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” One reason is that people become more engaged while tackling a hard problem as a team.
A case study in Jaramillo’s article describes how a company rallied the troops to come up with a solution to a company-wide customer service problem. The result was greatly improved customer service and a 90% jump in employee engagement.
Most people love challenges and the camaraderie of overcoming these challenges as a team. By fostering a culture of teamwork, you’ll boost engagement.
Help Your Employees Grow
Hopefully your employees are focused on meeting company goals, but they have their own goals as well. Find out what these goals are and help your people achieve them. By helping them meet their goals, you will help your employees grow. They’ll be happier and more able to deliver great work.
Give your employees opportunities to continue learning. There are a million ways to do this, but make sure it happens. Here are a couple of ideas: Give employees education time during the work week. Get a corporate Audible account and fill it with books that will inspire, teach, and motivate. Pay for online classes to help employees learn skills that they’re interested in.
Why is Culture Important?
All too often, company culture is not intentionally built; it just happens depending on who comes and goes. Culture shouldn’t be changed by hiring decisions, it should inform hiring decisions. Otherwise, a strong team with commitment to the company could turn into a selfishly motivated group of individuals only a few hires down the road.
Let’s talk about how being intentional with your culture can help you avoid this scenario.
When I say that you should let your culture inform your hiring decisions, I don’t mean that you should hire a bunch of clones. Don’t hire a company full of people with the same background. Hire a company full of people with the same values.
If all your employees have the same professional values and they align with company values, your teams will be able to work in cohesion towards the same goals. For example, if you have a strong culture of quality over quantity, then you won’t have to worry about some employees creating sub-par output as fast as they can.
Billionaire Richard Branson on an interview with Inc. said, “It sort of should go without saying.… if the person who works at your company is not appreciated … the customer will be treated where often they won’t want to come back for more. So my philosophy has always been if you can put your staff first, your customers second, and your shareholders third, effectively the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff is happy.”
Happy employees are much more productive. By investing in the workplace happiness of your employees, you are investing in your own success. Happy salespeople sell more, happy marketers are more creative, and happy developers are more productive.
Not only is employee satisfaction good for business, it should be an end in itself. This idea is important, but not new. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant said, “Act in such a way that you treat humanity … always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.”
There are two basic reasons why employees and companies part ways: either employees quit or they get fired. Employees quit because their needs are not met. They’re fired, often, because the company’s needs are not met. Often this comes down to performance issues.
Having a strong company culture and hiring accordingly will help with both of these causes of turnover. Part of your culture should be to care for your employees. Again, people should be treated as an end in themselves. If each employees’ financial, social, and growth needs are met through a caring company culture, they won’t have a reason to leave.
On the performance side of the employee turnover coin, if you hire people that share your values, they will perform according to your values. For example, if you both value hard work and consistency, there won’t be any dissonance between expectations and performance.
Kevin Kruse wrote a great article for Forbes that perfectly defines employee engagement.
“Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.”
Engagement comes from employees at every level of the company owning the goals of the company. When company goals become their own, employees become much more motivated to do a great job. To paraphrase Kruse, they don’t work just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the company.
As your employees come to believe in the organization’s goals, their productivity and customer service will increase, and your business will become more profitable.
Culture Tips from Travis
We’ve mentioned Tesani as an example of effective company culture. Travis says, “My number one value is to work at a place with people that I love, look up to, and can learn from. Build a business culture that attracts that kind of person.”
Here are a few ways he does that.
- Focus on and embody core values: Travis lives all of Tesani’s core values that I listed earlier. If you are familiar with the core values of Tesani, you already know quite a bit about Travis.
- Feed employees: He hired a professional in-house chef, Mindy. Mindy’s Cafe is now the most defining point of the Tesani Culture. She’s not just a chef; she’s the office mom. Mindy embodies the friendly, upbeat, hard-working culture at Tesani.
- Office design: Tesani HQ is light and clean with collaboration built in. Tesani is a cool place to be, and you don’t have to be there long to see that.
- Company activities and retreats: Pool parties, Lake Powell trips, Christmas retreats, birthday celebrations, costume contests, and humanitarian trips are just a few ways that Travis makes sure his hard-working employees get the chance to play hard as well.
- Maverick Series: The day you quit learning is the day you start dying. Travis keeps his employees alive and well by bringing in “Maverick Speakers.” People with amazing life lessons come in and share what they’ve learned.
The company culture that Travis has sculpted has been key to his success in each of the companies he’s started. Take a page out of his book and do the same for your company.