Company Culture: From 0 to Winning Glassdoor Awards [2020]

What is company culture and what are its effects? We have written a complete guide to company culture explaining what it is and how to best utilize it. If you are interested in how to cultivate your company culture then read below.

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If you ever had a job that sucked and didn’t pay well but you loved it anyway, what was it that made it special? That’s the atmosphere, or in other words, company culture.

If you’re running a business, building such an atmosphere comes with a series of benefits that include easier recruiting, longer employee retention, higher workforce motivation, greater productivity, and less frequent mistakes.

In this article, we will be covering what really is “company culture”, its effects, who is responsible for it and a quick guide on how to achieve it.

What is Company Culture?

The culture of a society boils down to values and interactions amongst everyone and everything. Those values and interactions turn into what we know as the arts, education, institutions, and entertainment. 

In the same way, your work culture or company culture is about the shared values of the company and those who make it up, as well as the way they interact with each other.

Work culture is mostly about the underlying or unspoken psychology of the company, what the company represents, and its relationships amongst its members.

Work culture can be casual, fun, very professional, friendly, not friendly, competitive, and much more. Primarily, it is the look and feels for those who work there -- not the customers even if it’s a b2c company.

Startup culture is a relatively new type of work culture aimed at breaking down the barriers and hurdles of growth that more established corporations might have. 

Startup culture is mostly known for being creative, laid back instead of rigid, and passion-driven. 

Startup Culture
If you need to take a closer look at a few defining factors, check out this quick read here.

Passion, personality, agility, and authenticity are four key factors that make up the feel of an ideal startup culture. 

Passion is the reason work doesn’t always feel like work and why the long hours feel worth it. Personality, just like you, is what makes you unique -- what cannot be found anywhere else. Agility is the ability for knowledge and information to flow at a pace that greatly improves all aspects of the business. Authenticity has to do with the freedom and respect of each individual’s own identity. 

Startup culture has also gained both a good and a bad reputation for being perhaps too laidback. Maybe you imagine people playing foosball and sitting around in bing bag chairs with flip flops. The reason these types of things might work depends on the culture, not the environment.

WeWork's Startup Culture
WeWork’s Broadway workspace has both bing bag chairs and foosball. Pretty sure some New Yorks go with their flip flops. 

However, not all startups have an environment that you can control. If you have a remote startup, things are not exactly more difficult, they are just different. If you have a remote startup you can skip to the “how-to” section at the end. 

The work environment is not synonymous with culture. Simply adding a foosball table and free snacks will not solve your work culture problem. The work environment is about the physical attributes of the workspace. 

While the work environment is not the same as the work culture, it is important. The environment can either help the culture or hinder it. 

Think about where you work: Can you easily engage the people you need to? Does the lighting make you feel drained or energized? Do you feel confined?

If you do not have a thriving, passionate, free-flowing company culture don’t worry... or should you worry?

Why is it important? What effects are there?

Work culture affects the business in many ways, as explained before.

Among these ways, one is employee theft. Nearly one-third of all employees commit some form of employee theft. That is a pretty high percentage to ignore.

One source has this to say, “the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that employee theft of cash, property, and merchandise may cost American businesses as much as $50 billion on an annual basis.”

For more jaw-dropping statistics on theft check out this link here, and we can move past the ugliest parts of work culture.

All of this information isn’t to make you suspicious and fire everyone (although there is likely someone that you should fire); it is simply to arouse you from your normal routine and business priorities. 

There will always be some other important thing that needs immediate attention. Don’t put it off.

Take control of your company culture and create it with purpose or it will take control of your company.

Of course, work culture isn’t only about employee theft. It matters on the production level, with growth and profit. Work culture affects the bottom line. 

Author, Entrepreneur, and speaker Gary Vaynerchuck puts it this way, the internal company culture will either enable your company to grow or it will rot it from the inside out.

If your employees hate their work, do you think they are going to produce the best results? If your employees have a bad relationship between them, do you think they will be able to collaborate and communicate well?

What about mistakes? Employees that aren’t motivated with their jobs are more likely to commit errors and deliver bad-quality output. 

If you want better results, on the side, focus on the ones making them. What kind of motivation or inspiration do your people need?

Focus on helping. Are you leading or just managing your people? Leading versus managing is a key detail in company culture, which displays the power dynamics of the managers and subordinates. 

Managers are supposed to have knowledge and experience that help rest of the employees. If people do not feel like the managers are approachable than the information cannot flow. 

I don’t want to pretend I know everything about being a leader, but consider this: Is the bottom line better because of you? If everyone you were in charge of could vote whether you were fired, what would happen to you? Do you believe the people you manage (and the company) are better off with your help and guidance?

Some great books on leadership are: “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” by Dale Carnegie, which is an adjusted and more modern rendition of the original; and “How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge” by Clay Scroggins, which explores the importance of the process of moving up as well as when you are actually in a position of leadership. 

If you’re not into actual reading, the above books are available in audio versions. If you’re looking for something more engaging than a book, Zig Ziglar has a leadership and success series called, “Be a Leader. Become a Success” with timeless leadership principles. 

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Who is responsible for setting it? 

The interns are responsible for changing the company culture; the newest employees are responsible for your company culture. Does that sound right? Of course not. If it is your company, then you need to fix it. It starts at the top.

While this article is mostly geared towards startups and leaders, anyone who is willing and able to lead can make a powerful impact. 

As author and speaker Simon Sinek points out, people are trained to do a job. If they do that job well they get promoted, and then they manage people to do what they used to do. The problem is that no one is taught how to be a good manager or how to be a leader. 

Management training should be as equally important as any position if not more important. There should be some kind of basic instructions, guidelines for your company, resources, encouragement, and additional or extra training for growth. 

These are your leaders. Ensure that they are managing your employees in the most effective way possible. If you have a high turnover rate, take responsibility. If people are not excelling or producing below their capability, take responsibility. Instead of looking at everyone else as a problem, consider how you can help them reach their potential.

To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, what is worse, training an employee to produce extraordinary work who may leave you for a better job, or keeping an untrained employee which continues to produce below average or average work? 

As a CEO or founder, you are responsible for ensuring the people you place in management roles have or receive the necessary skills to lead effectively. You need to be coaching and pouring into them so they can better pour into your employees. If you don’t, who will?

Leaders are responsible for setting their work culture. You do not need a title to effect change (although it certainly helps). When growing your startup or business, consider the leadership capabilities of those you are putting in charge. Skill and expertise in, let’s say sales, is not the most important thing when it comes to being a sales manager. 

Putting the right people in charge is essential for any company and its culture. 

Companies with Great Culture

Zappos is well known for its company culture. One important thing CEO Tony Hsieh does is put every new employee, no matter the position hired for, through a month of customer calls. This is a great way to ensure customer services is in mind in every position of the company.

Shopify has a few unique attributes that make it one of the best startup cultures around. They offer fitness classes and will even pay for your gym membership, for example. Shopify also has a praise tool that helps celebrate people for doing good deeds.

The CEOs of Dropbox have another great idea that I think every company should implement if it can. The CEOs of Dropbox do their best to stay onsite and easily accessible for their employees to ask questions and have discussions. However, they don’t try to solve everyone's problems; they aim to give everyone enough guidance and freedom to figure it out on their own.

How do you do it?

Hire the right people. I’m sure you are hiring the people that you think are the best fit for the position; however, no position is contained in a vacuum. What I mean is, if you hire a purchasing manager, they are going to have to work with other team members.

What kind of team do you have? Everyone you bring in should match the type of culture and team you are creating.

Wolter Smit is a co-founder and CEO of TOPdesk who has a Ted Talk on hiring. He describes two types of people: people that need a carrot and stick method for motivation and people that are self-propelling. 

If you are searching for the self-propelling new-hires, find out what they do for fun. Find out if they are happy. Find out if they can be happy at work. What are they passionate about?

Hiring the right people is more than just finding the most qualified candidate or best resume. Consider their emotional and physical health, what it takes to motivate them, and if they fit with the rest of your team. 

Caring for your employees is the next step in building your company culture. Once you have the right team members it is vital that you actually care about their wellbeing and success. How much can you expect them to care about the work they are doing for you, if they don’t think you care about them. 

People may want to do a good job, but you want to make sure your employees WANT to do the best job. How can we activate that desire in them?

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To Gary Vaynerchuck, making sure his employees know he cares is front and center. Vaynerchuck truly believes in “The Ambition of a Human Based Company,” where if he can be front and center and just give people a little bit of time so they know he cares, they will go the distance. 

The biggest principal to him is empathy. As the saying goes, “No one cares about what you have to say, unless they know you care about them.”

To create a strong and lasting work culture, it is important to instill a few rules or values and never lose sight of them.

Leading by example may be a cliche, but it is often forgotten. If you want your employees to be rude or short to each other, be sure to do that to them when they make a mistake. Remember, work culture is a top-down issue. Always be patient, kind, and graceful when people make a mistake, and they will pass it on (if they don’t, you need to fix that).

Acknowledge people’s achievements. Many highly motivated and driven people just want to power on through to the top. However, more often than not, some team members need to be acknowledged for their work and accomplishments. 

It might just be one more step for you or a piece of the puzzle, but it is their hard work and time. If people don’t feel appreciated they will not want to continue to perform at their best. 

Lastly, keep in mind that your employees are real people. That might sound obvious, but it is important to understand that it is very difficult to “check your baggage at the door.” 

Take the time to learn about your employees and build relationships. Life throws hard times at everyone. Check-in and keep your eyes open for when someone might be going through a difficult time. Maybe they need a day off or to leave early on certain days. 

Making connections with your team members is the only way to know when there is something distracting them from performing at their best. Making connections is the only way you will learn what they need to be fully present and putting in 100% every minute they are on the clock. 

To read more on company culture check out a Gary Vaynerchuck’s archive.

Remote Startup Culture

When you are working from home or a coffee shop you are working remotely. A remote startup is essentially when you’re running your own startup business and basically, all your employees are also working remotely.

It is important to keep communication open and constant in a remote startup. If people have questions that are not getting answered then production will halt, or worse it will go on with huge gaps or mistakes. 

Another key factor is passion, or motivation if you prefer. If your employees are not motivated and all on the same page focused on a common goal, then things will fall out of synchronization very quickly. Make sure your team members do not lose steam, motivation, or fall out. 

For more information on how to grow an unstoppable remote startup, check out this link here.

By now, you might have realized that the single most important thing you can do to establish the ideal company culture is to care. If you care about your company and the team that is building it, what will you do? 

Company culture is a very complex issue that affects the success of your company on many levels. If you don’t put the time into making sure your employees are performing at their best then you are losing money.

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