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Not sure you fully understand company culture? Get all you need to know with this comprehensive article (and real-life company culture examples).
Wrapping your head around company culture can be tricky. It’s an elusive, slippery topic. At first blush, it seems pretty easy to define… but the more you try to explain it, the more shapeless it becomes.
And because it’s hard to define (and quantify), it’s easy to ignore or neglect. But you shouldn’t.
“Your company culture influences your teamwork, productivity, efficiency, and turnover rates,” said Laurie Bennett, company culture coach and co-founder of Within People (a consulting company that helps leaders find their purpose and grow the company they love).
If you haven’t yet got a handle on company culture, or you’re looking for concrete company culture examples, this article is for you.
What is company culture?
What is not company culture?
What defines company culture?
Why is company culture so important?
What does company culture impact?
How do you know what your company culture is, and how do you find it?
5 company culture examples
We recommend reading top to bottom, but feel free to jump to a specific sub-topic if you’re primarily interested in that piece.
With that, let’s get started.
A straightforward and simple way to think about company culture, is that it’s “the way we do things around here.”
When chatting with Laurie, he defined culture as “the beliefs and behaviours that define who we are, why we’re here, and how we do what we do.”
Company cultures work in much the same way as cultures around the world; defined by the rituals, traditions, and ways of seeing the world that are shared by, and unique to, a group of people.
And like any culture, they survive or die according to how actively we live them.
That may sound a bit nebulous. So, let’s look at a tangible example. Let’s compare the culture of two imaginary software companies: Skip and Hangar (software companies have funny names).
Skip has a culture of innovation.
Things move quickly at their company and the office is fizzing with employees collaborating in creative sprints. They release updates to their product every week. There are frequently bugs in this software but that’s ok, it’s how they learn and move forward. They go back and fix the bugs just as quickly, and make fast progress because of this.
Hangar has a culture of crafsmanship.
The company is more deliberate in its work and everything moves a little slower. They design by hand, and each bespoke release bears a personal touch for the discerning client. They release updates every four weeks, but the updates are near-perfect. Beautiful and bug-free.
This is just one simple example of company culture differences, but it provides some clarity into what culture is and how it impacts business.
Neither of these cultures is stronger or weaker, or better or worse, than the other. It just affects the way in which work gets done and the type of work that’s valued. Which, in turn, will attract and retain different types of employees and customers.
Before we get too much deeper, there are a couple of myths to bust.
Company culture is often confused with things that look like culture, but aren’t. Fun things you do and free things you give people to make them happy.
Those are nice, but they’re aren’t your culture unless they’re rooted in the authentic truth of why your company exists and what it stands for.
They’re, by definition, perks. The cherry on top of the ice-cream sundae. And if your cultural ice-cream is awful, no amount of cherries is going make up for it in the long run.
Here are some things that Laurie said to watch out for:
According to Laurie, company cultures are built on a blueprint of purpose and values. These provide the enduring reference from which company cultures are defined and lived.
Purpose provides a North Star for a company, giving meaning and direction to what it does.
Apple’s purpose is to empower the individual to think differently, and it’s fuelled decades of creativity and innovation that have changed the way we work, listen to music, and communicate.
As a set, values provide a brief for how to behave (and how not to behave), setting an expectation for the kind of people a company wants to attract, and how they’ll work together to be successful.
Zappos is known for its outstanding customer service, where staff can be themselves, go off-script, and spend as long as it takes on the phone to solve a client’s problem.
Their 10 core values enable them to attract people who make the right connection and imbue their customer support conversations with the right feeling. They don’t need a stilted conversation tree or automated jargon.
Now we understand what company culture is (and is not), let’s dig into why it’s so important. The detailed list of reasons is long, but Laurie highlighted four key points that sum it up nicely:
"If your company culture is unclear, it breeds fear and mistrust instead of safety and cohesion."
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Try not to think of company culture as an isolated thing; an ongoing project that lives in one corner of your business.
Because, it doesn’t exist in isolation. Company culture flows between everything in your business, impacting everything. No department, team, or person is left untouched.
To give you a better idea, here’s a clear list of things that company culture impacts:
Most companies don’t look to ‘find’ their culture at the start. It feels kind of obvious (we all know why we’re doing this) and a little unnecessary (we’re all sat around this one table).
Usually it comes a little later…
The job of culture-finding is an exercise in distillation. It’s about understanding what’s true about a company and refining that into a clear framework that you can build belief in.
The task usually belongs to a founder, or a leadership team. Sometimes it’s delegated to HR, but in the end, it tends to involve people throughout the company.
Here are a few of Laurie’s tips for (re)discovering company culture:
That’s all we have to say about the mechanics of company culture (for now). Now it’s time to look at some inspiring real-life company cultures in action: what makes up their culture, how they nurture it, and why this is important to them.
Leading HR software company, BambooHR, was founded on the idea that if you create a great place to work, great work will take place.
“Culture is a huge focus for the entire company,” shared Tori Fica, HR Insights Specialist at BambooHR. “We define our culture through our seven company values, but they aren't merely inspirational posters on the wall.
“They influence how every employee behaves, day in and day out.”
Tori went on tell us about how BambooHR keep their culture alive and active within the company:
“Our executives and managers choose a value to focus on each month. They select an activity or challenge for employees across the entire company to participate in as a way to help us practice what we preach.
“For example, during the month that we focused on Be Open [one of the seven values], we were all asked to seek out feedback from a few coworkers to improve our communication skills.”
Key takeaway: Live your culture by choosing a value to focus on each month and pairing it with an associated exercise.
“We're very clear on who we are and what we stand for. We know that Arc’teryx is most successful when our people are willing and able to take a stand for operating a certain way.”
There’s an emphasis on meticulous craftsmanship at Arc’teryx; an understanding that what they create has to be equally impressive for those inside and outside the company.
“Our culture is rooted in our 28 year history of making the best possible product that we’re both proud of, and want to use ourselves in our own adventures.
“We seek out people that share our values, and they in turn are the ones that keep our culture alive.”
Key takeaway: The values inside your business should mirror those projected outside your business. This helps to keep your people, product, and company on track.
As their name would suggest, Culture Amp places a high-level of importance on company culture. I asked David Ostberg, Director of Culture Enablement, at Culture Amp, about how they live their culture each day. Here’s what he said:
“We have four key company values, which we think of as road signs to help guide us. We infuse these throughout the employee lifecycle—starting with a values induction and what we call our ‘Book of Signs.’
“Our Book of Signs is both a thing (currently a slide deck) and a process. The goal of this process is to help new hires better understand the meaning, relevance, and mutuality of our values.”
After the onboarding stage, Culture Amp continues to support its values through a peer-to-peer recognition program.
“We have a quarterly program called Amplify Our Values. Any employee can nominate someone for consistently demonstrating our values through their behavior.”
These are shared internally in a company-wide Slack channel, so all employees can view them. They’re then assessed by a group of Campers, and the winner (and nominator) are gifted a prize.
Key takeaway: Ensure that your company values are lived day-to-day by incorporating them into your people practices, like onboarding and recognition.
Within their company, hiring for cultural fit is always top of mind:
“Finding a person that fits culturally is just as important as finding someone who has the skill sets needed,” said Karri. “Our HR team does a great job of finding people who are a good match for the team and for our overall culture.”
Key takeaway: Don’t just hire someone for how well they can do their job, consider their compatability with your company's values and culture.
Clio, the leader in legal practice management software, has a mission to transform the practice of law—for good. To achieve this goal, the company has seven core values that were created with employee input. Sasha Perrin, their Corporate Communications Manager, told us:
“We have seven values that prioritize goals and guide execution on projects. They were created with contributions from employees at all levels. By creating our company values together, we all have a greater investment in owning and upholding them.
These values create alignment and help us all work together, ultimately aiding in employee satisfaction.”
Clio is also a big believer in autonomy. Employees are encouraged to see themselves as a leader and look for ways they can personally impact the business.
Key takeaway: When establishing your core values, seek input from people throughout your company.
Company culture impacts everything from employee retention to your bottom-line. Taking the time to nurture it with integrity will have positive returns. Remember to look within your company to discover and establish your true values. Then live and nurture them each day to keep everyone in your company marching to the beat of the same drum.