“Culture” is a word you hear quite often when you read about business and management. But what is it actually and why is it so crucial for a company’s success? Nowadays it is not an option anymore for a company to not think about culture. Some of the world’s leading tech corporations showed how it can be done, while startups and SMEs follow in their footsteps. But not only is culture an important aspect for employees and the managers, CEOs and owners, yet also especially for job seekers and their decisions on which companies they choose to apply to.
“Company culture is the personality of a company. It defines the environment in which employees work. Company culture includes a variety of elements, including work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations, and goals. … Other companies have a casual workplace without many rules and regulations.” – The Balance
Let’s dive in… The most important factors that contribute to a company’s culture are the company’s vision, its values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits. Like in an equilibrium, each one needs to work so that the other ones don’t get thrown off balance.
So, why exactly should one care about company culture? The days of “the boss is somebody I never say NO to, accept his ways of thinking and work the way he wants me to” are over. Your workplace shouldn’t be something you dread in any way. Since we spend more than half of our lives working, one should look forward going to the office every morning. If a job provokes stress, easy tasks might become way more difficult and the atmosphere completely shifts. That is where the culture comes in handy, as it is meant to alleviate work related stress and tensions.
Some of the largest corporates in the world, especially in tech, have reinvented their entire practices and relationships within their structures and have thousands of employees feel like they all are accepted, cherished and valued within the company.
First let’s evaluate the five different types of corporate cultures which are used nowadays.
- Team-First Culture: Where team-oriented companies hire for the cultural fit first and the experience second. These companies make sure the happiness of their employees is first and foremost and they will do everything to have workers enjoy team outings and accommodate them in anyway possible. These companies are strong believers that happy employees make for happier customers and is a very useful for any customer-service based structure.
- Elite Culture is the base for innovation and businesses focused on development. They hire only “the best of the best” employees to make sure that the company is ever evolving and maintains its high profile. A perfect example for a company which is quite new in the field, yet keeps its employees highly motivated and launches, yes literally launches, amazing creations is SpaceX. The norm of hours for a “normal” work week is 60-70, but workers are highly dedicated, because of the results they achieve.
- Horizontal Culture is quite normal in the startup scene, where these companies have a service they are trying to provide. Startups are much more flexible and have the ability to change according to customer feedback and fluctuations in the target market. In a horizontal culture, all employees have the mindset of being able to pitch the VP and know what they are talking about. The communication and relationship between the employees and the CEOs are very personal and usually happen, because their desks stand across from each other.
- Conventional Culture: Let’s call them the “traditional companies”. They clearly possess a hierarchy, and may or may not be trying out new and innovative ways of communication methods inside the culture.
- Progressive Culture creates an uncertainty where employees usually do not know what will happen next. Merging or purchasing companies or shares of one and fast changes in their market target audience usually belongs to the daily happenings. These businesses keep their employees on their feet by encouraging them to deal with tasks like targeting ever-changing clients, having to communicate constantly to them and always making sure the changes are embraced both in the company and towards the outside world. Change is of course quite frightening, but definitely keeps a company highly engaged.
Some of the largest corporates in the world have reinvented their entire practices and relationships within their structures and have more thousands of employees feel like they all fit in perfectly. Here are six examples:
1. Zappos: Living the “work hard, play hard” mentality is definitely a “must” in Zappos culture. Their core values are well defined and strong. Zappos is not only known to be evergrowing and changing, but they really embrace being adventurous, creative and openminded, as well as to always build open and honest relationships and a positive team and family spirit. Being passionate and determined makes them do more with less and staying humble while delivering a definite “wow” effect through their service. Here’s a few details of the recruiting and training process. Before even being able to prepare for the interview with the HR recruiter, future employees attend cultural fits, in a variety of social settings, to interact with Zappos employees and attend some of the company’s events. This allows the future employees to meet the prospective employee informally. If a potential employee fails the cultural fit interview, he/she isn’t even considered to meet the HR recruiter. Zappos is known to hire very slowly. Months can pass between the initial cultural fit and the invite to an interview with a HR recruiter and an actual job offer. Zappos has developed multiple behaviourally based questions which shows the insights of the candidate’s compatibility with their core values. If you do get hired, the first work weeks is spent in the call centre. It doesn’t matter if you are hired as a lawyer, or secretary, the first month is the same for everyone. Enforcing that all employees know how to respond to customer’s needs. Zappos does not hire temporary employees for the call centre in the busy seasons, which means that all employees, no matter from what department are expected to sign up for shifts in the call centre during those periods. After the time spent in the call centre, the newly hired employees are offered $3000 to leave the company immediately. If you are not committed to the goals and the culture of the company, Zappos wants you to leave. If you do not leave, you will participate in a scavenger hunt in the last 3-4 days of working in the call centre, to meet people within the department and find out new things. Following that, you graduate and the entire department cheers you on as you do so. A few other quite interesting tasks that Zappos feeds to its employees, is giving them regular skill tests – if you have built new skills, you get a pay raise. Each team manager spends between 10-20% of the department’s time on teambuilding activities. Yet managers are the keys at Zappos. They call and do written job offers, they hire, they fire, they promote. Managers also do cultural assessments, rather than performance evaluations.
2. Google has been given the title “best company culture” award more than once. Why? They were one of the first companies in the world who agree that creative minds need freedom instead of a daily 9-5 schedule. Therefor they allow them much flexibility in terms of working hours to make sure they stay as productive as they are meant to be. Google is known to squeeze out the most fun parts of working in tech and maximises those fully. Working long hours and even sometimes on weekends, is most definitely exhausting, but they continue to increase the enjoyment their employees have while at work through offering an amazing and creative work environment. While Google is known to have their office equipped with slides in the entrance area, massages for all employees and serve delicious food, they are also recognised to have very smart and capable employees. Since the hiring process is so intense, the HR recruiters want to make sure that Google’s employees aren’t just great at what they do, but also very kind and humble. In the workplace it is highly recommended to bring your dog, since it is confirmed that bringing pets to work enhances the quality of work life. While this all seems pretty great, there is one point that really truly makes Google one of the best company cultures in the world, and that is the formation of the teams and how one treats on another. If many like-minded employees are gathered, one can only work best you can, enjoy the benefits and really consider your co-workers part of your family.
3. SquareSpace is a website-development platform, and was named “one of the best places to work in New York”. One of their core elements is the free movement and communication between staff and executives. SquareSpace has continued to work hard on maintaining the openness in their every-growing company. They do not add layers of management to ensure that every employee have a say. That has a lot to do with focussing on communication in the work places. Anthony Casalena, the CEO of Squarespace personally says that one of the most difficult tasks was to make sure that all 500 employees of the company were on the same page regarding thinking and believing, which in one of the biggest reasons they focus so heavily on communication. The results of working hard to be able to communicate within the company as well as possible, is confidence, motivation and ownership.
4. Twitter has received the highest rating from its own employees of their corporate culture and values on glassdoor.com who evaluated multiple thousand reviews and comments from employers. In fall of 2013 Twitter launched an IPO which turned 1.600 employees into millionaires overnight, which made many of the company’s minds, quite happy, so to say. While comparing Twitter’s company culture and Google’s, one could say the benefits are quite similar and both very attractive. In the headquarters in San Francisco, workers enjoy free meals, in-office yoga classes and unlimited vacation, also following the trail of “creative minds need to be creative when they can”. Until today, glassdoor.com continuously offers employees of these international giants to anonymously write reviews about their work space, the corporate culture and everything belonging to it. Whilst scrolling through these quite impressing comments about Twitter, I notice one thing: The communication in-office, the benefits and the fairness and equality are always mentioned as 3 of the top insights, while one of the biggest Cons is, that the salary is not competitive enough, which makes me wonder, because the company also has one of the longest tenures noted. If the salary is not competitive enough yet employees stay around, the company’s inside cultures and personality must be stronger than even known.
5. Adobe: Founded by two computer scientists from Xerox Palo Alto Research Sentre (PARC), John Warnock and Charles Geschke, Adobe started in a small office in Silicone Valley in 1983. Starting as a small office, the visual communication software’s revenue has grown to over $4 billion and employs over 12.000 workers. It now has been mentioned 16 times already, to be one of the “100 top companies to work for” by Fortune Magazine, which means that over 93% of Adobe’s employees are enjoy their work place. Adobe is one of the leaders of offering the workers huge benefits next to yoga, cafés, paid vacations and health care. The company stands for four core values which they reflect on a day-to-day and make sure the whole world knows that they are: Genuine “We’re sincere, trustworthy and reliable”, Exceptional “We are committed to creating exceptional experiences that delight our employees and staff”, Innovative “We are highly creative and strive to connect new ideas with business realities”, Involved “We are inclusive, open and actively engaged with our customers, partners, employees and the communities we serve” . Following these footsteps, Adobe has achieved a great corporate culture that is multi-award winning. They have founded not only a revolutionary company, but also a positive and hardworking team that strives to be the best every minute of the day.
6. Patagonia is known for its colourful fleeces and sturdy backpacks that will last you a lifetime. Yet as great as their products is also their story and their values and their neverending environmental protection and activism. Patagonia was founded 40 years ago by Yvon Chouinard, an American rock climber, environmentalist and outdoor industry billionaire businessman, and remains privately owned. The 2.500 employees across the world are known to be treated as greatly as their surrounding environment. One of the most important aspects to a happy and healthy work place for Patagonia is to ensure that the employees do not have to choose between work and career. They spend overwhelming amounts of money per year to upkeep on-sight childcare facilities, which is quite rare nowadays, as only 2% of American companies offer such a service. True to what Yvon Chouinard’s memoir “Let My People Go Surfing” says, his team most definitely catch a lot of perfect waves, enjoy lunch-time 30 mile bike rides or join on field trips to Idaho, Wyoming or Yosemite National Park for rock climbing. Besides that, employees set their own hours at the office, yet the buildings are locked on weekends and after 8 p.m., which means it is besides the point to spend all-nighters at the office to catch up or be an over-achiever. This might all seem too good to be true, yet Patagonia is thriving more than ever, which doubled its size and tripled its profit since 2008. Their employees are known to be loyal and a turnover hardly ever happens. Patagonia has astonished many by showing they can build up a blossoming business which truly cares about the environment and their team, which even the other 5 companies above could still profit by learning from.
Other Factors and Work/Life Balance
Despite evaluating and following these ever-great cultures, studies show that in the past six years, due to the acceptance of flexibility, part-time workers or job shares are less needed or wanted. Falling into that category, companies offering fully paid maternity leave or paid leave for spouses has also dropped.
Clearly, offering your employees a work/life balance, benefits, paid leaves, healthy food, a great team, the mentality of “everybody is worth the same for the company”, slides exiting the offices, flexible office hours and the availability to go surfing in your lunch break is not an easy way of leading tens of thousands of employees who clearly expect these offers, if they are known to be promised to one. Yet greater than all these benefits and practices is the motivation and the core values of each and every employee. If the team does not reflect the company’s values and offers, even incorporating the greatest culture will not function. Which meaningly should be dealt with during and maybe even before the hiring process. While many companies still have a ways to go with “finding” ways or implementing ways of a truly impressive culture, many young and new businesses and changing the beat of the drum, with even small ways of behaving. CEOs are respected, yet not feared as much anymore, the ways of working are changing dramatically and youngsters are expecting many innovative challenges after graduating. What is new and exciting now, will soon belong to the “norm” and that is more than exciting.