Why You Need to Be Intentional About Company Culture From the Start

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People spend a significant portion of their day at work, so it’s important that your environment and culture help your employees feel comfortable, connected, and happy. The thing is, different people will be drawn to different types of cultures.

Someone who’s a good fit for Zappos’ culture, where they might be interrupted by a mid-day office parade, probably isn’t going to be the right fit for Amazon’s culture of high standards, where employees are expected to maintain a sense of urgency. That is, one person may appreciate—or even be recharged by—some random fun, while another may not be able to fathom the interruption.

Being intentional about your company culture can ensure that your employees are aligned, so you can attract and retain those that are a good fit.

Consider your ideal company culture and choose your values

As Zappos says, “Identifying and defining core values are the foundation of your company culture.”

If you’re still early in your company’s lifecycle, consider what qualities your employees should have, and how you want people to describe working at your company. Or, if your company is already growing, ask your employees how they would describe their team, and what it’s like to work at your company.

Then work these into a set of values that are unique to your organization—it’s important that they don’t describe just any company. These values form the backbone of your company culture, as they integrate into your work environment, expectations, and goals.

For example, Zappos has 10 core values which range from “Deliver WOW through service” to “Create fun and a little weirdness.” Customer service is of the utmost importance, and leading with this core value reinforces that. They’re well known for expecting all new hires to spend several weeks answering phones in their call center to learn how to respond to customer needs. This ensures that all employees understand what the customer’s needs are, and how to address them—regardless of their department.

Share your values and culture

Once you’ve defined a set of values, instill them into daily life to make them a part of your culture. For example, AirBNB values “unique travel experiences” and gives employees a $2,000 annual travel credit to use on their site. This undoubtedly helps them engage and retain talent that will provide unique travel experiences to customers, as well.

It’s also worth sharing your values and culture externally, to attract more culture-fit candidates. This may include your:

  • Career site: Include information about your culture, in addition to jobs, like Netflix. As a best practice, many companies will also briefly share culture information in job descriptions, pointing to the career site culture page to learn more.
  • Career blog: Share stories about life at your company, featuring your team, like Hootsuite.
  • Glassdoor page: Monitor and manage your company’s Glassdoor page, adding in employer branding content that shows candidates what it’s like to work at your company. Dropbox does this well, through company updates, videos, photos, and responding to reviews.
  • Social media accounts: Share information about your company culture, values, and team through your company’s social accounts. Or, create accounts dedicated to employer branding, like Dropbox.

Some companies even choose to create a culture book or manifesto, like Zappos and Hootsuite.

Hire for values and cultural alignment

Hiring for skill fit isn’t enough. In fact, 91 percent of managers said a candidate’s fit with the organizational culture is equal to or more important than their skills and experience.

Be honest about your company culture throughout the recruitment process to attract the right people—and help the wrong people self-select out. This begins with your external communications, as outlined above, and extends into your interview process.

Behavioral-based interviewing, in which you ask candidates how they’ve handled specific situations in the past, can help you screen for cultural alignment. Let’s say your company values people who are detail-oriented. You could ask the candidate to tell you about a time they found a mistake in their work. If necessary, ask follow up questions to determine why the mistake was made, how they found it, and what they did to remedy it. Everyone makes mistakes, but you want to see that the candidate is detail-oriented enough to find and fix the issue the way your organization would expect.

Following the interview process, it can be helpful to complete reference checks to verify the information you’ve learned from the candidate. Try to speak with at least one manager, one colleague, and one direct report (if applicable) to get a well-rounded view of your candidate.

Reinforce values to continually build your culture

Finally, it’s important to continually reinforce values and build your company culture.

Begin during employee onboarding by sharing more information about your company culture and values with new hires. Part of your onboarding program should be regular manager check-ins, which should extend throughout the employee’s tenure. These are a great opportunity to recognize each employee for exemplifying the company values.

Many organizations also implement a peer recognition program so feedback can be given more regularly, and from different angles. This feedback, along with that from manager one-on-ones, may also be shared during a company all-hands meeting to show all employees what it looks like to live the company culture.

When values are reinforced regularly, employees will be more likely to live them and encourage colleagues to do so.

Final thoughts on building an intentional company culture

Fewer than one third of people believe they have a strong company culture, but 75 percent of employees agree that company culture drives their active engagement at work. Being intentional about your company culture from the beginning can do wonders to ensure that you attract, engage, and retain the talent you need to reach your business goals.

If you haven’t done this from the beginning, don’t fret. It’s never too late to assess your current culture, and drive necessary changes to get it to where you’d like it to be. Company culture can absolutely change over time to meet new needs, as evidenced by Facebook. While they started out with a mantra to “move fast and break things,” they’ve now graduated to a more mature “move fast with stable infra” to ensure they meet their customers needs.

Whether you begin thinking about company culture early on, or much later, employee communication and alignment are key.

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