5 Business Leaders Reveal the Secrets to Creating an Amazing Company Culture
The companies featured in this article are included in our Top Company Cultures list.
Building a phenomenal company culture isn’t a “set it and forget it” deal. More of an everlasting endeavor, it starts long before new employees do and well after. Company culture should be top of mind from the moment you interview new talent and beyond, straight through onboarding them and all through their ascension up the ranks.
There are countless steps you can take to create a strong, vibrant and sustainable company culture. A wise first step is to look to businesses that excel at company culture and glean inspiration from them. What are they doing right and how can you emulate them?
As part of Entrepreneur’s Top Company Cultures list in partnership with Culture IQ, we recently asked a range of business leaders how they’re fostering outstanding company cultures that not only bring out the best in their employees but also throughout every facet of their organizations. Whether it’s planning a company-wide excursion in the great outdoors, or meticulously measuring employee happiness (and adjusting accordingly), their standout strategies and insights can give you a leg up on the road to a winning company culture.
Here’s how they say you can create an amazing company culture, in their own words:
1. Hire for sparkle.
Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.
We believe that creating an amazing culture starts with the interview process. When we are engaging with a potential new hire, we do a number of checks to ensure they bring a high level of passion for our mission, to help individuals and businesses get more aligned, stay focused and ultimately succeed. We follow the motto “hire for sparkle” and evaluate candidates in part by the amount of energy and zest they bring to the table.
We’re building a team of folks who are passionate about helping people get better at their jobs, so we all share cultural common denominators from the beginning. We then drive cultural adoption throughout the onboarding process. For example, each new BetterWorker meets with the team leads across the board -- including marketing, engineering, sales, customer success and product -- to ensure they learn how the entire team collaborates together.
I also hold a monthly culture onboarding session for all the new folks to ensure they understand why we do things the way we do them, and how they fit into meeting our goals. Our people operations folks also hold regular meetings with our team leads to constantly stay up to date as the company evolves and to ensure the entire company has stake in what our culture looks like today and as we grow.
-- Kris Duggan, co-founder and CEO of BetterWorks, a company that provides enterprise software to carve out and and manage goals.
2. Provide creative ways for your team to work and play together.
Headquarters: Boulder, Colo.
When I started FlexJobs as a remote company, I knew from day one that it was going to be important to create an amazing company culture -- even though we were not going to have a traditional office environment.
To start, communication is one of the most critical components to a successful company and in large part because it is at the basis of its company culture. We have a very open, straight-forward, proactive communication policy. Our management team wants everyone who works at our company to know that they can speak their minds and are encouraged to do so. They can offer big, crazy ideas, bring up issues and problems they’re facing and offer constructive criticism, knowing that it'll be taken in the best way possible.
As a foundation, we have found a variety of communication tools that support this, such as having a company message board (Yammer), virtual office space (Sococo), file sharing and collaboration (Box and Google Drive), project management (Pivotal Tracker and Slack), web/video conference (join.me), in addition to IM and email. We have found it beneficial to have a variety of ways to communicate, as there is no “one size fits all” communication type.
We also have fun with our company culture, and offer things that will energize our team, such as a “pay it forward” benefit to help someone in their life or community. We have creative ways to encourage our team to interact and get to know each other. We also do regular “coffee talks” where we get staffers from different teams who don’t normally work together for a video chat session to learn more about each other’s lives outside of work.
-- Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, an online job service to help people find part-time, flexible and telecommuting jobs.
3. Trust (and treat) your employees, and culture will blossom.
Headquarters: Boulder, Colo.
We have no set working hours, no vacation policy, no sick leave or PTO policy. Virtually every meeting is open to anyone who wants to attend, and we aggressively encourage transparency in everything, from product plans to company finances to partnership negotiations. Our number-one value is trust. We trust that people genuinely want to do their very best work and, if given full trust and autonomy, will organize their schedules and their teams to do what's best for the company and our customers.
We also happen to be a mostly-distributed company of 80-plus people [including part-time and contractors]. A few employees work from our small office in Boulder, but the vast majority of the company works from their home offices, RVs, coffee shops or Airbnbs while traveling the world. This is great for work-life balance and happiness, but it also has an interesting effect on interpersonal relationships. When everyone communicates via Slack, email and Google Hangouts, friendships are no longer dictated by the physical proximity of those near your cubicle or on your floor. Our distributed model democratizes relationships and people here say they have deeper friendships with more people than when they worked in an office. Still, connecting in person is fun and necessary, so twice a year we all meet up at a Colorado ski town.
Finally, there's no micro-managing here. We hire great people, give them the tools they need to succeed and then we empower them to do their best work together. And because we invest in amazing people, we want them to stay forever. So we offer generous training, mentorships and opportunities for people to make TeamSnap their home for their entire career.
-- Andrew Berkowitz, co-founder and chief creative officer of TeamSnap, an online service and management software for sports teams.
4. Invest in your employees’ career paths.
On the recruiting end, we encourage our hiring managers to look for people who bring new perspectives to the company, and we focus on building teams with a variety of voices and experiences. From training and onboarding onward, we invest deeply in our employees and their career paths. Every employee goes through MailChimp University, an internal education program we developed with help from professors from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. When we invest in employee development like this, our growing teams are able to work better together, managers are being more deliberate in developing their people and individuals are taking more ownership over their success and career paths.
-- Marti Wolf, chief culture officer of MailChimp, an email-marketing service.
5. Measure employee happiness and adjust accordingly.
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.
The secret to any success we have had with culture is a result of many efforts. First, we started with founder-level commitment. Our founders wanted to create a workplace that matched how modern humans live and work, so they started the company with a commitment to employee autonomy and transparency from the start.
HubSpot co-founder and chief technical officer Dharmesh Shah is the architect and author of our Culture Code and Brian spends a lot of his time thinking about culture and people as we grow. We focus maniacally on it. We measure employee happiness every quarter, and publish a detailed report to the entire organization of how happy employees are, trends by team and an action plan for what we’re going to do to address the feedback we’ve received. This level of transparency and autonomy sends a clear message to our employees: Feedback on our culture and work environment doesn’t go to a black hole; it’s a top-level management priority.
Additionally, we make company culture a core business priority. People are on our company-wide strategy for the year 2015. We spend time addressing culture and people at every company meeting and every executive leadership meeting.
We also listen and act. Earlier this year, one of our employees mentioned that while we give folks a lot of autonomy, we don’t provide direct access to capital for cross-functional projects when we are figuring out budgets for the upcoming year. As a result, we organized our first-ever Tuna Tank, a riff on Shark Tank, which allowed teams of employees to pitch their business idea to executive leadership, get feedback, insight and the experience of presenting in front of the management team.
-- Katie Burke, vice president of culture and experience at HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales platform.
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Kim Lachance Shandrow is the former West Coast editor at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was a commerce columnist at Los Angeles CityBeat, a news producer at MSNBC and KNBC in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for Government Technology magazine, LA Yoga magazine, the Lowell Sun newspaper, HealthCentral.com, PsychCentral.com and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Coop. Follow her on Twitter at @Lashandrow. You can also follow her on Facebook here.