Company culture can make or break your organization 一 particularly when the job market is competitive. Forty percent of people are considering leaving their employer this year. If employees don’t feel safe, valued, and challenged at your organization, you’re just giving them the extra nudge they need to leave. If you instead treat employees with respect, appreciate their individuality, and give them the flexibility they need, they’re much more likely to stick around.
Getting culture right is a must for every organization, but it’s hard to know where to start. To get your creative juices flowing, take a look at these great examples of how companies across industries have built cultures that engaged their employees and led to business success.
If you’ve ever researched corporate social responsibility, you’re probably familiar with Patagonia. They pride themselves on their commitment to bettering the planet, and they’ve set themselves apart from other companies in terms of sustainability. Patagonia also boasts incredibly low turnover. So how do they do it? Strong, straightforward core values and devotion to their unique talent.
Patagonia’s core values include ‘build the best product’, ‘cause no unnecessary harm,’ and ‘use business to protect nature'. All three of these values are simple and easy to understand while relating to Patagonia’s lofty goal of improving the environment. Building the best product means Patagonia employees always think of ways to serve consumers better while making their products last longer. Causing no unnecessary harm means Patagonia team members take the time to source the best, safest materials to use and pursue projects that do more good. And using business to protect nature means Patagonia encourages its employees to identify and act on pressing environmental issues in the world. These core values attract thoughtful, interesting candidates who align well with Patagonia’s culture.
Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, states that they actively seek people “who love to spend as much time as possible in the mountains or the wild". As such, Patagonia recruiters don’t find candidates through typical avenues, relying instead on informal networks and other unconventional hiring strategies. Talent teams read resumes from the bottom up, looking for clues of adventurousness in a candidate’s volunteer work, interests, and activities before reviewing their experience and skills. To keep these outdoorsy employees happy, Patagonia has a slew of perks, including 2-month paid volunteer trips with an environmental organization as a first year anniversary gift and onsite childcare centers with bilingual programs.
Patagonia’s focus on their employees and the environment has paid off: it’s making around $1 billion in sales per year.
What comes to mind when you think of Southwest? If you’re like most people, it’s probably the friendly flight attendants and their funny quips before takeoff. Guess what? That’s not an accident. Southwest is known for its superb culture that urges employees to freely express themselves and embrace their sense of humor. And happy employees create a better flight experience for consumers, directly tying into Southwest’s vision “to be the world's most loved, most efficient, and most profitable airline.”
To uphold their exceptional culture and to continue delivering outstanding experiences for their customers, Southwest emphasizes appreciation, recognition, and celebration. They take these principles seriously, taking tasks off of flight crews’ hands in what are called “Cultural Blitzes“ and organizing company wide Spirit Parties and Southwest Rallies. Not only that, Southwest also recognizes and hosts celebrations for big life events and milestones, making employees feel seen and appreciated.
As Southwest founder, Herb Kelleher, once said of competitors, “they can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty 一 the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.”
It’s hard to think of a Pixar film that was a flop. Movies like Toy Story, Up, A Bug’s Life, Cars, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles are celebrated for their beautiful animation and delightful storytelling. Pixar’s unparalleled track record can be attributed in part to its strong culture.
In a creative field, you rarely have an excellent first draft. But the whole point of a draft is to have something to work from. Pixar co-founder, Ed Catmull, realized this and encouraged getting comfortable sharing unfinished work. This discourages perfectionism and lessens any embarrassment employees might feel, allowing them to think more creatively. Another element of creativity is promoting collaboration and teamwork. Catmull recommends knocking down department silos. Red tape stifles creativity and limits communication, putting a damper on quality. Instead, Pixar ran daily meetings (“dailies”) that provided channels for regular feedback and established “brain trusts” of directors and other leaders who pushed movie teams towards creative excellence.
Google’s “mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This lofty goal resonates with employees and drives them forward. Besides the fact that Googlers have the company’s vision memorized, Google also sets itself apart in its now-classic “ten things we know to be true” core values. These values reinforce the concepts of doing good, working fast, and delivering excellent service.
Google also has big goals when it comes to sustainability. Its mission is to foster sustainability at scale is progressing well 一 Google has been carbon neutral since 2007 and aims to be carbon-free by 2030. Google also makes a positive impact by funding technology projects that push us towards a greener future.
That said, attracting the same level of phenomenal talent and maintaining a diverse workforce while going through periods of immense growth and change is difficult. In fact, Google’s culture has faced headwinds in recent years, demonstrating that you can never rest on your laurels when it comes to company culture.
Zappos is renowned for its unrivaled customer service. But although that’s a high priority, Zappos has recognized that their company culture matters even more. They believe that customer service, branding, and performance will fall into place with the right culture. Zappos also adopted a “Holacracy” policy in 2013, empowering employees to organize themselves and make decisions usually left to management.
Zappos is committed to its core values and lives them out every day. And these aren’t your typical company values. Instead, they consist of statements like “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness,” “Deliver WOW Through Service,” and “Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded.” Zappos believes in its way of doing business so much that it’s created Zappos Insights, a group that evangelizes Zappos’ culture worldwide.
6. Warby Parker
Warby Parker is the epitome of looking good and doing good at the same time. It’s grown to 1,400 employees in less than a decade by offering an alternative to “overpriced and underwhelming eyewear". Warby Parker gives back to communities across the globe in the form of basic eye exams and glasses. And it’s one of the only carbon-neutral eyewear brands.
How did Warby Parker create its winning culture? Cofounders David Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal developed a training and onboarding system to teach new hires about how Warby Parker came to be and where it’s going in the future. Warby Parker also commends employees for giving direct feedback, encourages openness and trust, and supports strong connections between team members. On their first day, new hires are welcomed to a desk full of balloons, and current employees make a point to come up and introduce themselves. As Gilboa says, “You have to make people feel special and welcome from the very first moment they interact with your organization.”
Spotify has learned to embrace the uncertainty of the ever-evolving music industry while unlocking innovation in its employees and the creators they support. This stems from their five core values: innovative, sincere, passionate, collaborative, and playful. Taking big risks and entertaining what were crazy ideas at first has paid dividends. Today, Spotify is a household name, has over 8 million creators on its platform, and continues to release viral features, like the beloved annual “Spotify Wrapped” tool.
Their innovative nature extends even to how they communicate their core values, in the form of a “Band Manifesto.” Even their careers webpage has an untraditional name, “Grow With Us,” and it refers to managers as those who lead the Band.
Of course, working at Spotify isn’t just about making band puns. Employees have to innovate quickly to stay ahead of the competition. Like a typical software company, Spotify uses a form of agile development, aptly called the Spotify Model. In it, autonomous teams of eight or fewer people are responsible for the end-to-end design and maintenance of one part of the Spotify ecosystem. They can make fast decisions without waiting on higher-ups or other teams. These squads are nimble, making small releases in order to fail, learn, and improve fast.
Netflix has become a cornerstone of American culture. From memes of original shows and documentaries to relaxing on a weekday evening, Netflix touches many of our everyday lives. While that’s terrific for Netflix’s bottom line, it brings with it the demand for more and better entertainment. Teams at Netflix know how much their work has contributed to the world’s happiness, and they’ve created what they call an “amazing and unusual” culture to keep their stream of quality content going.
Some hallmarks of Netflix’s culture are its high expectations, candidness, and accountability. And they don’t mince words. As Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer, puts it, Netflix has “a built-in expectation of high performance, radical honesty, and the motto ‘we’re not family’.” They hold employees to high standards, employing what’s called “keeper tests” in their review cycle to force managers to say whether they would fight to retain their direct reports. While this may seem counterintuitive, it’s meant to weed out people who aren’t up to the challenge.
For all its toughness, Netflix is also known for the flexibility and freedom it gives its employees. After all, one of their philosophies is “people over process.” With this combination, Netflix has created a one-of-a-kind culture and organization.
Start building a great company culture
These examples show that great company cultures don’t appear overnight. It takes clarity of purpose and sustained effort. Your core values, mission, and employee handbook shouldn’t be throwaway copy 一 they should truly mean something. Finding the right words to spur people to action is tough, but the hard work doesn’t stop there. It requires engaged employees and leaders who set an example and make their colleagues feel seen and appreciated.
That’s where technology can help. Achievers Recognize and Achievers Listen support organizations that want to build and maintain an exceptional culture. Achievers Recognize is a science-based recognition solution that empowers team members to provide social and monetary recognition anywhere, anytime. From commenting on recognition a peer just received to awarding a colleague who went above and beyond redeemable reward points, Achievers Recognize makes showing appreciation a fun, engaging experience.
Achievers Listen, which integrates with Recognize, is an employee engagement solution that gives employees a real voice. It provides easy-to-use anonymous feedback channels where team members can express how they truly feel about their work, management, and more. And it guides managers and other leaders from insight to action with intuitive dashboards and other analytics features.
Combining these tools opens up a whole new world for quantifying and improving your organizational culture. Begin your journey to an amazing company culture by requesting a free demo today.