Company culture is one of those ambiguous things that we all talk about, but none of us really know the exact steps it takes to create one.
Of all the things that you build in your company, culture is one of the things that can make or break your company if you don't define it early.
"...This is about building an organization for success. This is about winning. This is about doing the tactical things to make sure your organization and your people are aligned around the same thing.” —Justin Moore
The thing about company culture that most people get wrong, is that you can’t just build it once and be done. Writing values down in a handbook or painting them on your office walls doesn’t mean you’ve defined your culture. In fact, anytime you add people to the mix, you run into variables you didn’t anticipate that can dramatically shift your company culture. Creating an exceptional culture requires an extraordinary amount of effort.
Culture is one of the most important parts of a brand. The connection between culture, brand, and ultimately success, is inextricably linked. A startup has five years to define company culture. During this time, the brand can consider it to be a season of discovery and testing—figuring out what works, what doesn’t, etc. It’s okay to make shifts, define, and explore what culture should be. But, after year 5, company culture becomes significantly correlated with the success or failure of that brand. Five years.
Rebel turned 4 this August. Culture is something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. We’ve grown exponentially fast. The pace of our growth has required an attentive eye to the company culture we’re defining.
We didn’t come out of the gate getting it right, it took a minute to figure out how to lay the foundation. We didn’t start off on the best foot—
Our first culture statement was too vague. We found it left room for interpretation and didn’t give our operating teams a lot of clarity on expectations. So, back to the drawing board we went.
Our first onboarding process was redundant and hyper-processed. We scaled it back and created efficiencies that delivered real value to our teams.
Our hiring process felt knee-jerk and failed to deliver value. So, we crafted a robust talent pipeline and a new way to evaluate incoming candidates.
As a bootstrapped company, we faced real constraints on how to deliver value to our employees. We were forced to get creative and look for new solutions. We spent time really evaluating what was needed from each role and got specific about what we were looking for. We changed what wasn’t working and created a pathway for what does.
The results were exceptional. Our team members report high levels of satisfaction, support, encouragement, and growth opportunities.
The passion for the work we do shows in the team. The enthusiasm and opportunity to learn new things on the regular is one of the best perks.—Rebel Employee
So, how did we get here? Below are a few of the guidelines we used to craft a stellar foundation for a strong company culture.
Get intentional. Yes, this feels like a no-brainer. Often, leadership gets intentional about defining culture—but then gets haphazard about its application. Intentional application of a good culture is inconvenient; it’s hard to carve out the time. It reroutes the company resources to address issues that can feel premature or superfluous. But, remaining intentional through the application of culture is what moves a company from obligatory values and empty corporate fluff to a meaningful, strategic infrastructure that drives forward.
Stay consistent. You can’t apply culture just sometimes. The rules don’t only apply to some people. Company culture should work to provide an infrastructure that sets expectations for every single person, from the very top to the very bottom. There are no exceptions. When business leaders use culture as a buoy system on what’s “acceptable/not acceptable”—it makes the often subjective decisions so much more objective. When culture is applied consistently, it becomes real and can impact real change.
Communicate the desired outcome. When crafting a system, we (as humans) default to a “No” system. “No running in the halls”, “No cursing at work”, “No arriving late.” We are really good at communicating what not to do. But, just because we are clear about what not to do, doesn’t mean we’re clear about what to do. When constructing a company culture, get clear on the expectations—what outcomes are you looking for? By framing the expectations in the positive (e.g, what you expect people to do vs what you don’t want them to do), you are setting them up for success.
- Empower collaboration. Depending on the size and stage of your organization, pulling in individuals to help lay out the foundation for company culture can engender buy-in and help check blind spots. Collecting employee feedback on the current state of culture, areas that can be improved, and areas that exceed expectations are all critical to crafting a scalable culture. But, one step further than that, is pulling in employees to build the culture. What values do they think the business should have? What expectations motivate them to engage? Think less design-by-committee and more of a collaborative push forward to the same end goal. If your team is too large or a full-team collaboration creates unproductive friction—pull together a small team to hash through the ideas together. Make sure the team is diverse and representative of your organization as a whole.
Rebel does a great job of celebrating wins…I feel like my work is recognized often.—Rebel Employee
Company culture should operate as guardrails on what to expect when working at your company. If the culture is inconsistent, unrealistic, or only lip service to check a box, you’ve missed the mark on one of the most important tools in creating a successful infrastructure.