3 Fundamental Elements to Build and Maintain Strong Company Culture

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By Darià Artiola

Marketing, Gretel

Company culture isn’t created by just talking about it. 
Company culture is a work in progress that requires consistent care with deliberate effort. 
Company culture is kinetic, it changes, and it evolves constantly. 
Company culture, just like any other culture, is alive. 

I have been fortunate enough to work for many companies since I entered the workforce. I have played a role in thriving company cultures, and I have also been involved with some lackluster ones that were quite frail, to say the least. Among the best cultures, there was an intangible understanding and sentiment of teamwork, where individuals were playing more for the name on the front of the jersey than the one on the back. In the businesses where there was a strong culture I saw three common and fundamental elements: 1) clearly communicated values, 2) presence of leadership, and 3) solid recruiting practices.

People around a table happy

1) Clearly Communicated Values

The values of a company, just like personal values, have to be clearly communicated and defined. You can start with a company vision statement and get into more specific values from there. The values can be more metaphoric, such as: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (aka The Golden Rule, aka Act With Respect). They can also be more tangible, like “saying hello and goodbye to your colleagues every day”, which could be interpreted as a simple form of basic respect. In contrast, it’s rather disrespectful to go into the workplace and not acknowledge a member or members of your team. 

Some companies opt for more of the former, where the words can be more freely interpreted. Act With Respect is quite ambiguous, but the point is still delivered. In case you need a definition of respect, it is essentially treating others as you want to be treated. 

A few more examples of ambiguous values are loyalty, honesty, and trustworthiness. Loyalty, honesty, and trustworthiness are all powerful words with depth, and they certainly drive the point home about what type of principles are essential to the workplace; however, it can also be effective to add some of the more visceral concepts as well. They provide some standards that are not as open to interpretation, and they are also easily applicable. Let’s take the initial example of giving proper greetings and farewells for your coworkers when arriving at and departing from the workplace. 

It seems like something that shouldn’t really have to be mentioned, but illustrating that simple code of conduct alone shows that there is an importance to acknowledging your teammates. It sets a tone for the rest of the day and leaves everyone on a solid note when leaving when work is done for the day.

Note: I am not saying metaphorical values or more tangible values are necessarily better or worse than one another. Ultimately, the way you lay out your values is very much a part of the foundation of your company’s culture.

Choose your company values carefully and then express the words that you use to describe them with diligence. To help illustrate this and provide ideas for inspiration, I’ve chosen a few examples from brand names that are known around the world.

Nike Company Culture - Mission and Vision Statements

Company Values From a Few Recognizable, Global Businesses

Nike

To compliment their badass, iconic slogan, Just Do It, Nike also has an awesome and simple mission statement that is accompanied by a quick list of values. I actually didn’t know about their mission statement until I was doing research for this article, and it was no surprise that it is just perfectly on point. 

Nike’s Mission:

Bring Inspiration and Innovation To Every Athlete* In The World
*If You Have A Body, You Are An Athlete.

Nike’s Values: 
  • We dare to design the future of sport

  • A team that’s empowered, diverse and inclusive

  • The world is our community

  • A fair sustainable future for every athlete

Google 

Google has a list of values that they call 10 Things We Know To Be True

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.

  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.

  3. Fast is better than slow.

  4. Democracy on the web works.

  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.

  6. You can make money without doing evil.

  7. There’s always more information out there.

  8. The need for information crosses all borders.

  9. You can be serious without a suit.

  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

Starbucks

Starbucks has somewhat of a mix between Google and Disney’s and these are coupled with their mission statement

With our partners, our coffee and our customers at our core, we live these values:

  • Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.

  • Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.

  • Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.

  • Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.

  • We are performance-driven, through the lens of humanity.

Disney

Disney’s is less of a list and more of a vision / mission statement with some overarching values wrapped into it. 

“The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world.”

People talking around computers

2) Presence of Leadership

This one is pretty straightforward, your leadership should be present. This is particularly important for big company events, meetings, etc. That doesn’t mean that they need to be babysitting or always in the office, but they should be present and serve as guides for their team members. There is always a transition process when people enter a new community, and leaders help to make the process smoother. The presence of leaders generally sets a tone for the rest of the company, as they are ideally exemplars of the values the company upholds.

Another key element of leadership presence is tied to values. Your company leaders should set examples of the type of values the company upholds. If they don’t do that, people will see right through it as hypocritical, and this will eventually foment doubt and rip at the fabric of the culture. With leadership comes responsibility, and part of that responsibility is being an example to the rest of the company. 

3) Solid Recruiting & Education Practices

If you have clearly defined values and a solid base of leaders, you are going to be set… but only for a while, because change is a constant, and leaders may move into other roles or even take on other responsibilities at another company. Due to these reasons, it is paramount to set solid recruiting practices and implement them. This is probably one of the hardest things to maintain, because every new person you hire will bring their own energy and ultimately influence the culture of your company even a little bit. 

Obviously if you are a Fortune 500 Company with thousands of employees, one more hire won’t change the entire company very much, but they will have an influence in the office where they are working. This takes us back to the first point of having clearly communicated values, because the values will also serve as a reference for the type of people you will hire. This then moves to the second point, where presence of leadership will help guide new team members.  These points can eventually help new team members to not only uphold the values of the company, but also step into leadership positions in the future and ultimately continue to fuel the flame of the company’s culture. 

Ultimately, there are many factors that contribute to company culture, as it is something that requires consistent effort and care. The primary keys to building and maintaining culture are: 1) communicating the values clearly, 2) having exemplary leaders actively participating and demonstrating the values, and lastly recruiting / educating new team members effectively. These three elements will help you get started with creating the culture and from there uphold those values throughout the course of the company’s journey.

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