It’s 7:55am on a Monday. You pull your car into the parking lot, put it in park and twist your rearview mirror to look yourself in the eye — time for the daily pep talk to get through your workday. With one hand on the handle, you briefly pause before slowly opening the door and start trudging towards those all too familiar glass doors.
A groan escapes your lips as you push the door open and step inside. You squint your eyes to adjust to the cold reflection of incandescent tube lights upon the lifeless white walls that hold your future. You’re welcomed by the sound of Jeff and Susan screaming at each other in the breakroom — again.
John is locked in on his phone as he enters the kitchen for his morning cup of cheap coffee. He only looks up for a brief moment, startled by the somber “good morning” you muttered. It’s met with silence, of course – he doesn’t believe it any more than you do.
As you approach your cubicle, your eyes are drawn to a scribbled piece of notebook paper sitting atop your keyboard. “I fired Cheryl, so I need you to take over her accounts,” it reads.
Overwhelmed and underappreciated, you finally pull the peeling faux leather chair from your desk, knowing it’ll be your home for the next ten hours. “One day at a time,” you half-heartedly recite as that old IBM monitor flickers on once again.
This is a story that many of us can relate to, unfortunately. Companies with work environments like this are likely going nowhere, fast. If you find yourself in this situation, realize you don’t have to stick it out. In fact, you should run.
Because there are many great companies with outstanding cultures that will value you and treat you well – like those on Austin Business Journal’s list of Best Places to Work. Top employers are passionate about their culture and design it with the intention to promote good morale, productivity, retention, and engagement for their people.
How Toxic Company Cultures Happen
In most cases, poor company culture doesn’t happen on purpose. It occurs as a result of negligence and misaligned priorities over time, or by simply letting the culture naturally form itself. It often looks like a chaotic, cutthroat, free-for-all where anything goes, as long as the company makes money.
A toxic company culture forms when leadership doesn’t take culture seriously. To prevent a poor culture from taking over, the leadership team must be intentional about culture. Determine what kind of values, behaviors, and attitudes are and aren’t acceptable. And mean it.
When bad actors are allowed to stay simply because they meet their sales goals, for example, this contributes to a bad company culture. Rinse and repeat this situation a few times and you’ve built yourself with a company for which no one wants to work at.
You’ve heard the saying, “One bad apple spoils the bunch,” and it’s especially true when it comes to company culture and your work environment.
“Some people, when they’re having a bad day, go into work with dreadful anticipation that their day will be worse. Or feel they need to wear a mask to cover their pain. Where I work, my day gets better, and they embrace my pain and worry.”
Operations Manager, HireBetter
But just deciding what you won’t tolerate isn’t enough. Great company cultures are formed with intention by leadership teams that know exactly what their culture should look like and how individuals and teams should work together. Ultimately, the company culture is a reflection of the leadership team.
Thus, culture starts with leadership setting the standard for expectations and living out the company’s mission, vision and values every day. The company values must truly serve as the guiding principles for all decision-making day in and day out. Only then can a positive culture emanate through the team, take hold, and evolve meaningfully.
Company culture boils down to a set of shared attitudes, goals, practices, and values that identify an organization. Your people show up to work for most of their waking moments, so it’s critical to care for their well-being and create a positive and purposeful culture. If you don’t, your good ones will be looking for their next employer, who will.
Why Company Culture Matters
Prioritizing the best interests of your people is prioritizing the best interest of your company. Which is why leaders see organizational culture as a powerful ally. In fact, according to the 2021 Global Culture Survey from PwC, 3,200 workers in more than 40 countries say that strong cultures drive better business outcomes.
In the same survey, 69% of senior leaders credit their success during the pandemic to culture. This is impressive considering that major changes were necessary for companies around the world.
More than two-thirds of respondents in the survey said their culture helps change initiatives. In fact, 7 out of 10 who said that their organizations were able to adjust, reported that their culture was a major competitive advantage.
Sixty-seven percent of them said that culture is more important than strategy or operations, and that top cultural priorities should include recruitment and retention, digitization, health and safety, and collaboration. This doesn’t come without challenges.
In fact, this is evident in the survey data, which indicates a widening gap between what leaders say about culture (particularly diversity, equity and inclusion) and what their people experience. The solution? Committing to company culture and going above and beyond to ensure that your company puts people first.
How to Create a Winning Company Culture
Always live by your core values. Use them as a “guiding light” to make decisions – from hiring to firing and beyond. Start by creating core values that are clearly defined and TRULY reflect your organizational values.
Once your values are defined and clear – you must live them. Sure, you can post them on your office walls or highlight them on your website, but much more is required. Creating an effective company culture means putting your core values into action, every day.
Who better to teach us about company culture than the leaders at the helm of Austin’s best places to work?. We asked the leaders of Austin’s Best Places to Work for their “secrets” on how to create an elite company culture.
The short answer is that there is no secret, only a relentless commitment to taking care of their people and creating a purposeful environment.
- Set the Bar High
“You have to make it count. View every interaction as a chance to make a difference.”
If you’re going to do culture, do it right because your company’s culture influences results across the board – good and bad. Amy Porter, Founder of uber-successful fintech company AffiniPay knows the benefit of a great culture first-hand. Her team is one of the best in the business at going above and beyond for their customers:
“One of our core values is ‘surprisingly great,’ which means that whatever you do, do it next-level. Whether you’re doing something for your partner, customer, or colleague -– our goal is to create an experience that is better than they expected.”
She says that AffiniPay “hires and fires by our core values” and “we’re very protective of them.” Other attributes may not necessarily be a core value but are important standards for the organization. For example, she says, “one of your individual core values may be honesty, but that’s not a company core value. We expect that with people we work with.”
Your core values should raise the bar. Bhushan Sethi, the Joint Global Leader for People and Organization at PwC says, “Organizations with a view of culture as a distinction and source of competitive advantage maintain a better sense of community, respond to customer needs better, innovate with a higher degree of success and deliver better business results.”
Level-up your standards if you want exceptional people on your team.
- Authentic Company Cultures are the Best Cultures
“I’m proud we stuck to our values and a lot of the people that didn’t fit left the business.”
In 2019, Aceable’s culture started to crack. Founder and CEO Blake Garrett shared that back then, there was an initial disconnect in their company values and in how they hired talent to work for them.
They brought in a lot of people that didn’t culturally fit what the online learning platform is about. For years, this caused a lot of problems for the company but the problem solved itself when the company reinforced their company culture.
The value that authenticity plays in an effective culture can’t be overemphasized enough. The character of your organization is the way people feel about the work they do, the values they believe in, where they see the company going, and what they’re doing to get there.
One method used by professional publishing company Scribe Media is to shout out from the rooftops about who they are to anyone who’ll listen. “We want you to know who we are and what we stand for because you might not like it here.” says JeVon McCormick, Scribe’s President & CEO.
McCormick proudly says that, “We don’t have direct reports, we have direct support.” Scribe has a culture bible that is public facing — this means that they tell candidates about their culture before the onboarding process begins. They want the world to know who they are, with no pretense.
Sarah Puil, Founder and CEO of fine wine company BOXT, says it all comes down to purpose, and everyone in your company needs to be onboard with it. She says that Boxt employees are very much involved in the hiring process to “ensure that the people we bring in are a cultural fit.”
- Trust Your People to Do the Right Thing
“My job is to first take care of our employee community.”
The Best Places To Work are the organizations who treat people the best. That’s why Jamie Lagarde of the medical cost-sharing company Sedera says that the well-being of your own people should be on top of your list.
He highlights building a community of people that support each other. “If we do a great job of taking care of them, they’ll do a great job of taking care of our customers. It’s essentially a sharing community.”
John Berkowitz of OJO Labs believes that companies need a North Star which is why for him, the caliber of talent that you bring in matters. As the Founder and CEO of the homeownership platform, he believes that his company is one of the most talent-dense companies in Austin. “When we started this company, we were obsessed with talent.
The reason why hiring great people is their first core value is that, “People attract other people of similar caliber. Once you have a core group of very talented people, there are only two things to do: tell them what you want to do and sincerely live a mission to do good.” Companies who focus on their employees reap the rewards because the people they employ are better aligned with their purpose and are involved in the culture.
Jenny Whittemore, VP of Operations of real estate firm Endeavor, considers people as the heartbeat of the organization and employs a flat organizational structure. This makes it easier for the team to take ownership and treat the company like it’s their own. Endeavor employees treat the projects they work on as a commitment, as not just a job responsibility. “Whether they’re employees, customers, or vendors – people are a priority.”
People who work for the best companies don’t just show up to work for a paycheck. They love working for a company with outstanding culture and an impactful purpose. Not surprisingly, these companies are where you’ll find some of the happiest people who are incredibly fulfilled in their careers. Celebrate your culture and success will follow.