Workhuman Editorial Team
12 min read
Did you know that cultivating a great company culture can help you boost retention and keep your top talent?
Creating a strong company culture is the process of implementing principles like equity and community that allow each team member to thrive.
Organizations with the best company culture can respond better to unexpected hiccups and establish an environment in which each team member can feel proud of their work.
But, how do you create a great culture if you don't already have one?
In this post we'll break down what makes a great workplace culture, seven examples of companies doing it right, plus five examples of companies who were able to turn around their company culture and come out on top.
Organizations with the best company cultures don’t just happen by accident, but rather professionals within the company carefully craft and create an atmosphere and a workplace culture that serves both the organization and those operating within it.
A company's culture is a general set of principles that guides daily interactions and how the organization responds to major events.
If you're an influencer on company culture, that means you're a leader or you help to determine how the company responds to events.
How the business interacts with team members on a daily basis is a fundamental pillar of workplace culture, and fine-tuning can help you ensure the business thrives and continues to attract high-quality staff.
These are some vital elements to consider when curating your company's culture:
Organizations that show a blatant lack of trust in their team members stifle creativity and flexibility in the workplace.
A lack of trust can manifest in many ways, including micromanagement and tight scheduling, creating an unhealthy work environment.
When you incorporate trust into your culture, you provide staff with the independence and confidence necessary to help them flourish in their position.
Options like remote work and flexible schedules can help each team member achieve work-life balance and provide the company with their best ideas and work.
Each employee has a diverse set of experiences and knowledge that allow them to generate unique and oftentimes valuable ideas, and team members can prosper within a culture that allows them to share these ideas.
When leaders within the company take time to hear ideas, they help to foster an environment team members may think of as innovative.
When employees feel their voices are being heard and their ideas are valuable, they're more likely to place a high value on their work and go all-in to get it done.
Providing support for employees is something that companies with great cultures do.
Rather than just saying they care for their team members, great companies show it by taking action.
For example, offering generous parental leave packages and paid time off can show employees that the company cares for them more than the sentiment itself.
Companies can also express their empathy for their team members by placing safety and well-being above operations at all times, finding ways to make work more flexible to keep it safe.
Management professionals represent company values, so it's important that leaders are strong examples of great workplace culture.
When team members feel they can trust their managers, they may be more likely to give extra effort, have fun while at work, and feel there are more professional development opportunities within the company.
Strong management can also increase employee retention and workplace satisfaction.
Team members want to feel like they have the same opportunities as others, and that's why equity and fairness are vital for strong company culture.
Compensation is one example of an area in which team members expect fairness, as they want to be paid fairly and know that their pay is equal to their contributions.
To cultivate equity and fairness within the company culture, help team members be prideful of their work, provide fair pay, and avoid issues like favoritism.
Within an organization, community is the sense that teams and individuals support one another in reaching their goals.
This means that the company stays strong when things are looking great, but also when the organization experiences unexpected snags.
An organization can foster a feeling of community by sharing profits, celebrating special events, and creating great working conditions.
To avoid toxic work environments, one way to learn more about improving your own company culture is by reviewing that of other companies.
There are probably some businesses that come to mind when you think about places with the best company culture, and you know them for how happy the employees are and the success the organization experiences.
These are some examples of organizations with great workplace culture:
CAA is Canada's largest not-for-profit automobile association, with more than 2,000 employees, and the organization built its company culture by considering how it could create a meaningful and consistent experience for employees.
To develop a high-quality company culture, CAA launched an innovation award and recognition solution that created lower turnover rates and a heightened workplace atmosphere.
This company culture is great because it prompts team members to support one another. The focus on recognition allows CAA to create moments of gratitude, safety, and joy within the company that help employees feel valued.
By giving frequent, small rewards throughout the year, Cisco has developed a consistent, peer-to-peer recognition program.
This program focuses on the company's core values and helps to drive employee engagement. This system has allowed team members to recognize one another more than a million times over a five-year span, resulting in more than 600 awards per day.
Cisco creates a cultural experience that encourages employees to interact with one another, boosting productivity and employee satisfaction.
By acknowledging people's strengths, Cisco empowers employees to form high-performing and fully engaged teams.
When you think of companies with great cultures, Google probably comes to mind immediately.
Google makes putting team members first a priority with free meals, parties, trips, and gym memberships as just a part of the complete package.
The company culture at Google takes the top talent in the industry and helps them become more motivated and driven, allowing Google to produce more innovative products.
As Google continues to grow, it focuses on maintaining this company culture through remote work and satellite offices.
IBM is all about innovation, and that doesn't stop at the business's focus on building a strong company culture.
One way IBM has created a strong company culture is by introducing a new employee feedback system that allows employees to find a more holistic method for measuring their performance.
Rather than rating performance on a strict, 1-10 scale, this new system allows IBM to gather more information about the support team members need to improve.
Allowing employees to gather their own feedback empowers them to truly focus on finding ways to improve.
Squarespace is a business that helps clients to create aesthetically pleasing websites quickly and easily. Strong company cultures include trustworthy and relatable leaders and direct access to management.
This company focuses on a flat organizational structure in which there are very few levels of management between teams and executives, allowing easy access to decision-makers.
Squarespace also offers a full suite of perks to each employee, including flexible vacations, free meals, frequent celebrations, and full coverage of health insurance premiums.
An online glasses company, Warby Parker has created a laser focus on company culture by creating a team solely focused on cultivating a great atmosphere.
This team plans and runs fun lunches and programs and strives to make Warby Parker a great place to work.
By lining up events, this company ensures team members have something to look forward to, which can help to increase motivation and drive among employees.
Zappos is an online shoe company, and one way this business centers company culture is by including a cultural fit interview during the hiring process.
This company also compensates new employees for quitting if they decide the job isn't right for them, creating a positive atmosphere around the process of finding only the best personalities for the team.
By concentrating on a set of 10 core values, Zappos ensures each team contributes to the company culture.
This business also offers raises to team members who pass skill tests to avoid issues like favoritism and office politics.
If you're a company leader or human resources professional, you may be wondering what the company culture is like where you work.
Cultivating a strong company culture can help you improve retention rates and boost productivity. By assessing your company culture, you can develop methods for improving it.
Before trying to improve the culture in your organization, it can be helpful to gain an understanding of what the culture looks like in your business right now.
One of the best methods for assessing the culture within a business is by turning to the employees.
Consider using an employee experience survey to learn more about how employees feel. They can provide feedback on leadership, interactions, and current recognition programs.
These are some elements to consider when assessing your organization's culture:
Here are five company cultures that rose to the occasion, saved their proverbial bacon, and made their leaders proud:
1. The Red Cross Drunken Twitter Faux Pas
What went wrong: In 2011 one of the Red Cross’ social media employees accidentally sent a tweet (see below)—which was meant for her private Twitter account—and didn’t realize it. It stayed up for about an hour before the company’s social media director was alerted and took it down.
What went right: The staffer who made the mistake was not fired. Social media director Wendy Harman merely deleted the offending tweet —which had already been noted and widely retweeted—and replaced it with an amused and amusing tweet (see below), then followed up with a blog post. Dogfish Beer Company reposted the tweet and encouraged people to support the Red Cross, and the two companies embarked on a creative, impromptu partnership that encouraged many donations in the following days and weeks.
How culture saved the American Red Cross: Humor might not be one of the American Red Cross’ values, but compassion is. “While we’re a 130 year old humanitarian organization, we’re also made up of human beings” wrote Harman on the ARC blog, “Thanks for not only getting that but for turning our faux pas into something good.” This adherence to the company’s values of compassion and creativity, far from hurting the Red Cross, managed to turn the incident into a fundraising opportunity and spawned a whole host of tweets like the one below.
2. Xerox Back from the Brink of Bankruptcy
• We succeed through satisfied customers.
• We deliver quality and excellence in all we do.
• We require premium return on assets.
• We use technology to develop market leadership.
• We value and empower employees.
• We behave responsibly as a corporate citizen.
What went wrong: When former CEO Anne Mulcahy took the helm of Xerox in 2000, the company was $18 billion dollars in debt, and a one-day, 26 point stock tumble had advisors pushing for a declaration of bankruptcy. One customer suggested: “You’ve got to kill the Xerox Culture [to survive.]”
What went right: Mulcahy agreed that the Xerox business model was unsustainable, but her famous retort to that customer was “I am the culture.” According to a 2008 US News article “she met personally with the top 100 executives. She let them know how dire the situation was and asked them if they were prepared to commit. A full 98 of the 100 executives decided to stay, and the bulk of them are still with the company today.” Within 8 years, the company had paid off its debt, and revamped its product offering and business model.
How culture saved Xerox: Mulcahy was a champion of Xerox and its values—including that of corporate responsibility—and she believed in the loyalty of customers and especially employees. Those employees understood what was at stake and they did not let her down. “We wouldn’t have survived if we didn’t have that love and loyalty,” she told US News. “And it stems in some measure from our heritage as a good corporate citizen. So for us…our past behavior was like money in the bank. It gave us a reservoir of goodwill that we could draw upon in our hour of need.”
3. Chobani Exploding Yogurt Cups
• Giving Back
What went wrong: In 2013, Chobani cups started exploding off grocery shelves—literally. A small batch of product had acquired a bacteria that caused a pressure build up inside the cups—and—unfortunately—inside the bellies of quite a few customers.
What went right: The company immediately recalled all yogurt cups made in its Idaho plant, and staffers (including the CEO) jumped onto social media to apologize and to personally address every tweet that registered concern over the incident. According to the Wired blog, the brand replied to over 3,600 tweets in just 5 days. And AdAge reported: CEO and founder Hamdi Ulukaya “wanted to write a personal letter to each of the 150,000 people that had an issue with our product because he takes it very personally and very seriously, and he wanted to thank them for … sticking with us and standing by us.”
How culture saved Chobani: The company’s focus on integrity and people saved the day here. So did direct participation and leadership by the company’s CEO, who led the charge. The company’s direct and forthright handling of the matter meant that Chobani did not even suffer a sales hit –according to AdAge.
4. PepsiCo The Syringe in the Pepsi Can
• Care for our customers, our consumers and the world we live in
• Sell only products we can be proud of
• Speak with truth and candor
• Win with diversity and inclusion
• Balance short term and long term
• Respect others and succeed together
What went wrong: In 1993, a man in Washington State allegedly found a syringe needle in a can of Diet Pepsi. Within days, reports were bubbling up from across the country. Claimed discoveries included a wood screw, a bullet, a crack vial, a broken sewing needle, and a mysterious blob of brown goo.
What went right: PepsiCo denied the reports immediately and vehemently. Across the company, employees spoke with one voice to quickly proclaim the assertions false and defend the company’s quality. The company’s employees immediately released videos and other documentary evidence to support its innocence. They were vindicated when the claims were easily revealed as hoaxes.
How culture saved PepsiCo: PepsiCo had the strength of its convictions because of a strong culture of quality, respect, loyalty and transparency, and a fierce pride of ownership in the quality of its product. Because employees were so closely tied to their culture, and because they had the sort of transparency that imbued them with trust, they were able to easily take down the false claims and maintain their position as a market leader.
5. Johnson & Johnson The Cyanide in the Tylenol Capsule
• The Johnson & Johnson Credo, set down by the company’s founder Robert Wood Johnson II in 1943, puts the company’s responsibilities in the following order: doctors, nurses, patients, mothers and fathers first, employees second, communities third and shareholders last.
What went wrong: In 1982, the home health care giant was rocked when seven people in Chicago died after consuming Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide. According to CEO at the time, James Burke: “Innocent people were killed. Industry analysts and advertising experts told us that Tylenol was finished.”
What went right: McNeil Consumer Products, the subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson which made Tylenol, immediately pulled 31 million bottles of Tylenol product off the shelves nationwide (a loss of $100 million in revenue) and halted all advertisement for the product.
How culture saved J&J: This is the textbook case that is taught in schools. Johnson & Johnson’s former CEO, James Burke, has credited J&J’s quick and thorough response to the Johnson and Johnson Credo. The decision to pull product off the shelves was made—not by the CEO—but by a brand manager. Which shows how thoroughly J&J’s credo had saturated its culture, and how thoroughly the company empowered its employees and subsidiaries to live its values. Thanks to their approach to the crisis, the best-selling brand of painkiller remained the best-selling brand.
Engaging company culture is vital because it affects many aspects of success for an organization, including financial prosperity, innovation and ideas, employee retention, and customer service.
After assessing your current company culture, you can begin the process of cultivating a culture that empowers employees and boosts engagement.
So how do you build the kind of culture in your company that can save your bacon when it gets tossed into the frying pan? Here are seven important principles for how you can improve your company culture:
No matter the current size of your business, the best place to start in the company culture journey is with your employees.
Talk to them and gather their feedback about the current culture, including what they think is working and what they wish would change.
This can help you better understand what makes your organization's workplace unique and what you can do to heighten your organization’s culture.
Determine where you want to go in terms of culture, then concentrate on core values and boundaries.
Creating a list of essential ideas can make it simpler for team members to exemplify the tenants of company culture.
These are some things to consider when determining the boundaries to set within your company culture:
To establish an engaging culture within a company, it's important that you have a strong leadership team and management willing to set an example by following the tenants of the company culture.
If you want to create a shift in culture, it starts with senior leaders, as others look to them for example and guidance.
Help define what it means to fit into the culture and help leaders develop trust with employees.
Xerox would never have survived without the strong emotional ties among its employees and between employees and the company. Offer opportunities for employees to strengthen those ties.
Of course it isn’t enough to teach your employees how to drive—you have to be willing to hand over the keys and trust them to steer.
Tylenol survived not because senior leaders acted quickly, but because the brand manager acted quickly, and with faith that the right action would be supported. And it was.
The best culture in the world will avail you nothing if everyone is paralyzed by trauma.
Make sure you build resilience into your culture by making available resources, relationships and emotional support to help them recuperate from stress, conflict, failure, or changes in responsibility.
When you're leading a shift in company culture, it can be difficult to see and understand the results.
You want to ensure the changes you make are positively affecting the team, but how do you do that? Implement a system to measure employee engagement and satisfaction.
For example, you may gather feedback from team members about their experience with company culture through an employee survey platform.
Cultivating your culture through these simple principles will help your company successfully weather any storm, and come through stronger than ever!
These are some frequently asked questions about companies with great culture:
[faq number="1"] [faq_item title="What is Nike corporate culture?" number="1"]
Nike builds a committed workforce through its approach to company culture.
Team members know the key tenants of the company, including "If you have a body, you're an athlete."
Nike transforms secrecy into mystery, helping employees be insiders on important projects and helping to reduce potential leaks.[/faq_item] [faq_item title="Does Netflix have a strong culture?" number="2"]
With a focus on selflessness, courage, communication, and integrity, Netflix has a strong company culture.
By specifically defining each tenant of the organization's culture, Netflix creates an atmosphere in which each employee understands the cultural goals.
Through honest and productive feedback, Netflix strives to create a dream team.[/faq_item] [faq_item title="What is Microsoft's organizational culture?" number="3"]
Microsoft's organizational culture centers around its key values, including diversity and inclusion, innovation, and social responsibility.
The company places emphasis on community through its support for the safety of its employees and the well-being of those living in local areas.
Trustworthy computing and AI are also important values within Microsoft's organizational culture.[/faq_item][/faq]
Implementing measures within your organization that focus on company culture can help you put your employees first, giving them confidence and freedom.
Developing such a strong company culture helps support both the employees and the business because happy employees are often better at reaching company goals and generating great ideas.
If you're ready to start elevating culture within your organization, request a demo to learn more about how our dedicated team and solutions can help you meet your goals.
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