Company culture starts before you even hire your first employee, and often develops organically as the company grows to several dozen employees. The bigger the company gets, the more important it is to develop cultural values and practices to make sure the entire company is on the same page. A strong company culture can help motivate employees, attract new hires, encourage innovation and much more. But how does company culture evolve and when should it be formalized?
Organizational behavioral experts and successful company leaders alike suggest that companies want to write down their values and set their culture when they have between 60 to 100 people. Companies like Netflix and Hubspot created 100+ slide decks to explain their culture, but even if you do something less involved, it’s important to write down your principles. They will be a guiding light as you grow, but it’s also key to pull them from the culture that already exists in your company so they feel authentic and true to your employees’ experience at your company.
Given that everyone — from managers to interns to the CEO — sees the company differently and has a different perspective on the culture of the company, how can you pull your values from all corners of the business?
1. Get feedback from everyone.
Whether it is a survey, small group discussions with the entire team, information gathered through 1:1 conversations or another method, it’s important to give everyone an opportunity to give feedback and input so all aspects of a company’s culture can be considered. Written feedback can have the advantage of giving people longer to think about their answers and respond to the prompts, allow people who are more naturally introverted to have the chance to share, and solicit more innovative ideas, according to Wharton Professor Adam Grant.
2. Identify patterns or trends.
The feedback you collect at stage one will help you begin to start to see the company through your employees’ collective eyes, to see how they articulate values or principles that your company has been living everyday but haven’t been formally written down yet. As you review the feedback, group comments together to identify major themes, points or trends. These should hopefully be familiar, but especially if your company has grown quickly or it is very geographically distributed, there may be more variation than you think. Make sure you pay attention to these differences — they may show that the culture within your company may not be consistent across all members of the organization.
3. Create a steering committee.
To allow you to refine these ideas, create a steering committee to dig deep into the themes surfaced in your initial round of feedback. The group might be chosen randomly through a random number generator, pulled from people across all functional areas or be self-selective. TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie instituted a process that let employees nominate themselves or others to their cultural steering committee, and made committee meetings run from 7 to 9 a.m. for two weeks to make sure members were invested.
4. Analyze and iterate.
Once you have your steering committee, meet regularly to talk about the themes that surfaced organically from across the entire company, and iterate on them. The number, length of the meetings and process will vary from company to company, but the goal should be to settle on the concrete values and principles that underscore your culture. The steering committee should also work with the executive team, HR or any other critical parties to make sure the final result is truly representative of the vision leaders have for the company, where it came from and what they picture in the future.
5. Make them real.
When there is consensus, think about how you want to make your values real, memorable and easy to absorb. Reserve, my company, recently created mascots for each of our 10 values, which now hang on posters around our offices. When they were first announced to the rest of the company, members of the steering committee that worked on them stood up to give examples of when they saw other teammates exhibiting those values and making them a part of the company’s culture.
Your company culture will continue to grow with your organization and change with your industry, but defining your culture and being mindful as you scale can help motivate your employees and make them even more excited to be a part of the company at every stage.